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London — More than 3,000 businesses in Australia would be forced to disclose how they tackle the threat of modern slavery under a proposed law hailed by politicians and campaigners on Thursday as stronger than Britain’s landmark antislavery legislation.

The Australian government said it would introduce its Modern Slavery Act to parliament by mid-2018 and outlined on Thursday its requirements which will compel large companies to publish an annual public statement on their actions to address slavery. Compared with Britain’s 2015 law, Australia’s legislation would be stricter on the content of the statements, and the government would publish a list of entities required to comply — those with a turnover of at least A$100m ($75m).

"This ... takes the Australian Modern Slavery Act beyond its precursor in the UK, which is the gold standard for modern slavery reporting, by including a central repository of statements," said Jenn Morris, head of the Walk Free Foundation, a global antitrafficking charity.

Australia has committed A$3.6m to a business unit to manage the repository and advise companies. While The Business Council of Australia — a forum of company leaders — backed the reporting requirements, the opposition and trade unions questioned the lack of penalties and called for an independent antislavery tsar.

"(The state’s) primary concern is — as always — protecting big business," said shadow justice minister Clare O’Neil.

"We also urgently need a ... commissioner to assist victims — not just an engagement unit for big business," she said.

Failing to punish companies that did not disclose and rectify slavery would blunt the law, said a spokesman for the Australian Council of Trade Unions.

The UK law introduced life sentences for human traffickers, compelled firms to address the risk of forced labour and established a role of independent anti-slavery commissioner.

Yet Britain has been criticised by antislavery activists for a lack of support for victims, and failing to use the law fully to secure convictions and drive firms to take action.

Thomson Reuters Foundation

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