Legal Insights

Government hits ‘go live’ on Modern Slavery Statements Register and releases the Government Procurement Toolkit

By Sonia Sharma & Emily Lau

• 06 August 2020 • 9 min read

Last week the Australian Government marked ‘World Day Against Trafficking in Persons’ by launching its much anticipated online Modern Slavery Statements Register and a new Government Procurement Toolkit. The carefully selected launch date sends a strong message to reporting entities that are required to submit their first modern slavery statement under the new Modern Slavery Act 2018 (Cth) while providing greater clarity on modern slavery risks, to those responsible for the Government Procurement lifecycle.

Register for Modern Slavery Statements now live

Last week, the Australian Government launched its much anticipated online Modern Slavery Statements Register housed on the Australian Border Force website (Modern Slavery Register) to coincide with ‘World Day Against Trafficking in Persons’. Reporting entities, such as large entities with an annual consolidated revenue of $100 million, the Australian Government itself and Corporate Commonwealth entities, will use the centralised portal to submit their modern slavery statements.

Instead of having financial penalties under the Modern Slavery Act 2018 (Cth) (Modern Slavery Act) for non-compliance, the Government has opted for a public register to create a reputational ‘race to the top’ (or as some might say a ‘name and shame’ approach) to drive compliance by reporting entities.

It is clear this objective remains front and centre for the Government: “This is the world’s first, government-run website of its kind, and will provide Australian consumers, investors and civil society with an unprecedented window into the global supply chains that produce the goods and services we use every day,” Assistant Minister for Customs, Community Safety and Multicultural Affairs, the Hon Jason Wood MP said on the release of the Modern Slavery Register.

To recap, under the Modern Slavery Act, reporting entities must cover seven mandatory criteria in their annual modern slavery statement, including describing the risks of modern slavery practices (such as human trafficking, slavery, servitude, forced labour, debt bondage and the worst forms of child labour) in the operations and supply chains of the reporting entity and any entities it owns or controls and describing the actions taken to assess and address these risks, including due diligence and remediation processes. Entities must also report on the effectiveness of what they are doing and can only report on what they have done in the relevant reporting period (preventing reporting entities from submitting the same statement each year with no change).

As previously reported, following consultation on a draft, the Government released detailed guidance for reporting entities which sets out how it expects reporting entities to address the seven mandatory criteria in their modern slavery statements (Guidance for Reporting Entities). We know from advising clients over the past two years that it takes considerable forward planning and investment of resources in order to be in a position to address the mandatory criteria in a manner consistent with the Guidance for Reporting Entities. Corporate Commonwealth Entities are required to submit their own compliant modern slavery statement in a manner consistent with the Guidance for Reporting Entities.

The modern slavery statement must be approved by the principal governing body of the reporting entity and signed by a responsible member of the reporting entity. For companies this generally means the statement must be approved by the board and signed by a director of the board.

Due to the impact of Covid-19, the Government granted a temporary three month extension for the deadline for all entities whose reporting periods ended on or before 30 June 2020 to submit their year one modern slavery statements. The new, extended deadline for submission of a modern slavery statement for reporting entities that use the Australian Financial Year (1 July 2019 – 30 June 2020) is 31 March 2021.

What does the launch of the Modern Slavery Register mean for reporting entities?

The open and transparent Modern Slavery Register has clearly been designed with the ‘race to the top’ objective in mind. It has functionality which appears to allow anyone to:

  • download an Excel spreadsheet list of statements
  • search statements by reporting period, entity revenue, countries where headquartered, industry sector and overseas reporting obligations
  • search generally via any phase and to refine searches using the categories above.

Maddocks Partner Sonia Sharma who specialises in Modern Slavery law compliance says the Modern Slavery Register is an important milestone:

Having a look at the Modern Slavery Register, it is clear to see how easy it would be to compare competitors in the same industry such as ‘technology’, ‘infrastructure’, ‘healthcare’ or ‘fashion’. We also know that civil society groups have been working on their own technology to be able to analyse trends and data. It’s safe to say that the world will be watching as Australian reporting entities submit their first statements. A public and central register is a lot more powerful than hiding your modern slavery statement on your own website. It is clear a copy and paste or cookie cutter approach to compliance will quickly be 'called out' and reporting entities need to carefully plan to ensure they address all the mandatory criteria".

The launch of the Modern Slavery Register means that the clock is well and truly ticking for reporting entities to be taking steps towards completing compliant modern slavery statements for reporting year one, educating the board on the key requirements and considering an approval and signing strategy to ensure modern slavery statements address all of the key requirements of the Modern Slavery Act and are submitted on time. It is also recommended that reporting entities clearly map out a longer term compliance plan (i.e., three to five years) in order to streamline future reporting obligations.

More resources released for Government

At the time of publishing the Guidance for Reporting Entities, the Government stated "Separate information will be provided for non-corporate Commonwealth entities covered by the consolidated Commonwealth Government statement". This has now arrived in the form of the toolkit titled: ‘Addressing Modern Slavery in Government Supply Chains – A toolkit of resources for Government procurement officers toolkit’ (Toolkit).

The Modern Slavery Act requires the Australian Government itself to prepare an annual modern slavery statement (Commonwealth Statement) explaining how the Government is assessing and addressing modern slavery risks in its global operations and supply chains. The Commonwealth Statement will also be published on the Modern Slavery Register. The Government will prepare a single Commonwealth Statement covering all non-corporate Commonwealth entities (NCCEs). NCCEs are entities that are legally and financially part of the Commonwealth, such as government departments.

This Toolkit is aimed at Commonwealth procurement officers who work in any government department, agency or body. It provides a range of resources to assist procurement officers to identify, assess and manage modern slavery risks. The Toolkit has been designed to be used within the existing Commonwealth procurement framework, primarily the Commonwealth Procurement Rules.

The Toolkit includes:

  • a risk screening tool – intended to be used at the beginning of a new procurement, or when assessing the risk of modern slavery in existing contracts to assess the general risk classification of the procurement
  • tender guidance – which includes key considerations for procurement officers
  • supplier questionnaire – which is a tool to assist Australian Government agencies to assess their suppliers’ policies and practices to identify, assess and mitigate modern slavery risks in their supply chains and operations.

The impact of the Toolkit is twofold:

  1. Those working in Government procurement will need to be across how to manage modern slavery risks across the full procurement lifecycle in a way which aligns with the Government’s Toolkit – this will require some time, energy and education to come up to speed with the Modern Slavery Act and the Toolkit and operationalise modern slavery risk assessment and management within the agency or department.
  2. Entities wishing to do business with the Australian Government (regardless of whether they are reporting entities under the Modern Slavery Act) will need to be able to address modern slavery issues to be in the running to win Government work. We refer to this as the compliance knock on effect.

The Toolkit follows the release in June 2020 of:

6 Steps to Taking Stock

Given these recent major developments, now is a good time to do a mini stocktake of your Modern Slavery Act compliance obligations or other impacts of the regime on your organisation.

  1. Schedule a catch-up with your internal modern slavery compliance project team to double check how everyone is tracking with assigned roles and responsibilities. If you don’t have a project team – consider forming one and assigning internal responsibilities.
  2. Consider whether you have the right people in your modern slavery compliance project team. With the launch of the public Modern Slavery Register, now is a good time to bring in your communications team so they are across the regime and understand the seven mandatory criteria. Your Communications team should not be surprised to see modern slavery identified in your statement (as this is merely addressing the mandatory criteria).
  3. Don’t forget to address Covid-19 impacts: This includes covering how your compliance plan was disrupted by Covid-19 but also identifying increased risks of modern slavery due to Covid-19.
  4. Schedule a clear submission timetable: Now that the first reporting year is over, now is the time to be clearly mapping out your schedule for drafting your modern slavery statement, confirming you have addressed the mandatory criteria, educating your board and organising the approval and signing of your statement.
  5. Develop a long term plan: The Modern Slavery Act is a continuous improvement regime – reporting entities can only report on what has happened in the relevant reporting year. Accordingly, forward planning is essential.
  6. Understand the impacts of the Government Procurement Toolkit: If you want to do business with the Australian Government – regardless of whether you are a reporting entity, you need to understand that Government procurement teams will be using the Toolkit to manage modern slavery risks across the whole procurement lifecycle.

We appreciate that many organisations have a lot on their plate right now and we have developed a number of modern slavery compliance tools which are easy to deploy to assist clients with their compliance obligations. Our modern slavery law specialists can also assist you with auditing, training, risk assessment and drafting your modern slavery statement, including to deal with COVID-19 impacts.

Looking for more information?

Discover more articles and resources covering Modern Slavery Act compliance.

By Sonia Sharma & Emily Lau

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