Senate debates

Tuesday, 22 November 2022


Customs Amendment (Banning Goods Produced By Forced Labour) Bill 2022; Second Reading

4:03 pm

Photo of Jordon Steele-JohnJordon Steele-John (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to table an explanatory memorandum relating to the bill.

Leave granted.

I table an explanatory memorandum and seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

Australia has been slow to act on stopping imports of products produced by forced labour. Government measures including business advisories, sanctions and import/export restrictions have occurred globally, but Australia has not taken any public action.

In the light of known human rights abuses across our region, we have not yet taken the actions necessary to ensure that Australian importers are placing Australian values first, nor send a message about our disapproval of modern slavery. Whilst like-countries around the world have introduced a forced labour ban, we have not. Because of this, there is growing concern amongst anti-slavery and human rights groups that Australia have become a dumping ground for these products. Perpetuating this grave human rights violation, rather than placing words of condemnation into action, is shameful.

A report released by International Justice Mission found that more than 90 per cent of Australian businesses have identified potential risks of slavery in their supply chains. Yet, nearly 85 per cent of 404 company statements submitted to the Modern Slavery Statement Register, fail to show any response to slavery, or risks of slavery in their operations and supply chains.

This is not the first time this Bill has come in front of the Parliament. In fact, it passed the Senate, with the support of all parties, except for the Coalition. This included a yes vote from members of the Australian Labor Party. A bill, focused on Uyghur-produced goods, was sent to inquiry, and this broader banning of goods produced by forced labour globally was endorsed without reservation to be passed by the Parliament. It lapsed whilst sitting in front of the House of Representatives at the 46th Parliament. Now, it is time, to send a message that Australia will not accept products produced with any taint of modern slavery. In the face of ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity occurring in our very own region, this attempt to control imports of products produced with forced labour into Australia, should be embraced by everyone in this place.

This is a global ban, it does not single out any one nation as perpetrators of enforcing forced labour. Across our region, forced labour is occurring en masse.

In Indonesia, forced labour is seen in industries producing palm oil, onboard fishing vessels and tobacco production, to name a few. In Malaysia, migrant workers have been found to be involved in the production of garments under conditions of forced labour.

Globally, state sanctioned forced labour is particularly common in the cotton sector in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. Each year, during the harvest season, citizens are forced out of regular jobs to spend weeks picking cotton at work. In Saudi Arabia, millions of migrant workers fill mostly manual, clerical and service jobs, constituting more than 80 per cent of the private sector workforce, governed by the kafala system which gives their employers excessive power over their mobility and legal status in the country. Human Rights Watch tells us that the system underpins migrant workers' vulnerability to a wide range of abuses, from passport confiscation to delayed wages and forced labour.

Exporting prison produced goods is illegal under domestic and international trade law, but in the United States prison labour is a billion-dollar industry, and 37 states allow the use of prison labour by private companies. In eight states, prisoners are not paid for their work in state-run facilities.

Yet, it is not surprising that the Uyghur diaspora community of Australia raised with me the necessity and urgency of this bill being reintroduced in the Australian Parliament.

Since 2017, the Chinese government has imprisoned more than one million Uyghurs and subjected those not detained to intense surveillance, religious restrictions, forced labour, and forced sterilizations.

A UN report released on August 31 by the outgoing UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, contained victim accounts that substantiate mass arbitrary detention, torture, cultural persecution, forced labour, and other serious human rights violations. It recommends that states, businesses, and the international community should take action with a view to ending the abuses and advancing justice and accountability. According to the End Uyghur Forced Labour campaign, 1 in 5 cotton garments are tainted by Uyghur forced labour, 45% of the world's solar-grade polysilicon (used in solar panels) supply comes from the Uyghur Region and more than 17 industries globally are implicated in Uyghur forced labour. Researchers from the Center for Strategic and International Studies say forced labour is an important element of the government's plan for Xinjiang's economic development, which includes making it a hub of textile and apparel manufacturing.

Since the release of the UN report, Human Rights Watch have said "the [Australian] government should introduce legislation blocking the import of goods made with forced labour, both from Xinjiang and other locations inside and outside of China." This bill will achieve that.

The Human Rights Subcommittee of the 46th Parliament's Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade received extensive submissions and testimony from members of the Uyghur diaspora in Australia and human rights organisations relating to human rights violations in Xinjiang and elsewhere in China that are consistent with inquiries that have happened in like-parliaments globally, including the United States and Canada.

While the government's review of the Modern Slavery Act 2018 is welcome, it will not be completed until March 2023. Once this review is done, there is no guarantee that it will go far enough in ensuring the ban of goods produced by forced labour, nor whether the government will implement its recommendations. This bill gives us the opportunity to send a message on Australia's position on these serious human rights abuses, right now.

This bill will define forced labour under section 270.6 of the Criminal Code which states this as the condition of a person, the victim, who provides labour or services if, because of the use of coercion, threat or deception the victim would not consider himself or herself to be free to cease providing the labour or services, or to leave the place or area where the victim provides the labour or services.

It will support Australia's longstanding commitment to internationally recognised human rights to freedom from slavery and forced labour such as in Article 8 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and related international conventions against slavery and forced labour.

This bill will fulfill the objective of implementing recommendation 1 of the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee's report into the 2021 bill, without further delay.

This amendment to the Customs Act1901 would impose an absolute ban on the importation of goods produced in whole or part by forced labour. The ban is global in nature and does not specify any geographic origin for its application. The importation into Australia of any goods found to have been produced by forced labour, will be subject to the penalties that apply to the importation of other goods designated as prohibited imports by regulations made under the Customs Act1901.

Corporations must be required to identify and eliminate forced labour from every part of their supply chain. The elimination of forced labour must be considered a matter of urgency.

Let this parliament be the one which stops forced labour imports and no longer allows Australia to be implicated in these horrific human rights abuses.

I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.