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Fighting Tech-facilitated Slavery

Technology and Human Rights
Hacker in front of computer screens

The Australian Human Rights Commission's (Commission) submission has had a successful impact on the Special Rapporteur on Slavery's Thematic Report on technology-facilitated slavery and prevention.

Two of the Commission's key recommendations were adopted by the Special Rapporteur in full. 


Trafficking in persons and slavery-like practices are some of the most pressing human rights violations in the 21st century - with recent estimates indicating there are 49.6 million people currently living in modern slavery across the world.

Australia is not immune to this human rights violation, with Anti-Slavery Australia estimating that over 1,900 people in Australia are victims of modern slavery.

Technology-facilitated slavery

Technology has enabled greater cross-border exploitation of people and allowed slavery and trafficking to prosper due to digital environments.

Criminals can now operate in multiple jurisdictions simultaneously due to digital spaces. Unfortunately, this can allow for a single victim to be physically located in one place, while their exploitation often extends far beyond that single location.

For example, this could include circumstances where a victim may be physically located and exploited in one country - but that exploitation is live-streamed globally. This significantly increases the difficulties in investigating and collecting evidence, as international efforts and cooperation are fundamental in tackling criminal enterprise, which is borderless. 

Regulatory reform

Unfortunately, the legislation aimed at preventing these kinds of illicit activities is often outpaced by the rate of technological advancement - and adoption of new technologies by criminal enterprises. 

This is why all countries must regularly engage in consultative reviews of the legislation (particularly criminal legislation) that prohibits slavery. This will allow for emerging forms of exploitation to be better countered online. 

However, it will also be necessary to look beyond the criminal law and strengthen the regulation of artificial intelligence, cryptocurrency and social media to better prevent exploitation and abuse. 

Improved response 

However, it is not just legislation that must be updated and improved - the agencies and law enforcement groups responsible for investigating, stopping and prosecuting slavery must also be modernised. 

There must be sufficient training for law enforcement on the interplay between technological developments and how it might facilitate slavery. 

Accordingly, appropriate resources must be allocated to law enforcement and other relevant authorities to identify, investigate, prosecute and publish offenders effectively.