While you might have thought slavery a thing of the past, the 2016 Global Slavery Index, estimated 45.8 million people currently living in slavery across 167 countries. Of these, “58% live in in the Asia Pacific, including India, China, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Uzbekistan.”
Don’t be fooled, however, into thinking that slavery only happens on the other side of the world. The count for those trapped by modern slavery in Australia is estimated at around 4,300. Modern slavery affects us all, whether we’re aware of it or not.
Slavery can take the form of forced labour, human trafficking, debt bondage or forced marriage. It may be the people sewing your clothes, harvesting your food, cleaning your car, or even caring for your neighbour’s children. It refers to situations where a person is physically and/or psychologically exploited, but unable to leave their situation due to threat of violence, coercion or abuse of power.
Walk Free, an organisation working to end modern slavery, has identified two main industries in Australia where modern slavery occurs – the food production industry and the sex trade.
In a submission to parliament, the Salvation Army’s Freedom Partnership outlined a diverse range of modern slavery situations in Australia. These included “slave houses,” where migrant workers were forcibly detained against their will, unpaid for their labour and even threatened with deportation if they complained, quit or tried to escape.
In February 2017, the Australian government launched an inquiry to evaluate whether enacting legislation, similar to the UK Modern Slavery Act of 2015, would be effective in addressing the issue of modern slavery.
The proposed act would bring the crimes of slavery, forced labour and human trafficking under the jurisdiction of a single law. It would also include provisions imposing reporting obligations upon businesses, in order to improve supply chain transparency and ensure that no business be directly or indirectly involved in slavery. The role of Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner would also be created to supervise and overview the act.
In an interview with News Corp Australia Network, Australian philanthropist and founder of Walk Free, Andrew Forrest says, “If we can lead the world out of slavery in the Asia Pacific region, we’ll lead the world out of slavery.”
So what can you do?
As Worldies, it’s essential to acknowledge that while we may be part of the problem, we’re also part of the solution.
Seemingly small lifestyle choices we make every day can significantly impact the lives of others around the world.
Here are three simple steps you can take to support the fight against modern slavery:
1. Be an informed and conscious consumer
Educate yourself and do your research before you purchase a product, donate, or volunteer for an organisation. Ask yourself, “Where was this shirt made?” or “Where is this food from? Was forced labour involved in the making of this product? Where are the proceeds of my purchase going?”
2. Talk about it
Awareness is the first step to making a change. Spread the word amongst your family and friends about the prevalence of modern slavery. Encourage the people in your life to purchase from ethical and Fairtrade brands.
Contact your local, state or federal government representatives and tell them that this is an issue which you care about. Utilise your democratic power and find out what your government is doing to combat slavery domestically and abroad.
Let’s make the world free for all!