The University of Sydney Quadrangle building from above and the city of Sydney in the background

Taking action on modern slavery

24 July 2023
"What we say matters, what we do matters more"
The University of Sydney's third annual Modern Slavery Statement provides a comprehensive overview of the University's approach to combatting modern slavery and its strategies for prevention, detection and remediation.

Today, the University of Sydney has released its third annual Modern Slavery Statement, solidifying its strong commitment to respecting human rights and showcasing its leadership in the fight against modern slavery. As one of more than 3000 large entities in Australia, the University is required under the Modern Slavery Act 2018 (Commonwealth) to publicly report its actions to address modern slavery on an annual basis.

Since the introduction of the Act in 2018, more than 8000 modern slavery statements from organisations based in over 50 countries have been lodged with the Australian government. The Australian Modern Slavery Act is just one of over 30 human rights and modern slavery laws proposed or enacted globally.

Despite increased legislated due diligence requirements, global estimates of modern slavery have risen by almost 10 million people, bringing the total to an alarming 50 million women, children and men working under slave-like conditions worldwide. More than 29 million of these individuals are located in the Asia-Pacific region, and approximately 41,000 are in Australia.

Modern slavery encompasses various forms of exploitation, such as forced labour, human trafficking, forced marriage and debt bondage. It permeates value chains, often unbeknownst to consumers, from the production of goods to the provision of services. Consequently, eradicating modern slavery necessitates the collective efforts of not only governments but also corporations, civil society and universities.

“Slavery is an old and wicked problem – but it persists today, manifesting in new ways,” said Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Mark Scott.  

“Technology has created new opportunities for harm, particularly of children. Climate change and conflict has displaced millions of people and increased extreme poverty. It is incumbent on institutions such as ours to tackle these challenges and help build a better world. 

As a research-intensive university, we have a unique opportunity to offer innovative, evidence-based solutions to tackling these systemic challenges, which heighten the risk of modern slavery for people who are most vulnerable.
Professor Mark Scott, Vice-Chancellor and President

The University’s latest Modern Slavery Statement provides a comprehensive overview of the University's approach to combatting modern slavery and outlines its strategies for prevention, detection and remediation. It emphasises the importance of risk-based due diligence, highlighting the need to work collaboratively with suppliers, research partners and to ensure ethical practices are upheld throughout the University's operations.

“I am personally proud of the action we’ve taken, recognised as sector-leading in Australia in 2022, thanks in no small part to the courage and energy shown by so many of our staff, students, suppliers, partners and wider community,” said Esty Marcu, Director of the Modern Slavery Unit.

“One of the defining features of the University of Sydney's Statement is our commitment to transparency and demonstrating a willingness to be held accountable for our actions. This level of transparency fosters trust, both internally among faculty and students and externally with stakeholders, including the public and partner organisations.”

Partnering with government and industry

Collaboration is also a key pillar of the University's approach. Recognising the complexity of the issue, the University of Sydney actively engages with external stakeholders, including government bodies, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and industry partners. This collaboration facilitates the sharing of knowledge, development of best practices, and collective efforts to combat modern slavery. 

Carolyn Kitto, National Co-Director of Be Slavery Free, a coalition of civil society organisations with on-the-ground experience in preventing, disrupting and remediating modern slavery, said universities are pivotal in catalysing diverse partnerships and new strategies to propel the change needed to tackle modern slavery.

“One such example is the Open Analysis to Address Slavery in Supply Chains tool, which we’re working to develop with the University’s Modern Slavery Unit and academics in the School of Physics,” said Ms Kitto. 

“This innovative tool, which will be publicly available and free to use, will identify modern slavery risks deep within complex supply chains, using the same approach to carbon footprinting. One of the standout features of the tool is the collaboration with civil society and business. This ensures the tool is informed by the expertise of those working at the coalface of modern slavery and tailored to the needs of users.”

Embedding modern slavery knowledge into curriculum and research

The University of Sydney also recognises its role in educating and shaping future leaders. By incorporating the issue of modern slavery into its curriculum and research, the University empowers its community to become advocates for change. 

In 2022, the University launched a new unit of study in the Master of Business Administration, providing students with a cross-disciplinary approach to responsible business. It also worked with the inaugural NSW Anti-slavery Commissioner, civil society and the business sector to offer research and advisory support, build the evidence base and develop innovative tools.

“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,” said Provost and Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Annamarie Jagose.

“Together, we are well placed to have a collective and positive impact.”

The real measure of success will lie in the implementation and impact of the University’s outlined measures. It is crucial that the University of Sydney follows through on its commitments, ensuring that it proactively identifies, mitigates and remediates modern slavery across its research and education activities, investments and supply chain.