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Modern slavery

In 1948, the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – the first legal document to articulate fundamental human rights that must be protected.  Article 4 states that;

No one shall be held in slavery or servitude: slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.

Despite this declaration, there is growing evidence that forms of slavery persist and permeate the global economy.  This is what is known as modern slavery.

What is modern slavery?

Modern slavery involves coercion, threats or deception to exploit individuals and undermine their freedom. It is often hidden from public view and can occur in any industry/sector and is found in international and local settings.  It can also involve criminal activity such as:

  • human trafficking
  • slavery and servitude
  • forced labour and debt bondage
  • forced marriage
  • exploitative child labour.

According to the Walk Free Global Slavery Index 2018:

  • An estimated 40.3 million people are in some form of modern slavery
  • Over 1,900 people in Australia are victims of modern slavery 
  • Only 1 in 5 victims of modern slavery in Australia are detected 
  • Slavery occurs in every state in Australia
  • Slavery occurs in global supply chains for some of the most common place products in Western society 

Does modern slavery occur in Australia?

Modern slavery does occur in Australia and every day Australians buy products made by people working under conditions of modern slavery. 

It is usually hidden from view and individuals are unable, or too afraid, to speak out. This problem is more than unfair workplace practices, like wage theft or bullying.

In 2018, the Australian Parliament passed the Modern Slavery Act 2018  which established a reporting process for all large Australian businesses and entities - like universities – and requires them to identify and address their modern slavery risks.

What is the University doing?

UWA’s first modern slavery statement details the efforts made by the University over recent years to understand, and where possible, reduce the risks of modern slavery in all its activities.  This work is led by the Modern Slavery Working Group, established in 2020 and operating under the direction of the Office of the Chief Financial Officer.   Key achievements and objectives of the Modern Slavery Working Group include:

  • Identification and response to any potential risks of modern slavery across our operations and supply chains
  • Completion of mandatory Modern Slavery Statements – publicly available on an online register.
  • Is currently developing a three-year plan

The University also supports the UWA Modern Slavery Research Cluster (MSRC) which brings together interdisciplinary researchers and students from across UWA and our partners to contribute to tackling Modern Slavery. 

Risks for Students

Young people, including students, are at a heightened risk of experiencing modern slavery both in Australia and overseas.  They are particularly vulnerable to being exploited in the workplace 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.

What are the signs of modern slavery?

Due to the hidden and intimidating nature of modern slavery, most victims of modern slavery go undetected in Australia.  Here are some of the main signs according to Anti-Slavery Australia:

  • controlled or restricted freedom of movement
  • intimidation and threats including threats of deportation
  • threatened or actual physical and/or sexual violence
  • travel or other important documents taken away
  • withholding, underpayment or no payment of wages
  • repaying inflated debt with labour or services
  • no discretion over life decisions
  • unable to end employment at any time.

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:

How to report a modern slavery incident or concern

If you or someone you know is in danger or is unsafe, please know that help is available. In an emergency, contact Emergency Services by dialling triple zero (000).

If you need specialist legal support and advice, contact Anti-Slavery Australia on +61 9514 8115 or email asalegal@uts.edu.au. They provide free legal and migration services to people who have experienced or are at risk of modern slavery in Australia.

If you need support and help regarding forced marriage you can contact My Blue Sky on help@mybluesky.org.au or send a text to 0481 070 844. They can help you with a translator if you would like one.

Find out further information on human trafficking and how to report information about modern slavery activities at the Australian Federal Police .

Support and Reporting at UWA

If you feel unsafe on campus or are concerned for someone else’s safety on campus you can contact UWA Security on +61 8 6488 2222, 24 hours a day.

UWA students can access free counselling and support from https://www.uwa.edu.au/study/student-life/student-support

Employees can access free counselling and support from the Employee Assistance Program at https://www.safety.uwa.edu.au/health-wellbeing/well-being/eap

Click here to find out more about how to make a complaint/report to UWA

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