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Modern slavery

The University is committed to respecting human rights and supporting our students to be aware of modern slavery risks and where they can access support.

What is modern slavery?

Modern slavery describes some of the most serious violations of human rights, including trafficking in persons, slavery, servitude, forced labour, forced marriage, debt bondage, the worst forms of child labour and deceptive recruiting for labour or services. 

Modern slavery is at the extreme end of a continuum of exploitation and often involves the gradual undermining of a person’s freedom, through coercion, threats, and deception. It occurs in every country in the world including Australia. The International Labour Organisation estimates there are close to 50 million people in modern slavery conditions worldwide, with up to 41,000 people estimated to be living in conditions of modern slavery in Australia.

Watch Lina's story to learn more about modern slavery risks in Australia.

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 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.

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.

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. Modern slavery may 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, threats 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.

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.

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. You can find out more about your rights in Australia, your visa requirements and where to access help at the Study Australia website. The Fair Work Ombudsman also has answers for frequently asked questions. Go to the Department of Education for information on your rights in different languages.

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.

  • Learn more about modern slavery. Complete our anti-slavery awareness module on Canvas, developed in partnership with Anti-Slavery Australia and completed by over 8,000 students.
  • Report an incident: If you or someone you know may be experiencing modern slavery linked to any part of the University’s activities, make an anonymous report through our online form. The Modern Slavery Unit will use the information you provide to understand your needs, to refer you to care and support, and where possible, address the incident you are reporting. You can also find support services for students on the reporting page.
  • Become a human rights champion: Join the University's Student Human Rights Network and get involved in human rights initiatives on campus.
  • Be a conscious consumer: Use resources like Good on You, Good Fish Australia, Shop Ethical and The Ethical Fashion Guide to make more ethical purchasing decisions.
Last updated: 04 June 2024

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