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What is forced labour?

Forced LabourWhilst trafficked people are often exploited through forced labour, not everyone who experiences forced labour has been trafficked.

The 2017 Global Estimate of Modern Slavery by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimated that at any one time there are 24.9 million victims of forced labour, with 16 million people exploited in the private sector such as domestic work, construction or agriculture; 4.8 million persons in forced sexual exploitation, and 4 million persons in forced labour imposed by state authorities.

In 2013, the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Slavery, Slavery-Like Conditions and People Trafficking) Act 2013 introduced amendments to the Criminal Code Act 1995 (the Criminal Code) which included a stand-alone offence of forced labour. The definition of forced labour is found in section 270.6 of the Criminal Code. It is defined as the condition of a person (the victim) who provides labour or services if, because of the use of coercion, threat or deception, a reasonable person in the position of the victim would not consider himself or herself to be free: (a) to cease providing the labour or services; or (b) to leave the place or area where the victim provides the labour or services.

The definition above is adapted from the 1930 International Labour Organisation Convention No. 29 concerning Forced or Compulsory Labour which came into force on 1 May 1932. Article 2(1) of the Convention defines forced labour as all work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered himself voluntarily. (Note that Article 2 continues to exclude certain forms of work from the definition of forced labour, including compulsory military service).

There is an important distinction to be made between forced labour and situations where people may be working in sub-standard employment. However, sometimes the difference may not be immediately clear. The ILO has explained that a person in a forced labour situation is determined by the nature of the relationship between a person and an employer and not by the type of work performed, or the legality or illegality of the work.

To find out more about forced labour see our factsheet here.


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