When temporary visa holder Leonard* started to work in a restaurant, his colleagues noticed there was something different about him.
The recent arrival to Australia slept at work, didn’t appear to have much money and seemed very reluctant to engage with his co-workers.
His colleagues spotted what the signs of criminal exploitation could be and eventually helped him to escape.
This is one of the many stories Anti-Slavery Australia founding director Professor Jennifer Burn hears on a regular basis.
The law and research centre is dedicated to advancing the rights of people who have experienced all forms of modern slavery.
The team is currently helping more than 400 people who have been enslaved, trafficked, in forced labour or forced marriage.
During the COVID pandemic, there was a 27 per cent increase in calls to their services.
This did not reflect the trafficking of people into Australia but rather the increased exploitation of people already here.
This was particularly the case for people on temporary visas, such as student visas and working holiday visas.
As whole industries closed, it was impossible for people in casual work to continue.
The lockdown meant jobs were lost.
“That increased a pool of people who were vulnerable to exploitation,” she said.
“That was an unexpected development.”
This year the team, based at the University of Technology Sydney, will focus heavily on improving the response to survivors of modern slavery.
“Generally speaking, our support framework is based on criminal justice outcomes,” she said.
“But clearly we know there are some people who are so traumatised or fearful that they’re unable to engage with an investigative process or they’re terrified of speaking to the police.”
Professor Burn said there were several ways Australians could help stop this crime.
According to Anti-Slavery Australia, the signs of modern slavery include:
- Controlled or restricted freedom of movement – monitored, guarded or confined
- Intimidation and threats including threats of deportation
- Threatened or actual physical and/or sexual violence
- Travel or other important documents have been taken by employer or a third party
- Abusive living and/or working conditions
- Living at the workplace or another place owned/controlled by employer
- Isolation – geographic, social and/or linguistic
- Withholding, underpayment or no payment of wages
- Excessive hours of work
- Debt bondage (for example, labour or services are provided as security or repayment of an inflated debt)
- Deceived or lack of information about nature and conditions of work
- No discretion over life decisions
- Unable to end employment at any time
Another way Australians can help is by being an ethical consumer.
Australians can view the government’s modern slavery register, which requires big businesses to upload a statement to address the risk of modern slavery in their business and supply chains.
‘Light at the end of the tunnel’
Professor Burn and her team are working towards better outcomes for survivors.
She knows with the right support, survivors can move past their traumatic experiences.
One woman, who she has known for a long time, recently became an Australian citizen and bought a house.
The woman’s situation was different 15 years ago, as she was in a modern slavery situation.
“There are people with incredible bravery and resilience who can draw on the support,” she said.
“However it can be easier for some than others.
“With the right support, there is light at the end of the tunnel.”