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What is slavery?

What is Slavery

Slavery is defined as the condition of a person over whom any or all of the powers attaching to the right of ownership are exercised, including where such a condition results from a debt or contract made by the person. (270.1 Criminal Code)

The traditional view of slavery is that people are chained up and controlled, or bought and traded like property.

Slavery still exists today, however not necessarily in the traditional sense. Slavery may still occur when a person effectively owns another person, but the law also recognises that slavery may occur through a number of other ways, such as through:

  • Control of movement
  • Control of physical environment
  • Psychological control
  • Measures taken to prevent or deter escape, force, threat of force, coercion or deception
  • Assertion of exclusivity
  • Subjection to cruel treatment and abuse, control of sexuality, and forced labour
  • Power to use services without commensurate compensation

Slavery is different to harsh and exploitative working conditions in that in slavery cases there would be a more severe application of the above elements. However, it is difficult to distinguish between the two and some of the above elements above might apply to harsh or exploitative working conditions as well.

For a slavery offence under the criminal law to be proven, it needs to be established that the slave owner intended to exercise ownership rights over their victim/s, the effects of which are listed above.

If you want to read more about slavery, go to the factsheet here. If you would like to know more about the work of Anti-Slavery Australia, please click here.


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Anti-Slavery Australia, University of Technology Sydney
Phone: +61-2-9514 9660