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What is modern slavery?

Modern slavery

Our commitment to respecting human rights

The University of Sydney is committed to respecting human rights and is taking meaningful action to address the global human rights issue of modern slavery.

What is modern slavery?

Modern slavery is a serious violation of an individual’s dignity and human rights. Exploitative practices, including human trafficking, slavery, servitude, forced labour, debt bondage and forced marriage, are all considered modern slavery and are serious crimes under Australian law.

It occurs in every country in the world including Australia. It also exists across all sectors and organisations. The International Labour Organisation estimates there are more than 40 million people in modern slavery conditions worldwide, with up to 15,000 people estimated to be living in conditions of modern slavery in Australia.

Modern slavery is only used to describe serious exploitation. It does not include practices like substandard working conditions or underpayment of workers. However, these practices are also illegal and harmful and may be indicators of modern slavery.

Professor Stephen Garton AM, Principal Advisor to the Vice-Chancellor discusses the University's role in Modern Slavery.

Our commitment and vision

How we address this challenging global issue is underpinned by our commitment to respect human rights and to take meaningful action to address modern slavery.

We all have a moral and ethical obligation to play our part in eradicating modern slavery practices. As a higher education institution occupying a unique space at the intersection of public and private enterprise, we recognise the important role the University, and the sector, can play in the global effort to eradicate modern slavery.

Our vision at the University of Sydney is for each and every one of us to play a part, whether it’s through undertaking much-needed research, building knowledge and awareness, supporting students or engaging with partners and suppliers on this important issue. Together we are well placed to have a collective and positive impact.

What is the University doing?

In response to the requirements of the Modern Slavery Act 2018, the University has established the Modern Slavery Unit, a dedicated expert team within the Office of the Provost and Deputy Vice Chancellor providing a University-wide strategic approach for addressing modern slavery and driving collaboration across government, business and civil society to build the knowledge base and tools needed to generate transformative change.

Our 2021 Modern Slavery Statement (pdf, 3MB) provides a detailed account of actions we have taken to identify and address modern slavery risks in our operations and supply chains over the past year.

Our 2021 efforts build on the foundational steps taken over the past two years to date to identify key risks across our supply chain, operations, and investments and prioritise those for risk-based due diligence and preventative action. Over the coming years, we will continue to focus on:

Our statement provides the basis for continuous improvement as we track our progress against set outcomes and KPIs and continue to learn and grow as an institution committed to protecting human rights and preventing exploitation. Refer to our multi-year strategy (pdf, 90.7kb) for more information.

Our a four-stage risk analysis, enables us to identify key areas across our operations and supply chain with potential modern slavery risks.

Third party provider EcoVadis, will provide ongoing assessments of our suppliers covering a broad range of non-financial factors, including environmental, labour and human rights, ethics and sustainability impacts.

Our Modern Slavery Policy sets out our commitment to addressing modern slavery. It underpins our efforts to embed human rights considerations into our business-as-usual practices by setting out our commitment and standards of behaviour expected of all staff, affiliates, suppliers, and partners.

Our contracts and agreement templates include provisions on addressing modern slavery, including new requirements for all suppliers to the University.

We have partnered with Anti-Slavery Australia to develop an online training module for staff to help our people to identify and respond to modern slavery risks, which is for mandatory completion.

An engaging anti-slavery awareness module has been specifically designed to help our students identify and understand the risks of modern slavery and to highlight where they can go for assistance and support. The module is available to all students via the student website.

To share your experiences and collaborate with us, email

Our methodology and tools

A critical first step in our journey has been to develop a policy and processes to help us identify potential modern slavery risks across our operations and supply chain.

We believe the University has an important role in educating people and empowering through education and awareness.  As part of our contribution to the effort to eradicate modern slavery in the higher education sector, the templates and frameworks that underpin our efforts are shared here for adaptation or use within other contexts:

A range of tools and resources are available to learn more about and respond to the risks of modern slavery.

Anti-Slavery Australia is a specialist legal practice, research and policy centre committed to the abolition of modern slavery in Australia.

Identifying risk factors, commodities, sectors and geographies

Online registers of company compliance history

Tools for engaging with suppliers to identify modern slavery risks in the supply chain

Guidance on taking action and reporting

Previous statements

Frequently asked questions

Under the Commonwealth Modern Slavery Act (2018), the University is required to prepare an annual public statement on actions it has taken to identify and remediate modern slavery risks in its operations, supply chains and investments. The Commonwealth Modern Slavery Act Guidance for Reporting Entities incorporating the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and requires the University to assess the actual and potential human rights impacts to people.

To meet our reporting obligations, from 2020 onwards the University undertakes human rights due diligence with respect to its supply chains, operations and investments and implements appropriate policy initiatives to demonstrably and continually reduce risks of causing, contributing or being directly linked to modern slavery.

New requirements are in place for all suppliers to the University. For more information refer to our supplier webpage.

Due to the covert nature of the crime and low awareness it is estimated that most victims of modern slavery go undetected in Australia. It is important that people are aware that modern slavery exists, that they talk about it and that they know how to recognise the signs.

Here are the main signs according to Anti-Slavery Australia:

  • controlled or restricted freedom of movement – monitored, guarded or confined
  • intimidation and threats including threats of deportation
  • threatened or actual physical and/or sexual violence
  • travel or other important documents have been taken by employer or a third party
  • abusive living and/or working conditions
  • living at the workplace or another place owned/controlled by employer
  • isolation – geographic, social and/or linguistic
  • withholding, underpayment or no payment of wages
  • excessive hours of work
  • debt bondage (i.e. labour or services are provided as security or repayment of an inflated debt)
  • deceived, or lack of information about nature and conditions of work
  • no discretion over life decisions
  • unable to end employment at any time.

You can play a meaningful role by being a champion and advocate for addressing modern slavery. 

For more information please contact or visit:

You can get in touch with the University’s Modern Slavery team with any questions at

University of Sydney staff and students, affiliates and members of the public can use the Modern Slavery Incident Reporting Form to confidentially report or make an anonymous disclosure to the University to share information on alleged incidences of modern slavery that may be linked to any part of the University’s operations or functions, including:

  • suspected incidents of modern slavery, labour exploitation, debt bondage, or risks of forced marriage or other types of modern slavery, or if you are worried about someone who might be in this type of situation;
  • concerns regarding modern slavery occurring, both on or off campus, or in the University’s supply chain through the procurement of goods and services.

What constitutes Modern Slavery?

Modern slavery involves extreme exploitation where individuals are threatened, coerced or deceived. Under Australian law, it is an umbrella term used to describe criminal offences including:

  • forced labour where the person is not free to leave the workplace or to stop working
  • debt bondage where the person’s services are pledged as security for a debt and the debt is manifestly excessive, or their services are not applied to liquidate the debt, or the length and nature of the services are not limited and defined
  • deceptive recruitment or labour services where the person has been deceived about their work and the work involves exploitation through a specific type of modern slavery
  • forced marriage where coercion, threats or deception are used to make a person marry, or where the person does not understand or is incapable of understanding the nature and effect of the marriage ceremony.

Please do not use this form if the incident or concern does not involve modern slavery and extreme labour exploitation. Instead, we encourage you to use other University forms for the purposes for which they were intended. For example, if your matter relates to:


Support from the University and Helplines

If you or someone you know is in danger or is unsafe, please know that help is available. You can get help by contacting one of the phone numbers on this page.

In an emergency, you should contact Emergency Services by dialling triple zero (000).

If you feel unsafe on campus or are concerned for someone else’s safety on campus you can contact Protective Services on 9351 3333, 24 hours a day.

Counselling and other assistance

If you are a staff or student who has experienced sexual misconduct and require counselling or any assistance with the completion of this form, we encourage you to contact the University’s Safer Communities Office on +61 2 8627 6808 who are available from Monday-Friday 9am-5pm. Students and staff can also email the SCO on and they will be in contact with you by the next business day.

External Specialised Legal Support

If you need specialist legal support and advice, please contact Anti-Slavery Australia (ASA). ASA is an external specialist legal centre providing free legal and migration services to people who have experienced or are at risk of modern slavery in Australia. To contact Anti-Slavery Australia phone (02) 95148115 or email

If you need support and help regarding Forced marriage you can contact My Blue Sky or call (02) 9514 8115. You can also send an e-mail to or send a text to 0481 070 844. They can help you with a translator if you would like one.

Our research

As a leading university, we are uniquely placed to contribute to the global understanding and effort to address modern slavery through world leading research. Our researchers are applying academic and research expertise to help inform the world’s understanding of modern slavery and what we can all do collectively to eliminate it.

News & opinion

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