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Does slavery exist?

Yes. Slavery is happening right now around the world. It is likely that there are more people living in slavery and slavery-like conditions now than any other time in history.

Slavery occurs in Australia. Australia's first conviction for a slavery offence occurred in 2008 in The Queen v Tang [2008] HCA 39.

Slavery occurs when a person exercises ownership rights over another person. Slavery and slavery-like conditions include forced labour, servitude, debt bondage and forced marriage.

More information on slavery is available in Fact sheet 2: What is slavery

What is human trafficking?

Human trafficking is defined in international law as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of a person for the purpose of exploiting them. In Australia, traffickers move people through the use of force, threats, coercion or deception. Coercion can occur through threats of physical or non-physical harm (for example threats of deportation).

More information on human trafficking is available in
Fact sheet 5: Human trafficking

How is human trafficking different from people smuggling?

Like trafficking, whilst both involve the illegal movement of people; trafficking involves the movement of people for the purposes of exploitation after their arrival in the destination country.

The United Nations Office of Drugs and Crimes states that one of the major differences between trafficking and people smuggling is that smuggled consent to the smuggling whilst trafficked people have either never consented or, if they initially consented, that consent has been rendered meaningless by the coercive, deceptive or abuse action of the traffickers.

For more information see:
People smuggling versus trafficking in persons: what is the difference?

How do traffickers recruit people?

Traffickers usually target people with vulnerabilities that they can exploit. A person may become vulnerable in situations such as poverty, lack of employment, family circumstances such as family violence, divorce or upon the death of a family member. Not all trafficked people come from impoverished backgrounds. Trafficked people come from different backgrounds, genders, ages and social classes.

People are usually recruited through advertisements, agencies or by family friends, promising new lives and opportunities overseas.

Upon arriving in the overseas, many people find out that the situation is very different to what they have been promised and they have been deceived about the type of work that they'll be doing, their employer and their working conditions.

What is the Australia doing about human trafficking and slavery?

The Australian government has a National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking and Slavery 2015-19 that provides a strategic framework for Australia's response to human trafficking and slavery. The strategy looks to combat trafficking and slavery through:

  • Prevention and deterrence
  • Detection and investigation
  • Prosecution and compliance
  • Victim support and protection.

See Whole of government strategy for more information.

NGOs like Anti-Slavery Australia also play a vital role in identifying and supporting people who have been trafficked, as well as raising community awareness of trafficking and slavery in Australia.

More information on human trafficking is available in
Fact sheet 10: The community response to human trafficking

Why do trafficked people find it difficult to get help?

Many trafficked people are socially, culturally and physically isolated. They usually have no money, nowhere to go and have had their travel and personal identity documents confiscated by their traffickers. Additionally, there may be language barriers.

Traffickers may threaten to report the trafficked person to the authorities or hurt the trafficked person or their family if they try to escape.

Traffickers often convince trafficked people that their situation will only deteriorate if they contact the authorities, such as being deported.

Are all trafficked people or people in slavery or slavery-like conditions 'illegal migrants'?

No. Although some trafficked people may be in Australia without a valid visa or working in breach of their visa conditions, there are others who have a valid visa with work permissions but are exploited in Australia.

In some cases Australian citizens or residents find themselves in slavery or situations of forced labour, servitude, debt bondage and forced marriage.

Anti-Slavery Australia believes a trafficked person should never be denied adequate protection and support because that person is an unlawful non-citizen or because that person is unable to help police.

Fact sheet 7: Visa options for trafficked people for more information.

How can I identify someone who has been trafficked, enslaved or is facing extreme labour exploitation or forced marriage?

A trafficked person or person facing extreme labour exploitation may be at the construction site you just walked past, the shop you just went in or the restaurant you ate at last night.

Signs include:

  • the person is not being paid
  • the person owes a debt to their employer or a third party
  • the person is unable to end their employment at any time
  • personal documents, such as passports are being held by the employer or a third party and the worker is not allowed to access these documents
  • the person is being subjected to, or threatened with, violence at their workplace
  • the person is being confined or isolated in the workplace or only leaves at odd times
  • the person is living at the workplace, or another place owned/controlled by their employer
  • the person is subject to different or less favourable working conditions than other workers because they're from overseas
  • the person is in the control of another person and is not allowed to speak for himself/herself
  • a third party holds or invests the person's money for him/her
  • the person does not understand the terms or conditions of his/her employment.

For more information about forced marriage and the signs that someone might be in, or at risk of, a forced marriage, see MyBlueSky or Fact sheet 3: Forced marriage.

Not all people in slavery are migrant workers. In some cases, Australian citizens or residents may be enslaved in situations of extreme labour exploitation.

What can I do?

For confidential advice, call us on (02) 9514 8115 or email This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

In emergencies or if you are in immediate danger call Triple 0 (000).

To report a possible crime of exploitation call the Australian Federal Police on 131 237 (131 AFP).


Contact Us

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