Fighting modern-day slavery

Women from Anti-Slavery Australia

UTS is home to Australia's specialist centre for abolishing slavery

For over a decade, Anti-Slavery Australia has been committed to abolishing all forms of human trafficking, slavery, forced labour and forced marriage from their base within the UTS Law faculty. Working face to face with survivors of severe exploitation on Australian shores, they offer access to confidential legal advice, carry out research, educational initiatives and advocate for changes to law.

"I was shocked to learn about the conditions some people are subjected to in one of the world's most affluent nations."

Anti-Slavery Australia engages with a broad cross section of society. With its leading research on the networks and practices of slavery, the Centre develops informative, evidence-based educational and outreach material which reaches thousands of frontline workers and community members around Australia. Its deeply committed team have forged strong networks with support services across the country, especially those assisting the culturally and linguistically diverse community.

The Centre works sensitively with clients from various cultural backgrounds to develop the best outcomes. Victims of forced labour, for example, see a return of lost wages or rectification of their visa status. As a part of UTS's Faculty of Law, Anti-Slavery Australia actively engages with students through placements and internships.

Making a difference

Slavery takes many forms and emerges in varying degrees over the world, remarks Judith Neilson, Anti-Slavery Australia's recently appointed Patron. Cases involve elements such as psychological or physical control and abuse, in addition to exploitative working conditions including limited or no pay. A philanthropist and art world figure, Ms Neilson has helped humanitarian causes since her youth in Zimbabwe. Discovering the work of Anti-Slavery Australia prompted her to provide financial support for the Centre.

"I was shocked to learn about the conditions some people are subjected to in one of the world's most affluent nations," Enslavement can happen in places such as households, brothels, building sites, factories and farms. Anti-Slavery Australia is the only specialist legal research and policy centre of its kind in the country, and it is uniquely focused on people in Australia. "It has significant legal skills and experience, so it can make a real, practical difference in clients' lives."

Anti-Slavery Australia Director Associate Professor Jennifer Burn is delighted that Judith Neilson accepted the appointment of Anti-Slavery Australia patron: "The appointment is inspiring for the continued growth of the Centre and Judith's support extends to representing the Centre in the community and raising awareness of slavery and human trafficking in the broader Australian community. Judith's backing allows us to pursue research and policy development in emerging areas including migrant worker exploitation, commercial surrogacy and trafficking and to devleop cutting edge educational and awareness raising strategies."

Raising awareness to fight slavery

"Many facing forced marriage feel powerless to act due to fear, misunderstanding and lack of clear support pathways, making them vulnerable to discontinued education, social isolation and violence."

Forced marriage of young women in Australia is another serious emerging issue, says external engagement manager Beau Neilson. "Many facing forced marriage feel powerless to act due to fear, misunderstanding and lack of clear support pathways, making them vulnerable to discontinued education, social isolation and violence." Over 49 cases have been reported to the Australian Federal Police since 2013, with more unreported incidences likely. "Education and resilience building is critical."

Anti-Slavery Australia has developed multilingual materials alongside Australian Attorney-General funded programs in response to forced marriage in Australia. A key project is My Blue Sky, Australia's first website dedicated to the issue. "The website includes a national legal service provided through e-mail and text to assist individuals at risk of and in forced marriage," she explains. Information will cover legislative framework surrounding the issue, community responses, referral organisations and available supports.

Judith Neilson considers it a special achievement. "I am especially interested in education — raising awareness of these serious problems and the misery they cause," she states. "The more people understand about forced labour, forced marriage and similar forms of slavery and bondage, the better chance we'll have of eradicating these evils from 'the Lucky Country.'"

Find out more at the Anti-Slavery Australia website.