In Australia, it’s easy to take our freedom for granted. Looking around, it often seems like we live in a slave free society.

If we do think about slavery, most of us probably think of people in chains and the Atlantic slave trade. We don’t think that it’s something happening right now in Australia.

In fact, there are at least 15,000 people living in modern slavery in Australia according to the Global Slavery Index.

In Australia today, people may not be restricted by physical chains, but people are held in modern slavery through psychological and financial manipulation. 

It can be hard to believe, especially when it’s something you don’t see around you. But the truth is, modern slavery does really happen in Australia and it is hiding in plain sight.

What is modern slavery?

Let’s just take a moment to understand the type of slavery happening in Australia today. 

Modern slavery refers to some of the worst kinds of exploitation and restriction of freedom. The three main types of modern slavery in Australia are forced labour, sexual exploitation and forced marriage. 

Forced labour

Forced labour is a particularly big issue in the construction, domestic work, agriculture, meat processing, cleaning, hospitality and food services industries.

At particular risk are migrants on temporary work visas, who can be vulnerable to being exploited in terrible work conditions for minimal pay. Debt bondage, language barriers, a lack of support network and a lack of knowledge about Australian employment laws can have devastating results for these groups.

Sexual exploitation

Sex trafficking and sexual exploitation is one of the most known types of modern slavery. This is a concerning issue in Australia.

Women from Asian countries are the most impacted demographic, but it can impact Australian citizens and other migrants too.

Forced marriage

In Australia, most identified cases of a person being forced into a marriage without their free and informed consent happen to children under the age of 18. In 2011-13, over 250 cases of child marriage were identified.

Understanding more about these types of modern slavery makes it easier to see how it can happen in Australia. It is much more widespread it is than you may think.

Industry and supply chains

Australia doesn’t just have an issue with slavery within our country, we impact global slavery as well. Being part of a global economy means that many of the goods we import have slavery within their supply chains. 

Some of the worst industries are electronics, such as laptops and phones, and fashion and apparel. Food can have slavery in the supply chain too, particularly things like fish, rice and chocolate.

What is being done

Slavery is illegal in Australia under the Commonwealth Criminal Code Act 1995. Both forced labour and forced marriage are specifically outlawed too. However, these laws are not enough to eradicate slavery, as it is often something that is hard to find and enforce.

Just last year, Australia introduced the Modern Slavery Act 2018, which puts obligations on businesses to report on their efforts to avoid modern slavery. Hopefully this new law will make a more widespread difference on preventing and reducing slavery in Australia.

The Freedom Hub is the only organisation in Australia specifically aimed at supporting victims of modern slavery. While escaping conditions of slavery is the first step to freedom, it is often a long road to rebuild confidence, stability and financial independence after such a traumatic experience. 

The Freedom Hub’s Survivor School assists victims of modern slavery to find their feet again and achieve their life goals with a safe and supportive community around them.

The Survivor School is partially funded by The Freedom Hub cafe, which is fully stocked with ethical ingredients with slave free supply chains.

What more can I do?

Modern slavery in Australia can seem like an overwhelming issue, and leave you unsure about how to help. The good news is that there are simple, practical steps you can take right now to make a difference.

The first is to educate yourself. There are plenty of resources available online for you to learn more about modern slavery and how to recognise it. The Anti-Slavery Australia e-learning course is an excellent example.

As a small business owner, it is also a really good idea to do an anti-slavery training session, such as those run by The Freedom Hub. This will help you to run an ethical business and minimise your business’ contribution to slavery – not just in Australia but around the world.

As a consumer, being aware of where your electronics, clothes and even food comes from can help you make good decisions and choose options that don’t have slavery in their supply chains. Resources like the Good On You App and Shop Ethical are a good start. You can also look into food labels such as Fair Trade, which can be a helpful indication for products such as chocolate.

If you have any questions about the work of The Freedom Hub or what else you can do to make a difference, please feel free to get in touch!