Slavery has had many endings, including its official abolition in Britain in 1833, and in the United States in 1863. Yet despite these and other attempts to combat slavery over the last few centuries, slavery has endured. Today, around the world, slavery is thriving.
Somewhere on your desk, there’s almost certainly an item that has been created as a result of forced or slave labour. It might be the beans in your coffee, the leaves in your tea, the cobalt in the lithium ion battery in your phone or the shimmering mica in your makeup.
According to the Modern Slavery Act (2018), there’s an estimated 40 million people around the world who are victims of modern slavery, and up to 10 million of them are children.
It’s an issue particularly close to the heart of Pope Francis, who said last March: ‘I invite everyone, citizens and institutions, to join forces to prevent the slave trade and to guarantee protection and assistance for the victims’.
To that end, Pope Francis declared the feast of St Josephine Bakhita—celebrated on 8 February—the World Day of Prayer, Reflection and Action Against Human Trafficking.
Fortunately, slavery is rare in Australia. But Australians have the power to make buying decisions that influence organisations to address slavery in their supply chains. Ensuring supply chains are free from slave labour is one aim of ACRATH (Australian Catholic Religious Against Trafficking in Humans), a national organisation specialising in anti-trafficking programs and advocacy.
‘There’s still a long way to go to eradicating modern slavery,’ says ACRATH’s Executive Officer Christine Carolan. ‘Many countries are still vulnerable to forced labour and exploitation.’
The most recent ACRATH initiative addresses the issue of slavery in the supply chain with the launch of the ‘Make Your School Slavery Free’ Online Resource Kit. Archbishop Peter Comensoli and ACRATH co-founder Sr Louise Cleary CSB will launch the kit on 13 February.
The Resource Kit was developed by ACRATH, Catholic Education Melbourne and the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne and will also be launched in the Dioceses of Ballarat, Sale and Sandhurst and the Archdiocese of Hobart. The aim is to help schools, workplaces, parishes and homes, transition to a slavery-free environment by creating a slavery-free staffroom/kitchen.
Already, huge advances have been made that go beyond awareness-raising.
‘The response from the dioceses was very enthusiastic,’ she says. The tearooms and staffrooms of Catholic Education Melbourne and the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne have gone slavery-free. The Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney is also working with schools and workplaces to make this change.
‘St Vincent’s Health Australia, across its 32 sites, is also working to make their supply chains slavery free,’ says Christine. ‘In partnership with SVHA we’ve also trained change advocates, St Vincent’s staff who want to work with their staff on slavery-free initiatives, and assist in identifying someone who may have been trafficked.’
Everyone can help end slavery in the supply chains of major organisations by exerting consumer pressure and making ethical buying decisions.
In his 2015 World Peace Day Message, Pope Francis said every person should ‘realise that purchasing is always a moral—and not simply an economic—act’.
Christine agrees. ‘This Easter, buy chocolate that has the FAIRTRADE, UTZ Certified or Rainforest Alliance logo,’ she says. ‘This ensures the product is slavery-free. Most of Haigh’s chocolate is certified as slavery-free. Most chocolate from Aldi is slavery-free.’
‘You can read the Baptist ethical clothing guide And in addition to changing your buying practices, you can also tell someone else about it.’
• Find more information on human trafficking here
• Find the kit and make the swap to slavery-free today here
• Learn more about the Modern Slavery Act here