Labour trafficking

15 Nov 2010

Drawing on incidences of both reported and unreported crimes, this paper examines what is known about labour trafficking in Australia.

In 2007, the Australian Government provided $26.3m over four years to extend and expand the government’s strategy to combat people trafficking, enabling the relevant agencies to expand investigations and prosecutions into emerging areas of exploitation. Since July 2007, the Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) has been conducting research into the trafficking of persons in the Asia-Pacific region in order to contribute to the evidence base underpinning efforts to combat people trafficking across a range of industries.

While the body of literature on trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation has grown steadily, much less is known about trafficking where the exploitation occurs outside the sex industry. This report examines what is known about labour trafficking in Australia, based on incidences of reported crimes, but also by drawing on information about unreported crime. As such, it provides an assessment about the known or likely incidence of trafficking in persons that can occur in the agricultural, cleaning, hospitality, construction and manufacturing industries, or in less formal sectors such as domestic work and home-help.

To date, the number of labour trafficking cases investigated or prosecuted in Australia is small, however, there are reasons to suggest that the numbers of reported cases understate the size and complexity of Australia’s labour trafficking problem. Given that the anti-trafficking laws are relatively new and responses are still being adjusted to target trafficking in contexts other than the sex industry, it is perhaps not surprising that this research has identified that people are generally not aware that anti-trafficking laws can be applied just as readily to a situation involving the exploitation of a male industrial cleaner, for example, as they could to a woman brought to Australia for the purpose of sex slavery.

Building the knowledge base about labour trafficking is part of larger efforts directed at the prevention of trafficking. Crime prevention is, among other things, premised on understanding the opportunities for offending, the likely risk of offending and factors that impact on vulnerability. This report considers those factors, drawing on information about reported and what appeared to be unreported instances of labour trafficking, along with information about the broader context where opportunities for offending and individual vulnerability may coincide.

The broader context within which opportunities for offending and risks for victimisation appear to be present are also considered. In particular, it is worth noting the role of intermediaries in facilitating access to what might be described as ‘risky’ migration pathways, involving payment of exorbitant fees to brokers and agents overseas, and the role of diasporas as both a source of protection and as a site of potential exploitation.


Image: Factory Worker, ironchefbalara / flickr

Publication Details
Published year only: 
Geographic Coverage