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ACTION ON UYGHUR FORCED LABOUR MUST NOT BE DELAYED

17 June 2021

Independent Senator Rex Patrick today welcomed the release of the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee’s report on measures to deal with Uyghur forced labour which was triggered by his Customs Amendment (Banning Goods Produced By Uyghur Forced Labour) Bill 2020. 

“I am very pleased with the outcome of this important inquiry which has delivered strong bipartisan recommendations for action to prevent the importation of goods produced using forced labour, and especially in regard to imports from China made using coerced Uyghur people,” Senator Patrick said. 

“I thank the Committee for the work they have done as well as the many people and organisations that made submissions to the inquiry, especially members of the Australian Uyghur community who face harassment from Chinese Government officials here in Australia and grave threats to family members, relatives and friends in Xinjiang.” 

“I am very pleased that my Bill has provided the catalyst for this inquiry and the important recommendations adopted by the Committee.” 

“My concern has always been that action be taken quickly to ensure that Australia’s condemnation of the Chinese Government’s shameful persecution and exploitation of the Uyghur people is made absolutely clear. This report is an important step forward.”

The Senate Committee has recommended that the Customs Act 1901 be amended to prohibit the import of any goods made wholly or in part with forced labour, regardless of geographic origin.

The Committee has further recommended that that the government take steps to empower the Australian Border Force to be able to issue rebuttable presumptions for specific goods, companies and/or regions with particularly high risk of being associated with forced labour.

The Committee further recommends that, once the issuance of such orders is possible, the Australian Border Force should immediately consider issuing an order, at a minimum, for cotton sourced from Xinjiang.

The full recommendations made by the Committee are attached below. 

“This is not a matter that can be delayed,” Senator Patrick said. 

“The Chinese Communist Party’s oppression of the Uyghur people is an immediate and continuing affront to human decency.” 

“It requires an immediate response from the Australian Government, not the usual; protracted process of government review than may lead to legislative and administrative action in two or three years.” 

“The need for prompt action is underlined by reports this week that the Victorian Government has turned a blind eye to the use of forced Uyghur labour by the Chinese state-owned company KTK Group, which supplies components for the construction of Victoria’s metro railway system.” 

“In this circumstances, the Government should move without delay to introduce legislation into the Parliament to implement the Senate Committee’s primary recommendation without delay and report to the Parliament on its implementation of all other recommendations no later than the end of this year.”

List of Committee Recommendations

Recommendation 1

The committee recommends that the Customs Act 1901 be amended to prohibit the import of any goods made wholly or in part with forced labour, regardless of geographic origin.

Recommendation 2

The committee recommends that the government should take steps to empower the Australian Border Force to be able to issue rebuttable presumptions for specific goods, companies and/or regions with particularly high risk of being associated with forced labour. Ÿ The committee recommends that, once the issuance of such orders is possible, the Australian Border Force should immediately consider issuing an order, at a minimum, for cotton sourced from Xinjiang.

Recommendation 3

The committee recommends the government amend the Commonwealth Procurement Rules to include a requirement on due diligence with regards to the possibility of exposure to forced labour and encourages state, territory and local governments and their various business enterprises to do likewise.

Recommendation 4

In crafting provisions to prohibit the import of goods produced by forced labour, the committee recommends the government give due consideration to adequate resourcing for the Australia Border Force to conduct investigations in support of those provisions.

Recommendation 5

The committee recommends that the Home Affairs portfolio establish a working group to examine the role emerging technologies can play in tracing the geographical origin of products and raw materials.

Recommendation 6

The committee recommends the government establish and maintain a list of products or companies considered to be at high-risk of being produced by forced labour.

Recommendation 7

The committee recommends the government, where feasible, publish Integrated Cargo System data online.

Recommendation 8

The committee recommends the relevant government departments coordinate closely with counterparts in likeminded countries, in particular Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States, both to ensure policy consistency and to ensure Australia can benefit from the practical implementation lessons learned by those countries.

Recommendation 9

The committee recommends that the government explore with likeminded States the possibility of introducing a resolution condemning the situation in Xinjiang at the 76th session of the Third Committee of the General Assembly in 2021.

Recommendation 10

Recalling the recommendation of the References Committee in its report on Issues facing diaspora communities in Australia, the committee recommends that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade explore options to better leverage the experience and expertise in Australia's diaspora communities.

Recommendation 11

The committee recommends that the government initiate the review of the Modern Slavery Act as soon as possible following the conclusion of the first reporting cycle on 30 June 2021.

Recommendation 12

The committee recommends that the review of the Modern Slavery Act considers provisions for its strengthening, including by considering the possibilities of lowering the reporting threshold, introducing penalties for non-compliance and establishing an independent body to oversee and enforce its implementation.

Senator Patrick's Additional Recommendations

Recommendation 1

That the Government introduce and deal with legislation to implement Recommendation 1 before the 46th Parliament is dissolved; and

Recommendation 2

Report to the Parliament on its implementation of all other recommendations no later than 31 December 2021.