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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 2005 Global Report on Forced Labour by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimated that at any one time there are 12.4 million victims of forced labour of whom more than 2.4 million were in forced labour as a result of human trafficking.

The definition of forced labour can be found in section 73.2 of the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth) (“the Criminal Code”). It is defined as “the condition of a person who provides labour or services (other than sexual services) and who, because of the use of force or threats: (a) is not free to cease providing labour or services; or (b) is not free to leave the place or area where the person provides labour or services”. This definition 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.

There is no stand-alone offence of forced labour in the Criminal Code (although in some circumstances forced labour may amount to slavery which is an offence in the Criminal Code). However, an offence of people smuggling or trafficking will become an aggravated offence (and therefore attract a higher penalty) if the smuggled or trafficked person is subjected to forced labour. The Anti-Slavery Australia strongly supports strengthening our Criminal Code by introducing a distinct and separate offence of forced labour.

To find out more about forced labour see Fact Sheet no.4 Labour Trafficking.


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