Australia: Modern slavery and human trafficking reporting: the risks of modern slavery in maritime supply chains


According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), at any given time an estimated 40.3 million people globally are in modern slavery, which includes 24.9 million in forced labour. The global shipping industry has been identified as being particularly susceptible to the risk of modern slavery given seafarers are often from nations with human rights, labour rights and corruption challenges. The fragmentation of regulatory oversight among flag states, and practical limitations on effective enforcement of basic conditions on board vessels, exacerbate the problem.

In the UK, the Modern Slavery Act requires companies to report publicly on the steps they are taking to combat slavery and human trafficking in their operations and supply chains. In Australia, the Commonwealth Government has announced its intention to introduce a comparable reporting requirement that may go further. In Hong Kong, legislators have indicated a similar intention and a draft Bill is under consideration.

The UK Modern Slavery Act also applies to foreign companies that conduct business in the UK (see our comparative analysis on the law reform in the region here). The effect of this reporting requirement is that companies will need to examine their supply chains to identify whether there is a risk of modern slavery occurring, before they can report on the steps they are undertaking to combat modern slavery. Companies subject to a reporting obligation, whose supply chains include maritime transport, will need to address that area of risk when reporting. Even where domestic law lacks a reporting requirement, companies operating internationally may need to take action.

What is a modern slavery reporting requirement?

At its broadest, the term modern slavery' incorporates situations of exploitation where a person cannot refuse or leave work because of threats, violence, coercion, abuse of power or deception. It includes slavery, servitude, forced labour, debt bondage, and deceptive recruiting for labour or services.

In the UK, companies with UK operations and a turnover of more than £36 million annually are required by section 54 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 to report on the steps they are taking to combat slavery and human trafficking in their own operations and their supply chains. While it is possible to report that "no steps have been taken", the UK Government guidance strongly encourages companies to be transparent and include in their statements the following:

  • the organisation's structure, its business and its supply chains;
  • its policies in relation to slavery and human trafficking;
  • its due diligence processes in relation to slavery and human trafficking in its business and supply chains;
  • the parts of its business and supply chains where there is a risk of slavery and human trafficking taking place, and the steps it has taken to assess and manage that risk;
  • its effectiveness in ensuring that slavery and human trafficking is not taking place in its business or supply chains, measured against such performance indicators as it considers appropriate; and
  • the training and capacity building about slavery and human trafficking available to its staff.

Companies are required to publish their statement on their website.

There is no modern slavery legislation currently in force in Australia. However, the Government has announced that it intends to introduce a Modern Slavery Bill in the first half of 2018. Based on the Parliamentary Inquiry report tabled (see our article here) it is anticipated that an Australian reporting requirement will be broadly similar to that required by the UK Act, but with some important differences. In short, organisations with an annual turnover of at least AUD50m up to AUD100m (the exact amounts are yet to be announced) are likely to be required to report against mandatory criteria, and there is likely to be a central, Government-sponsored public repository of published modern slavery reports.

What is the modern slavery risk in shipping?

Broad reporting requirements continue a growing trend for companies involved in the shipping industry to be subject to public scrutiny. The independent organisation for seafarer's rights, the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF), has regularly expressed concern at charterers' levels of due diligence concerning the working conditions aboard ships they charter. Government enquiries and even the law reports, periodically record examples of practices having attributes of slavery, including withholding crew pay, or even crew starvation.1 A 2012 inquiry by the New Zealand Government found a high incidence of human rights and labour law violations by foreign flagged chartered vessels operating in New Zealand's EEZ and noted instances where local companies were required to compensate unpaid workers. Other relevant recent examples include:

  • In June 2017, the general cargo ship Tahsin was detained by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency in the UK Port of Sharpness in Gloucestershire. Reportedly according to an ITF inspector, crew members stated they were forced to work in conditions which included the denial of clean drinking water (resorting to drinking sea water), being provided with out of date food, and the failure of the shipowner to pay seafarers' wages.
  • In March 2018, the New Zealand Supreme Court allowed a group of Indonesian seafarers compensation for their unpaid wages, from the sale of a Korean flagged sister vessel forfeited to the New Zealand Crown for offences against the Fisheries Act 1996 (NZ).2

Legislative responses will increasingly harness the power of publicly accessible information (such as central repositories containing all published modern slavery statements). In future, such sources may feature in media coverage or prompt questions from shareholders or other stakeholders.

What can companies do to prepare?

Long and complex supply chains increase the risk of links with some form of labour standards risk. Companies that are already reporting under the UK's Modern Slavery Act will have taken steps to investigate their manning agencies, repair yards, bunker suppliers, providores, port agencies and update the questionnaires they use in charter chains. Suppliers may not themselves be required to report under any legislation, but are increasingly likely to be responding to customers who must report. Accordingly many businesses - regardless of where they are based - will sooner or later find themselves on a trajectory towards reporting as a result of the introduction of laws in the UK, EU or Australia. Steps in preparation for meeting reporting requirements (or indirectly, the expectations of customers and counterparties for their reporting) include:

  1. Mapping the organisation's structure, businesses and supply chains.
  2. Formulating policies in relation to modern slavery – this will involve collating current policies, identifying gaps, adapting existing policies and formulating new policies, as needed.
  3. Carrying out a risk assessment – identifying those parts of the business operations and supply chains where there is a risk of modern slavery taking place. Due diligence for owners should include vetting managers, agents, officers and, in the case of time or voyage charterers, their counterparty ship owners.
  4. Assessing and managing identified risks – this may include carrying out further due diligence in the entity's operations and supply chains and reviewing and adapting contract terms and codes of conduct with suppliers.
  5. Considering and establishing processes and KPIs to monitor the effectiveness of the steps taken to ensure that modern slavery is not taking place in the business or supply chains.
  6. Carrying out remedial steps where modern slavery is identified.
  7. Developing training for staff on modern slavery risks and impacts.

The burden of increased regulation may also create competitive advantage for compliant operators in some trades and markets. On the whole, history suggests that the pace of change will be uneven and slow. Nevertheless, it is clear that the power of public scrutiny has already spurred the relatively rapid rise of modern slavery, as a business risk for the shipping industry.


1 House of Representatives Standing Committee on Transport, Communications and Infrastructure, Parliament of Australia Ships of Shame: Inquiry into Ship Safety (1992) 36 – 37 ('Ships of Shame Report').
2 Rudi Hartono and Ors v Ministry for Primary Industries and Anor [2018] NZSC 17.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Abigail McGregor
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Norton Rose Fulbright Australia
Some comments from our readers…
“The articles are extremely timely and highly applicable”
“I often find critical information not available elsewhere”
“As in-house counsel, Mondaq’s service is of great value”

Related Topics
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Norton Rose Fulbright Australia
Related Articles
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of

To Use you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions