All workers should be concerned about exploitation in our workplaces. Under Australian workplace laws, every worker is entitled to fair wages and conditions.
Trafficking is defined by the United Nations as the use of threats, force, coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, or the abuse of power to recruit, transport, transfer or harbour persons for the purposes of controlling and exploiting them. Victims are trafficked for several purposes, including forced labour and sexual exploitation. Globally, human trafficking is the third most lucrative crime business after the drugs and arm trade.
The U.S. State Department estimates that there are as many as 27 million victims of human trafficking worldwide and that 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders every year. More than 70 per cent of victims are women and approximately half are children. The problem is severely underreported.
Labour trafficking and forced labour can occur in any industry, not just the sex trade. Certain groups are more vulnerable - generally groups who hold little bargaining power and have limited recourse to mainstream services or support networks. In addition to the sex industry, Australian authorities are identifying an increasing number of victims in the agriculture, construction, manufacturing and hospitality industries, and in domestic work.
Factors contributing to vulnerability include age, cultural dislocation and isolation, family obligation, debt, physical isolation, linguistic isolation, and a lack of knowledge about what constitutes ‘normal’ in a particular workplace.
Contributors to the risk of exploitation and debt bondage are people working outside their visa conditions with respect to work rights, employment in occupations that are low technology, labour intensive and low profit, and legislative gaps (eg. gaps in coverage of domestic workers by industrial legislation).
Victims of trafficking, slavery or harsh working conditions are not always obvious. The Department of Immigration and Citizenship notes that the existence of people working illegally does not necessarily mean that they have been trafficked. Similarly, individuals who find that their working conditions are different from those which they anticipated are not necessarily trafficked. However, sometimes, unpaid wages and harsh working conditions can be signs of something more serious.