The Australian Freedom Network (AFN) inter-faith representatives called on businesses and the Australian government to slavery-proof their supply-chains at a NSW parliamentary enquiry on Wednesday.
The AFN which represents 18 faith groups including Catholic, Anglican, Coptic Orthodox, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist and Uniting Church in Australia, have together expressed the need for Australia to adopt a Modern Slavery Act.
Also in attendance was special guest and UK Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, Kevin Hyland. Mr Hyland spearheaded the UK’s landmark Modern Slavery Act 2015 that has prompted the Australian government to launch an enquiry into whether it should adopt a similar legislation.
With an estimated 4,300 modern day slaves living in Australia and 45.8 million modern slaves worldwide, the AFN have collectively called for action (Global Slavery Index, 2016).
Representing the Uniting Church Synod of NSW/ACT at the hearing, Multicultural Consultant Fie Marino, shared firsthand accounts of Pacific Islander workers who had been exploited in Australia.
“There are too many bad stories; there are too many sad stories.
“I know colleagues in ministry who have presided over funerals, for backpackers and people taking part in the Australian Government Seasonal Workers Program,” said Rev. Marino.
Rev. Marino stated it was clear that there was a lot more needed to be done as faith leaders for the dignity of people, especially the most vulnerable.
“I pray that God grants us the unity to make a big difference together… in the lives of trafficked people, people in servitude or forced labour wherever they are,” he said.
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Echoed throughout the hearing both Mr Hyland and the President of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Professor Gillian Triggs, spoke about the importance of faith leader networks such as AFN to lead action against modern day slavery.
“It’s a strange mix, having bishops, police chiefs and religious sisters all together saying they are going to address serious and organised crime but let me tell you it works,” said Mr Hyland as he acknowledged the significant progress in rescuing modern slaves and convicting exploiters in the UK since the slavery act was introduced.
The enquiry also heard that the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney is the first faith based organisation to announce its commitment to ensuring all their supply chains are slavery proof. This move challenges the rest of the faith community to continue to lead the way to slavery-proof supply lines.
Mr Hyland expressed that the fight against slavery is not just a concern for businesses and organisations but also with individuals.
“We sometimes say this is a hidden crime but actually, once we start looking, it’s not so hidden. Sometimes it’s in our high streets, sometimes it’s in our pockets, on the phone that was manufactured as a result of a child in a mine in India or the Congo,” said Mr Hyland.
Mr Hyland said the transparency clause imposed on businesses was just one of the functions of the Modern Slavery Act that ensures businesses are aware and active in ensuring their supply lines are slavery and human-trafficking free. This clause gives businesses legal responsibility to produce an annual report on its operations and supply chains, as well as displaying the report link on the front of their websites.
This also ensures individuals are conscious of the businesses they support and knowing whether or not their money could potentially be aiding modern slavery.
The NSW Member of Legislatitive Council, the Honourable Paul Green, gave the final address by stating that if Australia didn’t adopt a Modern Slavery Act, he would draft a recommendation that it is at least adopted in NSW.
Mr Green closed proceedings by reciting Luke 12:48.
“From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”