Much of young people’s understanding of slavery comes from the slave trade that took place in the 1600s to 1900s (the transatlantic slave trade). The transatlantic slave trade was characterised by readily observable control and deprivation of liberty. For instance physical restraints were often used. 

Modern slavery consists of different types of exploitation and methods of control. The nature of control over a person can involve physical restraints, but today slavery more often involves psychological control, use of threats and other coercive methods that are often not easy to observe or identify. 

Today 40.3 million people live in modern slavery around the globe. Australia is no exception, and Modern Slavery does happen here. The rates of detection of victims is very low. It is estimated that 80% of victims in Australia are never even detected. The rate of conviction in Australia is also very low. 

Between 2004-2017 over 800 cases of modern slavery were referred to the Australian Federal Police. Only 21 offenders were convicted. 

It is estimated that only 1 in 5 victims of modern slavery are ever detected. This means that 4 out 5 victims of modern slavery are never detected and therefore the perpetrators never face prosecution.

Modern slavery is a term that encompasses a number of different forms of exploitation. The types of exploitation that constitute modern slavery are not closed categories. There are countless circumstances that may constitute modern slavery.

Forms of exploitation that may constitute modern slavery include:

  • Human trafficking
  • Forced marriage
  • Servitude including domestic and/or sexual servitude
  • Forced labour
  • Deceptive recruitment for labour or services
  • Debt bondage
  • Organ trafficking
  • The worst forms of child labour

Read About Some of the Types of Modern Slavery

Forced marriage

Forced marriage is a slavery-like practice and an emerging issue in Australia. Forced marriage occurs when someone is married without providing full and free constent.

Forced labour

Forced labour occurs where work is done under the ‘menace of penalty’ and the work is done with a ‘lack of consent’.

Debt bondage

Debt bondage is a slavery-like practice. Usually debt bondage will involve an inflated debt that the victim is forced to repay with labour.

Forced Marriage

Forced marriage is a slavery-like practice and an emerging issue in Australia. Forced marriage occurs when someone is married without providing full and free consent. Victims of forced marriage may be coerced, threatened or deceived into a marriage. In these circumstances real consent is not provided and it is forced, and illegal, marriage.

Marriage in Australia is between two individuals over the age 18 who freely and completely consent to the marriage. Consent can not be provided by a person under the age of 16 for the purpose of marriage in Australia

Forced marriage can happen to either gender. However, forced marriage is sometimes described as a form of gender-based violence because it happens mainly young women and girls. Forced marriage can occur in any community, culture or religion.

Arranged marriage compared to forced marriage

Forced marriage differs from arranged marriage. Parties to an arranged marriage are free to decide whether they want to proceed with the arrangement in the absence of any coercion, deception or threat. On the other hand, a victim of forced marriage is not free to decide. A victim of forced marriage is coerced, deceived or threatened into the marriage and does not consent to the marriage. An Arranged marriage can sometimes become a forced marriage, but so long as the parties to an arranged marriage are over 18 and retain the ability to freely and fully decide whether or not they will go through with the marriage, it is legal in Australia.

Example of Arranged Marriage

The parents of a 18-year-old girl living in Sydney introduce her to the son of a family friend. The family friend’s son is introduced as a potential partner for the purpose of arranging a marriage. Both of them can choose whether they will proceed with the arranged marriage or not. There is no deception and the couple are not threatened in any way. There is what we describe as free and full consent.

Example of Forced Marriage

A 20-year-old tells his father that he has been in a same-sex relationship for the past few months. The father beats the son and locks him in a room for 12 hours without food or water. When the son is released from the room his father informs that he will marry a woman chosen for him by the father. The son is fearful of what his father will do if he does not go ahead with the marriage.

To learn more about forced marriage visit the My Blue Sky Wesbsite.

Related Links:

  • Survivor Stories about Forced Marriage

Forced labour

Forced labour is a serious violation of human rights. The International Labour Organisation estimated that in 2012 there were 20.9 million victims of forced labour in the world. Forced labour occurs where work is done under the ‘menace of penalty’ and the work is done with a ‘lack of consent’. 

This type of modern slavery is a form of exploitation that involves coercion. While sometimes forced labour consists of aggressive and easily observable tactics (e.g. armed guards who prevent workers from leaving, or workers who are confined to locked premises), more often this form of exploitation is overt (e.g. confiscation of identity papers, or threats to a victim’s family, or threats to report the victim to the authorities). As a result, forced labour can be difficult to recognise and victims of forced labour may not realise that they are being exploited. 

Forced labour is not the same as situations that merely involve the payment of low wages, poor working conditions or situations of economic necessity, where a person feels tied to their job because of financial pressure or the lack of alternate employment. However, lack of viable employment alternatives can make a person vulnerable to modern slavery and stay in exploitative arrangements. The table below provides some examples of what is and isn’t forced labour and modern slavery.

Is forced labour

Simon works at a warehouse in Sydney. His employer pays the workers very little, often only a few dollars a hour. Simon is required to work 9am to 8pm, 6 days a week. Simon and all the other workers are on visas that allow them to work a maximum of 20 hours a week. They have all breached the conditions of their visas by working an average of 40 hours a week. The owner of the warehouse says that they have to keep working for him or else he will inform the police and immigration that they have breached the conditions of their visas.

Is forced labour

Chelsea has recently moved to Australia on a temporary work visa. She is employed as a live in maid for a husband and wife living in Sydney. Chelsea cleans and cooks for her employers every day, usually spending more than 9 hours straight completing tasks assigned to her. A neighbour becomes concerned and attempts to convince Chelsea to go with her to speak with the police. Chelsea refuses because her employer has told her that if she tells anyone about her situation he will have her parents and siblings killed back home.

Is not forced labour

Tina works at a warehouse in Melbourne. She and the other workers are paid the minimum wage but their employer does not pay them penalty rates. Tina and the other employees are also not paid sick leave and their annual leave is deducted if it is not used. All of the employees are on work visas. Tina and the other employees decide not to lodge a complaint because they do not want to create any trouble. Tina decides not to lodge a complaint but begins searching for a new job.

Is not forced labour

Tim works in the construction industry.He is not provided with protective equipment of any sort including a hard hat. The law requires that all workers on a construction site wear appropriate protective equipment, especially hard hats. Tim does not want to annoy his employer by asking him to provide hard hats for the employees. Even though he has been hurt a few times, he decides not to bother asking his employer for the proper protective equipment.

Many of the scenarios that are not forced labour do still involve criminal offences and/or some degree of exploitation. However, they are not instances of forced labour or modern slavery. Rather, they are instances of poor working conditions and/or underpayment of wages. The difference between poor working conditions and forced labour is that in the case of forced labour the victim is being controlled or coerced, and they are in some way deprived of their freedom. Poor working conditions are often present in cases of forced labour but on their own, without the elements of control and coercion, they do not constitute modern slavery.

Minimum Wages

Being underpaid for work does not necessarily mean you are victim of forced labour.. However, being payed an amount well below the minimum wages is a characteristic often observed in instances of modern slavery and labour exploitation.

All employees working in Australia are entitled to a minimum wage. It does not matter if you are a migrant, non-citizen or temporary visa holder. If you work in Australia you are entitled to a minimum wage. The minimum wage will depend on the type of work, penalties and age of the employee. However, there is a general minimum wage set by the Fair Work Ombudsman that is the minimum amount that any person in any type of work can be payed. 

Access the Fair Work Ombudsman information on minimum wages.

International Students

Over the past decade, NGOs and government bodies have increasingly reported that individuals on student visas in Australia have been subject to exploitation, especially labour exploitation such as forced labour. One of the conditions Visas held by international students is that the holder of such a visa may only work a maximum of 40 hours per fortnight during the semester. The low number of working hours allowed on a student visa may result in these conditions being exploited, with students pressured into engaging in exploitative arrangments.  

Related Links:

  • Survivor stories about forced labour

Debt bondage

Debt bondage is a slavery-like practice. Debt bondage as a type of exploitation will occur differently depending on the particular situation. Usually debt bondage will involve an inflated debt that the victim is forced to repay with labour.

One common scenario is where an individual seeks to travel and live in a wealthy country, like Australia, but does not have the resources to do so. The individual will arrange to travel to Australia, expending no resources upfront. Instead they indebt themselves and enter into an arrangement wherein once in Australia they will work to repay a debt. Sometimes the victim will agree to what they think sounds like a relatively reasonable arrangement that later turns out to be deceptive. For instance once the individual has arrived in Australia they might be told that instead of the agreed amount of $10,000 they were in fact required to repay a debt of $50,000. Alternatively, they may be initially told that they will be able to keep some of there wages while paying of their debt, however are later informed that all of their wages are to go towards paying back their debt.

Victims of debt bondage are often not aware that this is a form of exploitation and a criminal offence. It is also common for victims of debt bondage to be isolated, lack English language skills and be unaware of the norms and customs of Australian life. These characteristics contribute to an individual’s vulnerability to control and exploitation. Sometimes a victim is vulnerable to debt bondage because of a belief that they have an obligation to pay off the debt.

Some common characteristics of debt bondage include:

  • An inflated debt of any amount
  • Undervaluation of wages
  • Working longer hours
  • Working hours and type of work outside of the initial agreement
  • Increasing the debt to cover ‘costs’ such as rent and food
  • All or a majority of wages paid back towards the debt 

The following table identifies whether different scenarios are examples of debt bondage.

Not an example of debt bondage

Going on a trip with a friend who pays for you to come along but says you need to repay him at some point when you all get home from your trip.

Example of debt bondage

Travelling to Australia and having to work and live in a brothel in order to pay back the cost of your flight and visa while not receiving any wages.

Not an example of debt bondage 

Taking money from your parents and being forced to repay them.

Related Links:

  • Survivor stories about debt bondage

Modern slavery is a term that encompasses a number of different forms of exploitation. The types of exploitation that constitute modern slavery are not closed categories. There are countless circumstances that may constitute modern slavery.