Senate backs bill to tackle forced labour

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·2-min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

The Senate has passed laws that target China over the alleged widespread use of Uighur forced labour.

Independent senator Rex Patrick's bill to ban the import of goods produced in whole or part by forced labour was the subject of blunt and spirited debate on Monday.

The Morrison government argues existing modern slavery laws require businesses to keep their supply chains legal, but Senator Patrick says current laws fall short.

"Uighur forced labour plays a key role in Xinjiang's massive cotton production and extends across an array of industries including the supply chains of global brands," Senator Patrick told parliament.

"The international brands allegedly involved are very well known, including Apple, Esprit, Fila, Abercrombie and Fitch, Adidas, Amazon, BMW, Gap, H&M, Marks and Spencers, Nike, North Face, Puma and Samsung."

Liberal senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells said the government supported the intent of the bill and was concerned Australia is subject to "economic coercion".

"If you are dealing with a bully it's important to have the political fortitude to stand up to them," she said.

"If we profess to have a values-based foreign policy then that includes standing up to abuses of human rights."

But the government voted against the bill and an amendment put forward by Labor.

The Labor amendment failed.

But the independent senator's bill passed with the support of Labor, One Nation and the Greens, and will now go to the lower house.

Both the Liberal and Labor parties want to avoid calling out China for the use of captive workers and instead focus on the global issue.

Labor senator Murray Watt said many Australians are not aware 25 million people are trapped in forced labour globally.

"For every one of us, there is one of them, living a life of cruelty and despair."

Senator Patrick acknowledged his proposed laws were a "blunt instrument".

"But that's what's needed to thwart modern slavery, especially China's resort to massive use of forced labour," he said.

Liberal senator Eric Abetz and other government speakers called out the Victorian government for buying parts for its railway upgrade from a range of companies with supply chains linked to captive Uighur workers.

State governments in NSW and Queensland also use the companies.

Decency and a moral compass should dictate that Australian businesses and industries should not source products from such "hell holes", Senator Abetz said.

But Senator Patrick's good intentions about China's "horror trade in human misery" were likely to be counterproductive, he added.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting