Q. Does the right to protection from slavery have any work to do in today's world?
A. Yes. Section 11 of the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006 says that people have the right to be free from forced work, that a person must not be held in slavery or servitude, and that they must not be made to perform forced or compulsory labour.
Although slavery and servitude have been against the law across the world for many decades, contemporary forms of slavery and servitude still happen every day.
What is slavery, servitude and forced work?
Slavery is when someone exercises ownership rights over another person, as if the person were a piece of property.
Someone in servitude may be directed where to live and may be unable to leave.
Forced labour is when someone is compelled to do work. The Charter makes clear that forced labour does not include work a person might be required to do by a court as part of a community service order, work required because of an emergency, or work that forms part of normal civil obligations, such a jury duty.
Contemporary forms of slavery and servitude include child soldiers, debt bondage, forced labour, and forced marriage. There are many people in Victoria who either experience these things or live with the consequences of them every day.
In recognition of the ongoing problem, new laws to better criminalise forced marriage, forced labour and organ trafficking are before the Australian Parliament.
What role does the Charter have to play?
We are fortunate in Victoria that our public authorities are not generally engaging in slavery or forced labour, but the Charter is there to say that government agencies still have a role to play in promoting, respecting and protecting this right – through laws, policies and programs, services and law enforcement activity. This includes things like:
- following-up on allegations of human trafficking, slavery and forced marriages
- implementing measures to prevent and protect people from becoming victims
- the regulation and oversight of brothels and other areas of the sex industry
- programs to support former child soldiers who have come as refugees to Australia, and
- working with communities to address the practice of forcing women to marry against their will.
For more information download the Charter factsheet on the protection from forced work.