Source Human Rights Law Center

Today, the Australian Senate has voted to ban the importation of any goods made with forced labour into Australia, in a move that signals cross-party support for stronger measures to prevent Australian companies profiting from modern slavery overseas.

The passing of the Customs Amendment (Banning Goods Produced by Forced Labour) Bill 2021 coincides with the 240th anniversary of the International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition.

The Australian Uyghur Tangritagh Womens’ Association, the Human Rights Law Centre, the Australian Council of Trade Unions, and Be Slavery Free have welcomed the Bill’s passage in the Senate as an important step, and urged the Morrison Government to immediately list the Bill for debate in the House of Representatives.

The organisations are also calling on the government to implement additional accompanying measures to ensure the ban can be robustly enforced, including investigative powers and resourcing for Australian Border Force, an open referral mechanism, publication of customs data and a presumption of goods being detained where evidence reasonably indicates forced labour, unless proved otherwise.

Ramila Chanisheff, President of the Australian Uyghur Tangritagh Womens’ Assocation:  

"We would like to extend our gratitude to the Senate for passing this Bill, as it has brought light to rampant slave and forced labour across the world. Thank you Senator Rex Patrick for standing up for us Uyghurs, and the millions who are currently suffering under modern slavery. We are extremely disappointed the Government did not support the Bill. We need this Bill to take a stand against the dehumanising and systemic forced labour of Uyghurs. This Bill has the potential to curb industries profiting from human rights abuse, and to pressure foreign governments to further eradicate forced labour."

Michele O’Neil, President, Australian Council of Trade Unions:

“The vote by the senate today is a great step towards ending forced labour and ensuring that no Australian companies profit from slavery anywhere around the world. Senator Patrick showed important leadership in bringing this bill forward, and we thank him for his work on this issue.”

Freya Dinshaw, Senior Lawyer, Human Rights Law Centre:  

"Today’s vote puts us one step closer to ensuring Australian companies, and therefore consumers, are not fueling forced labour overseas. We now call on the Australian Government to take swift action to bring the ban into law and ensure it is enforced. We should all be able to have confidence that the goods we purchase are not made at the expense of other peoples’ freedom.”

Carolyn Kitto, Co-Director, Be Slavery Free:

“240 years after the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade, it is encouraging to see Australia take a positive step to address the slavery we are connected with in Australia. Australia imports nearly AU$17bn worth of goods ‘at risk’ of being made using slavery each year. We welcome this step by the Senate, it must progress swiftly.

“Prime Minister Morrison names William Wilberforce as one of his heroes. It is therefore disappointing to observe the lack of Government support. In Wilberforce’s words, ‘You may choose to look the other way, but you can never say again you did not know’.”

The Customs Amendment (Banning Goods Produced by Forced Labour) Bill 2021, introduced by independent Senator Rex Patrick, aims to implement recommendations made by the Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade in an inquiry report released in June this year.

Following chilling testimony of mass internment and forced labour by Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in China, the Committee unanimously recommended the introduction of ‘a global ban on the import to Australia of goods produced by forced labour’, alongside other measures to ensure effective enforcement of the ban. Similar legislation has been enacted in the US and Canada.