Modern slavery in Australia: hidden in plain sight

9 October 2023
We all have a role to play in tackling modern slavery.
Jiaying Yang and Yuereng Li, Media and Communications students at the University of Sydney, have spent the semester working as Engagement Interns with our dedicated human rights team, the Modern Slavery Unit. Jiaying and Yuereng share their experience and the importance of raising awareness of modern slavery through the power of media.

Modern slavery in Australia: does it happen?

When we started our internship with the Modern Slavery Unit, we had very little knowledge of modern slavery. We spoke to other students and found that similarly, many hadn’t heard about modern slavery or its relevance to Australia.

So, we decided to learn more. Equipped with a microphone and camera, we interviewed students around campus to find out what they knew about modern slavery in Australia. 

Here are their responses.

What do our students know about modern slavery in Australia?

How much do students know about modern slavery in Australia? Jiaying and Yuereng, Media and Communications students and Engagement Interns in the Modern Slavery Unit, ask students on campus to find out.

Our internship with the Modern Slavery Unit showed us that modern slavery is an urgent and widespread human rights issue. We learned that modern slavery describes some of the most serious violations of human rights, including human trafficking, forced labour, forced marriage, debt bondage, and the worst forms of child labour. These are all serious crimes in Australia. 

Close to 50 million people are estimated to be living in modern slavery globally. That's twice the size of Australia's population, and an increase of 10 million people since 2017.

Like many of the students we interviewed, we weren’t sure if people in Australia experienced modern slavery, but we learned that in Australia alone, 41,000 people are estimated to be living in conditions of slavery. That’s more than double the previous estimates from 2018.

Jiaying (L) and Yuereng (R), Media and Communications students and interns with the Modern Slavery Unit.

The alarming realities of modern slavery require immediate action, and are particularly relevant to the student population. Students are vulnerable to workplace exploitation, especially those who lack support networks, are from non-English speaking backgrounds, or are unfamiliar with Australian workforce laws.

It has been an incredibly eye-opening experience interning with the Modern Slavery Unit. We gained many insights into the University’s approach to addressing modern slavery risks and respecting human rights. We have a deeper understanding of the indicators and prevalence of modern slavery in Australia and what we can do to prevent it. We also feel empowered to encourage others to access support and educate themselves. 

It is crucial for students to be conscious of the risks of modern slavery and to know what to do if it happens to you or someone you know. We encourage you to learn more by exploring the resources we have included below so that you can recognise modern slavery and raise awareness for its prevention. 

Modern slavery resources and support

Your actions make a difference 

Our everyday actions can make a positive contribution in tackling modern slavery. Here are some simple steps you can take today: 

Raising a modern slavery concern

If you or someone you know is experiencing modern slavery, there are resources available to help and support you.

Report a suspected incident of modern slavery via the Modern Slavery Incident Reporting Form or contact the Modern Slavery Unit via email at 

If you feel unsafe or are concerned for someone else's safety, you can: 

  • Contact Protective Services via phone on (02) 9351 3333, 24 hours a day.
  • Contact Student Wellbeing via phone on (02) 8627 8433 or email at The Student Wellbeing team can support you if you are experiencing workplace exploitation (including modern slavery), sexual misconduct, domestic and family violence, or bullying and harassment. 
  • Contact 1800 SYD HLP (1800 793 457) (option 2, then option 1) via phone, Monday to Friday, 9 am to 5 pm. This is a confidential service which can assist you in reporting and resolving misconduct and connect you with other University support services.
  • Contact after-hours mental wellbeing support via phone on 1300 474 065 or (+61) 488 884 429. This service provides free and confidential access to wellbeing support. 
  • Contact your student representative association. If you're an undergraduate student, contact the Student Representative Council (SRC) via phone at (02) 9660 5222, from Monday to Friday, 9 am to 5 pm. If you're a postgraduate student, you can contact the Sydney University Postgraduate Representative Association (SUPRA) via phone on (02) 9351 3715 from Monday to Friday, 9 am to 5 pm. 
Jiaying Yang
Media and Communications student
Yuereng Li
Media and Communications student

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