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What is trafficking?


Under the Trafficking Protocol, to which Australia is a signatory, trafficking is defined as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of a person for the purpose of exploiting that person through slavery, forced labour, servitude, debt bondage, organ removal or other forms of exploitation.

Traffickers move their victims through the use of force, threat, coercion, or other deceptive or abusive means.

Trafficking is a violation of human rights and a serious crime. While exploitative practices such as forced labour, slavery and practices similar to slavery often occur as a result of trafficking, this is not always the case. For example, in 2012, the International Labour Organisation estimated that at any one time there are 9.1 million victims of trafficking world wide and 20.9 million victims of forced labour.

The Criminal Code Act (the Criminal Code) contains offences for trafficking in persons which were introduced in 2005 to implement Australia’s obligations under the Trafficking Protocol. Division 271 of the Criminal Code prohibits organising or facilitating the movement of a victim into, out of, or within Australia, where this movement occurs because of coercion, threat, or deception for the purpose of exploitation. It is also an offence to be reckless to the fact that a person who is trafficked to Australia may be exploited. The maximum penalty of the trafficking offences is 12 years imprisonment (aggravated offences have a penalty of 20 years imprisonment). There are separate offences of trafficking in children, which carries a higher penalty of 25 years imprisonment, and also domestic trafficking within Australia.

It is important to understand that people trafficking and people smuggling are different. People smuggling involves the illegal movement of people and  does not involve moving people for the purpose of exploitation after arriving in the destination country. The United Nations Office of Drugs and Crimes states one of the major differences between trafficking and people smuggling is that smuggled migrants consent to the smuggling, while trafficking victims “have either never consented or, if they initially consented, that consent has been rendered meaningless by the coercive, deceptive or abusive actions of the traffickers”.

Trafficking in Australia

Australia is a destination country for people who have been trafficked. The exact number of people trafficked to Australia each year is not known. Since 2004, the Australian Federal Police (‘the AFP’) have undertaken over 340 investigations and assessments of allegations of trafficking and offences related to trafficking such as slavery and servitude. There have been fifteen convictions in Australia for slavery, servitude and trafficking since the offences were introduced under Divisions 270 and 271 of the Criminal Code. In 2012, 59 percent of the new investigations conducted by the AFP between July 2011 and June 2012 related to sexual exploitation, while the remainder related to other forms of labour exploitation.

Suspected victims of trafficking and slavery who have been identified by the AFP have not always been kept under lock and key. Instead trafficked people may be effectively controlled through more subtle methods such as confiscation of travel documents, threats of violence, fear of being reported to authorities and social, cultural and physical isolation. While some trafficked people are unlawfully in Australia, others hold valid visas entitling them to work in Australia.

People are trafficked to Australia for exploitation including forced labour, slavery, forced marriage, servitude and debt bondage. These types of exploitation can occur in workplaces or in private homes. So far most cases of trafficking in Australia have been identified in the sex industry but people can also be trafficked to Australia for exploitation in other industries such as hospitality, construction and agriculture, as well as domestic labour and forced marriage.

To find out more about people trafficking see our factsheet here. If you or someone you know has been trafficked, click here to see our factsheet on where to find help.


Contact Us

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