On Sunday, 25 March, communities across the globe celebrated Freedom Day, the 200th Anniversary of the Abolition of the Transatlantic Slave Trade Act.
Freedom Day marks anti-slavery campaigner William Wilberforce's 20-year struggle to end the legalised buying and selling of human beings in Britain when it was a mainstay of many western economies. And yet, today, there are more people being trafficked and enslaved than were ever traded during the entire 350 years of the legalised slavery; an estimated 27 million people worldwide in forced labor, debt-bondage and servitude. Estimates of human trafficking, the recruitment and transportation of people for the purpose of exploitation and slavery, vary from 600,000 - 2 million traded around the globe annually. Anywhere from $9 - $30 billion is being made each year by criminals through deception, coercion and violence who force victims to work for little or no pay across a spectrum of industries. The United Nations has characterised human trafficking as the third most lucrative trans-national crime after drugs and arms smuggling.
“Australia is not immune to the problems of trafficking and slavery,” says Jennifer Burn, Director of the Anti-Slavery Project and Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Law at the University of Technology Sydney. “Freedom Day provides an opportunity to seriously reflect on the human cost of slavery and how effectively we have responded to the plight of victims of in our country.”
While estimates of the numbers of people trafficked and enslaved in Australia remain unclear, the Government has been engaged in international dialogue and began developing a domestic response in the late 1990s to trafficking and slavery primarily in the sex industry. In December 2002, the Government signed the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking Persons and ratified the Protocol in September of 2005. In 1999 and 2005, the Australian Government updated the Australian Criminal Code to include new criminal offences that address the trafficking and enslavement of people.
In 2004, the Government released its National Action Plan to Eradicate Trafficking in Persons and allocated AU$20 million for its implementation. The majority of funds were expended on programs in Southeast Asia aimed at prevention and to establish a 23-member specialist Australian Federal Police Trans-national Sexual Exploitation and Trafficking Team (TSETT) to focus on investigating and prosecuting trafficking and slavery crimes. A small amount of funding was allocated to support services for victims in Australia. It is time now to evaluate the success of the Action Plan by reviewing the numbers of victims identified nationwide, the operation of the witness protection visa scheme and the prosecution process.
“The Australian Government's commitment to combating trafficking and slavery is commendable,” says Jennifer Burn. “However, its approach and strategies, thus far, have failed to achieve substantive results in the areas of protection for victims, prosecution of traffickers/ slaveholders and in prevention. We urge the Government to consider recommendations to improve responses to human trafficking and strengthen the commitment to victims of trafficking and slavery.
The Anti-Slavery Project (ASP) was established in 2005 within the Faculty of Law at the University of Technology Sydney. ASP is at the forefront of promoting a human rights response to human trafficking and slavery in Australia through law reform and policy advocacy, research, community education, training, collaboration with government and non-government agencies and victim assistance. ASP’s work is directly informed by the experiences of victims who receive legal services and advocacy, supportive counselling and other case management services from its volunteer staff and Sydney Community Response Network to Assist Victims of Trafficking and Slavery.
Trafficked and enslaved persons are men, women and children working in a variety of sectors: sex work, agriculture, construction, domestic work, restaurants, health care and other industries. Most often they are from vulnerable communities where opportunities for work or education are lacking and they are deceived into accepting offers of good jobs in another place. Upon arrival at the destination, the nature and conditions of what they were promised disappear, passports are taken and threats (often against family members at home) or actual violence are used to make them comply with the trafficker/employers’ wishes. Many are also placed into a system of spiralling debt for the cost of their transportation.
Below are just some of the recommendations the Anti-Slavery Project has identified for improving the current response:
For a more detailed outline of recommendations, go to the Anti-Slavery Project website at www.antislavery.org.au and view an evaluation of the trafficking visa framework (Burn & Simmons), the Australian NGO Shadow Report on Trafficking in Women and Joint Statement from Australian Cambodian and Thai NGOs submitted to the 34th Session of the Committee for the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.
University of Technology Sydney FACULTY OF LAW
PO BOX 123 BROADWAY NSW 2007
For more information:
JENNIFER BURN, Director
02 9514 9662 office
0431 974 523 mobile
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