Eliminating forced labour and other forms of modern slavery is an issue of fundamental importance to the Australian union movement. While the Australian Government has expressed a strong stance against modern slavery, including forced labour, through its adoption of the Modern Slavery Act 2018, the recent adoption of the National Action Plan to Combat Modern Slavery 2020-25, and internationally through its membership of Alliance 8.7, the ACTU believes stronger action by the Australian Government is needed to contribute to achieving the global target to eradicate forced labour and modern slavery by 2030 (UN Sustainable Development Goal 8.7).

Forced labour is prevalent in global supply chains, facilitated by trade policies that encourage a race-to-the-bottom on workers’ rights. This competition to provide the lowest labour costs for exports often occurs in export processing zones where workers have little or no effective labour rights to join a union or engage in collective bargaining. The system of outsourcing work in global supply chains enables multinational corporations to distance themselves from the practices of their suppliers. The profiting by multinational corporations from Uyghur forced labour is an extreme example of the failures of neoliberal model of globalisation, where corporations have outsourced their production to China to take advantage of low labour costs, a lack of independent unions, and a repressive human rights environment.

Corporations must stop profiting from forced labour, including Uyghur forced labour, and take responsibility for protecting workers’ rights within their supply chains. This responsibility is outlined in the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, and the ILO Tripartite Declaration of Principles concerning Multinational Enterprises and Social Policy.

Governments also have a responsibility to effectively regulate global supply chains and hold corporations accountable for rights violations, and should use all diplomatic and economic leverage to stop human and labour rights violations.

The ACTU is extremely concerned about the gravity and scale of labour and human rights abuses perpetrated against the Uyghur people. We call on the Australian Government and businesses to take decisive action to end their complicity in the Chinese Government’s human and labour rights abuses. Moreover, decisive action must be taken by the Australian Government and business to cease profiting from forced labour anywhere in the world.

As such, the ACTU supports this Bill as an important and urgent initiative the Australian Government must take towards eliminating modern slavery, however we recommend that the Bill be expanded to prohibit the importation of all goods produced or manufactured through the use of forced labour, regardless of country of origin.

Recommendation 1: The Bill should be expanded to ban all imports of goods produced or manufactured through the use of forced labour from any country.