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Australia’s Modern Slavery Act, last chance to report

Australia’s Modern Slavery Act (Cth) was passed in December 2018. It requires all organisations with an annual turnover of A$100 million to publish an annual statement, assessing and addressing modern slavery risks in their operations and supply chains. For organisations operating on the Australian financial year, the first statement is due 31st March 2021.

With little time left and an estimated 76% of statements still outstanding, many entities will miss this first reporting deadline. However, there is still time to get it right, even for organisations only recently aware of this requirement.

Reporting to date

Our Ndevr Human Rights team at analysed recent data provided through the Government’s Modern Slavery Online Register and as of 28 Jan 2021 only some 24% of the expected 3000 reporting entities have submitted a Slavery Statement.

Based on these numbers and our qualitative market assessment, we understand that many entities remain simply unaware of their reporting obligations. 

While the Act does not carry financial penalties for non-compliance, it does include a “name and shame” clause. Media and NGOs may highlight who has not complied, creating a material risk for those organisations.

Our analysis also shows that as many as 33% of submitted statements are being sent back by Border Force for revisions. Nearly all of those returned were caused by a failure to meet the Act’s reporting criteria. Specifically around correctly signing-off the statement and showing it went through the correct consultation process – both easily avoidable issues.

The deadline is nearing, don’t panic – but do report.

Standards and expectations are likely far lower for this first reporting period than the next, so it is best to get into the system now, even with a rushed statement.

The News and Resources section and the guidelines materials on the Border Force website are your first and best places to start. There is a wealth of information including step-by-step instructions on how to comply with the Modern Slavery Act and advice about good practice.

Practical suggestions you can easily implement to make sure you get over the line in time.

Four key things to avoid​

  1. Avoid the urge to pad out your first statement with activities completed after that first financial year. It may be tempting to do a quick supply chain assessment now, adjust dates, and write that into your first statement. But – inadvertently perhaps – you may be setting yourself up for a tougher year-two statement when the stakes will be higher.
  2. Avoid setting targets that sound good, but which don’t match your organisation’s capacity and ambition. Err on the side of a streamlined but honest first statement.
  3. Avoid copying and using statement structures from other reporting jurisdictions such as the United Kingdom. The Australian version asks for more information and is very specific about what should be included.
  4. Don’t miss the deadline. Even without a financial penalty, it will be noted by border force, human rights NGOs, media and possibly consumers.

Five key things to do

  1. Clearly describe your corporate group and the entities therein – Border Force won’t know who is included in your statement unless you make it clear who is covered.
  2. Ensure your entire board is briefed on this issue and what is included in the Statement. It’s important to verify the Statement’s sign-off comes from the right level and is clearly named.
  3. Include clear KPI’s and targets, especially quantifiable ones. Even put them in as dot points or infographics.
  4. Address the impact of COVID on your counter-slavery effort and reporting. Be specific with how the pandemic may have disrupted (or not) your activities, capacity, and supply chain.​
  5. Try to weave in specific examples and case studies for what you describe in your statement. This makes it grounded in your operations and business structure.

We understand for many organisations this is a complex process that can require more expertise and time than you have available. With the first reporting deadline fast approaching, if you need assistance we can help. Our team at Ndevr Human Rights specialises in supporting companies to comply with the Act. Contact: humanrights@ndevr.com.au

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