As we reported here, in late August, the Australian Senate passed a bill – Customs Amendment (Banning Goods Produced By Forced Labour) Bill 2021 – that would ban imports of goods made with forced labor. Earlier this week, a similar bill was introduced in the House of Representatives and had its second reading, but this parliamentary sitting is almost done for the year so it may not be considered until next year.
The bill was introduced in the House by MP Rebekha Sharkie of the Centre Alliance on November 22. She spoke generally about the problems with forced labor around the world, but then focused on specific problems in China as follows:
Cotton products in particular, are at high risk of originating from or a part of forced labour arrangements through the supply chain. The Uighur region in Xinjiang, China, produces approximately 85 per cent of all Chinese cotton. Much of this cotton enters transactional supply chains, where it is then used in intermediary manufacturers in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Vietnam, India, Pakistan, Kenya, Ethiopia, China and Mexico. Much of the cotton in the Uighur region is hand picked by people forced to do so, and the textile factories in the region are known to employ forced labour. Citizens who are minoritised are also transferred thousands of kilometres away to inland China to work without choice in the factories in major textile and apparel exporters.
In her press release on this issue, she noted that her bill "mirrors that of Senator Patrick’s legislation which has been passed by the Senate and is waiting to be debated in the House of Representatives." Like the Senate bill, her bill reflected a Senate Committee recommendation that "it would be preferable to introduce a global ban on the imported goods to Australia that were produced by forced labour and the committee accordingly recommended that the Customs Act 1901 be amended to prohibit the import of any goods made wholly or in part by forced labour, regardless of geographic origin." She concluded by saying: "This bill is too important to be subject to the usual politicking of this House. It must not be sent off to committee to be left on the table to expire. We have the opportunity to actively join the international community and make a positive difference to the lives of the most disadvantaged people in the world."
In a press conference the same day, Sharkie, Senator Patrick, and NGO campaigner Carolyn Kitto discussed these issues further. Senator Patrick noted:
I don't understand why the Morrison government did not support this legislation in the Senate. Ethically there is no reason not to support this. I'm very grateful for Rebecca, basically bringing this to the House, so we can see whether the government's had a rethink on this. I sincerely hope that they have.
He also said: "The tabling of the bill by Rebecca Sharkie enables reengagement, it enables the discussion to continue, that's the point of it."
Carolyn Kitto then drew comparisons to the policies of other countries: "It brings us into line with the kind of legislation which is happening all around the world, particularly amongst those that would be our allies in these issues, the US, Canada, Japan, UK and the EU."
In terms of this bill's prospects, Australian lawyer Andrew Hudson pointed out that the bill was introduced by a "crossbench" party that is not in the majority. He also noted that this is taking place in the last sitting weeks of Parliament for the year, so it may not get considered until next year. And given that an election is likely between March and May, the bill "may get lost with cessation of this Parliament."