Launch Walk Free Foundation Report on Modern Slavery

  • Speech, check against delivery
17 April 2018

JULIE BISHOP: Senator Linda Reynolds, colleagues, friends of Australia. I am so pleased to be here at Australia House this afternoon to launch the Walk Free Foundation report on steps that governments of the Commonwealth can take to eradicate modern slavery in all its forms: forced labour, human trafficking, child labour and other abhorrent practices.

I really want to pay tribute today to the extraordinary work of the Walk Free Foundation and Andrew and Nicola and Grace Forrest for showing the leadership and the courage in tackling this issue to ensure that this scourge is eliminated and that there is a collective response to do so. That takes real leadership.

It is also fitting that we launch the Walk Free Foundation report in the week of the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, which will take place later this week, because the Commonwealth is already committed to working collectively to solve some of the world's most challenging problems. We are a family of nations comprised of 2.4 billion people across 53 countries, six continents; we make up a quarter of the membership of the United Nations. When the Commonwealth of Nations speaks and acts we make a difference globally.

The Commonwealth Charter already requires its members to embrace the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 4 of that Declaration says that no one shall be held in slavery or servitude, that slavery and the slave trade shall not be permitted in any of their forms, and so one has to wonder how it is that modern slavery is still rampant in the world today. It is an abomination, an affront to our collective humanity and it deserves – no it demands – the collective global response.

The Australian Government is acting to tackle this issue at three levels: nationally, regionally and globally. On the national scene, the Australian Government will shortly introduce Modern Slavery legislation into our Parliament similar to that passed by the United Kingdom Parliament in recent years. This will require large businesses in Australia to report on the steps that they are taking to identify and eliminate instances of modern slavery in their supply chains, whether they be domestic, regional or global.

The power of business to help combat modern slavery should never be underestimated and our legislation will provide a practical framework for transparency. It will build awareness of this issue, it will encourage the disclosure of instances of modern slavery in supply chains, and it will certainly go a long way in cleaning up the supply chains where instances of modern slavery occur.

This is an additional reporting requirement on business and we didn't take it lightly. We consulted widely with business representatives, with civil society, yet we were heartened by the level of support, widespread support, for this reporting requirement and modern slavery legislation.

At a regional level Australia co-hosts the Bali Process into people smuggling and trafficking and it is now in its 16th year. Australia and Indonesia working together to tackle these issues. In 2017 the Bali Process convened the first ever meeting to focus on modern slavery and we established a partnership with business, for governments can't do this alone. We established a partnership with business to tackle the challenges of modern slavery and I was delighted by the response because, during the business forum that was held in Perth last year, the businesses that came from the 43 member nations of the Bali Process, agreed a work plan with specific steps that they could take to identify and eliminate instances of modern slavery.

At the regional level Australia is also committed to the Triangle ASEAN program. This seeks to tackle the issue of labour migration exploitation. We are also a supporter of the ASEAN-Australia counter trafficking program and this seeks to build the criminal justice systems in countries in our region so that they have the capacity to deal with trafficking, people smuggling, modern slavery and other such practices. Through this program Australia has supported 10,000 judges, prosecutors, court officials, those who have to deal with these challenging issues in their criminal justice systems.

At a global level we work through Alliance 8.7, so named after the Sustainable Development Goal 8.7, to tackle forced labour, human trafficking and other such practices. Last year during the UN General Assembly leaders week I committed the Australian Government to a Call to Action to eradicate forced labour, human trafficking and modern slavery. It was so reassuring to see countries coming together to commit to eliminate this practice. It has to be done at a global level, that is why it is so important the Commonwealth of Nations build momentum - 53 nations committing to eliminate this practice will make a significant difference around the world.

Ladies and gentleman, thank you for being here as I launch this report "Towards a Common Future: Achieving SDG 8.7 in the Commonwealth" and as the by-line says, "using measurement to illuminate our collective path to eradicate modern slavery".

The Commonwealth of Nations was established on the common values of freedom and democracy and the rule of law, human rights and gender equality and sustainable economic and social development. We must continue to lead by example and shine a light into the dark places that exist around the globe. I thank the Walk Free Foundation and the Forrest family for tackling this terrible issue. I also want to thank Senator Linda Reynolds, for last evening here at Australia House, I spoke at an event where Linda has been instrumental in drawing attention to yet another issue, orphanage voluntourism, where children who are not orphans are in fact exploited as tourism attractions as part of a volunteering scam.

These kinds of issues must not be tolerated and I thank the Walk Free Foundation for the work that they do in putting on the global agenda the issue of modern slavery.

Australia will do its part.

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