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Modern slavery

Modern day slavery and the exploitation of an individual’s right and freedoms, is a universal and complex global problem. The University is committed to protecting human rights and recognises modern slavery is never acceptable in any of its forms.

Modern slavery

We want freedom for everyone, everywhere, always. We are taking modern slavery risks seriously and are implementing a university wide approach to address it, part of which is to support our students so they can make informed choices, and access the support and services they need.

Here you can learn more about modern slavery, how to recognise it, the risks as a student, how to access the support you need to prevent it and access our Anti-Slavery awareness training module on Canvas. You can also find out about other opportunities to take meaningful action against it.

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. 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.

What is the University doing to address modern slavery?

As a higher education institution dedicated to the education and empowerment of future generations, addressing modern slavery goes to the moral heart of what we stand for as an institution.

Our vision at the University of Sydney is for each and every one of us to play a part, whether it’s through our world-leading research, our education offerings, or by striving for an ethical supply chain in our operations, we are committed to protecting human rights and contributing to the global effort to eradicate modern slavery. Together we are well placed to have a collective and positive impact.

In response to the requirements of the Modern Slavery Act 2018, the University has established the Modern Slavery Unit, a dedicated expert team aimed at addressing modern slavery as well as driving collaboration and change with key stakeholders.

Our Modern Slavery Statement 2021 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. Read more about our university wide approach.

Watch a message below from Professor Stephen Garton AM, Principal Advisor to the Vice-Chancellor, outlining what the University is doing to address modern slavery.

Risk to students

Young people, including students, are at a heightened risk of experiencing modern slavery both in Australia and overseas.

Students are particularly vulnerable to being exploited in the workplace, especially those who have fewer immediate support networks, lower English language proficiency, work in the gig economy, or are unaware of the workforce laws in Australia.

COVID-19 is compounding the likelihood of exploitation in the workplace, for all young people, whether international or domestic.

Worker exploitation can occur in the form of:

  • employer wage theft, sham contracting, threats of dismissal, unfair dismissal and excessive work hours
  • employers taking advantage of international student visa status work limits to underpay staff
  • 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
  • 'paying' students in food and housing instead of paying wages.

Exploitation like this is often an indicator that more perverse practices including slavery may be present. The modern slavery scenarios that students may be at risk of experiencing include:

  • debt bondage. For example, you may be forced to provide labour or services as security or repayment of an inflated student debt, through deceptive third party student recruitment practices.
  • forced labour. For example, you may find yourself in a situation where you do not consider yourself free to stop working or to leave your place of work because of coercion, threat or deception.
  • forced marriage. For example, you may be unable to attend or complete University studies due to forced marriage either in Australia or overseas.

What are the signs of modern slavery?

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.

Find out more about reporting on alleged incidences of modern slavery.

What are my rights?

Everyone working in Australia or planning to work in Australia has rights relating to minimum wages, work conditions and your treatment at work. These include:

  • Working rights - you can learn about your working rights on Fairwork Australia. They offer useful factsheets which outline your minimum rights at work, responsibilities and entitlements under Australian workplace laws. It’s important to also understand what is not ok such as undertaking unpaid work trials, or not being given a payslip by your employer.
  • Protections against slavery and slavery-like offences - every worker in Australia has protections in place against deceptive recruitment practices, servitude, forced labour, forced marriage, debt bondage and slavery like offences. You can find out more about this on the Commonwealth Department of Public Prosecutions website.
  • International student rights in the workplace - if you’re an international student, there are a number of resources you can access in the Department of Education and Fair Work Ombudsman tool kit. It’s free to download and offers useful information, such as tips for identifying the warning signs and real life case studies.
  • Right to protection from exploitation, violence and abuse - you should check the Australian Attorney General’s Department for information on protection from exploitation, violence and abuse.
Last updated: 31 January 2023

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