Trafficking in Persons: a round up of recent Australian events.

As we prepare to mark the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery on 2 December, it is timely to reflect on what has been a busy two weeks for all of those involved in Australia’s anti-trafficking efforts.

As reported an earlier FlagPost, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons, especially women and children, has been in Australia for a two week fact finding mission (17–30 November), which included meetings with Government and non-government agencies, public lectures in Sydney and Melbourne (see also here), and a Parliamentary Library Lecture in Canberra.

On 23 November, the Minister for Home Affairs and Justice, with the Ministers for Immigration and Citizenship and the Status of Women, convened the fourth meeting of the National Roundtable on People Trafficking.  Established in 2008, the Roundtable is an important consultative mechanism enabling collaboration and information sharing on current and emerging issues.  Its 2011 session was attended by the Special Rapporteur, representatives of non-government organisations, industry and employer bodies, the Law Council of Australia, the Australian Human Rights Commission, the International Organization for Migration, and many of the Australian Government agencies represented on the Anti-People Trafficking Interdepartmental Committee.  

To coincide with the meeting, the Government released draft legislation criminalising forced labour and forced and servile marriage ahead of its anticipated introduction in Parliament in the Autumn 2012 sittings. The draft Bill follows public consultation (November 2010–Februrary 2011) on  the Criminal Justice Response to Slavery and People Trafficking; Reparation; and Vulnerable Witness Protections and on forced and servile marriage. The draft legislation includes:
  • new offences of forced labour, servitude, and of harbouring a victim of trafficking or slavery;
  • new offences of forced marriage;
  • provisions to amend the existing definitions of trafficking, slavery and slavery-like offences to criminalise a broader range    
  • increased penalties for the existing debt bondage offences; and
  • improvements to the availability of victim reparations.
The draft legislation does not address issues of vulnerable witness which had also been canvassed in the 2010 discussion paper. Public consultation on the exposure draft closes on 13 January 2012.

As might be expected, initial reactions to the exposure draft featured in the Roundtable discussions.  Other issues canvassed included: the need for greater community awareness of slavery and people trafficking; the need for better access to secure and affordable housing for victims of trafficking; challenges associated with effecting family reunions for victims of trafficking granted permanent visas; and improved access to financial compensation. 

An emerging issue at this year’s Roundtable was the important role of the private sector and of consumers in ensuring that their actions do not cause or contribute to slavery and forced labour in the production of imported goods or in the provision of cheap labour.

Globally initiatives to address demand reduction (as required by Article 9 (5) of the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children) have received comparatively less attention than criminal justice and victim support measures.  Such demand reduction measures as have been implemented have traditionally focused on the criminalisation of prostitution or of the purchase of sexual services.  However, in June this year, the United Nations Human Rights Council endorsed the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, providing a new global standard for “preventing and addressing the risk of adverse impacts on human rights linked to business activity”.  Corporate supply chain issues were at the forefront of the United Nations Secretary General’s message marking the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery.  And, in Australia, Stop the Traffik last week launched Unshackling Laws Against Slavery, presenting options for dealing with goods produced with trafficked and slave labour.

The 23rd of November also saw the presentation of the inaugural Anti-Slavery Australia Freedom Awards

A number of related publications were also recently released.

On 22 November, the Government tabled in Parliament the third report of its Anti-People Trafficking Interdepartmental Committee, covering the period 1 July 2010 to 30 June 2011. (These annual reports were introduced in 2009 in response to an Australian National Audit Office recommendation for increased transparency in reporting outcomes of the anti-people trafficking strategy.)  Last financial year,
  • The Support for Victims of Trafficking Program provided assistance to 80 clients, including 29 new clients (21 women and eight men).  Most were from Thailand and Malaysia.  (As of 24 November, a total of 187 victims of trafficking had received support under the program).
  • The AFP undertook 45 investigations into people trafficking matters (a total of 305 since 2004); 35 were new referrals involving nationals from India, China and the Philippines.  
    • Almost 70% of these investigations related to trafficking into the sex industry.  
    • Some $5 million in criminal proceeds have been recovered through these investigations.
  • At 30 June, there were six trafficking related matters before the Courts (two in the appeal phase).
  • The Department of Immigration and Citizenship granted 42 Witness Protection (Trafficking) (Permanent) visas in 2010-11. This was twice the number issued in the previous financial year.
  • The Fair Work Ombudsman undertook some 585 investigations involving foreign workers and recovered more than $510,000 in unpaid entitlements from their employers.
The report points to the increasing awareness of authorities of trafficking across a broader range of industries (agriculture, construction, hospitality, manufacturing and domestic services) and to the ongoing and important role of civil mechanisms including the Fair Work Ombudsman in addressing exploitation of foreign workers.

On 29 November,  the Australian Building and Construction Commission issued its long awaited report on sham contracting in the building and construction industry which appears to be a means of exploiting vulnerable, and often migrant, workers.
Finally, the Australian Institute of Criminology released two Trends and issues Papers examining the Pacific Island Seasonal Workers Pilot Scheme and Vulnerabilities to People Trafficking in the Pacific Region, as part of its research program into risk and protective factors for trafficking in persons.


Flagpost is a blog on current issues of interest to members of the Australian Parliament

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