Fighting to end slavery in the 21st century
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Modern day slavey is alive and well in Australia within the supply chain of big business.

Fighting to end slavery in the 21st century

by Daniel Sleiman See Profile
Melbourne VIC, Australia
7th Mar 2019
Fighting to end slavery in the 21st century

For most people, slavery is something you read about in the annals of history and yet it still takes place in the modern world. Labour exploitation, human trafficking and child labour are all forms of modern-day slavery.

In November 2018, the Australian commonwealth government passed the Modern Slavery Act as a means to combat slavery in the supply chain of big business. According to the UN International Labour Organisation’s 2017 Global Estimates, there were an estimated 40 million people who were victims of modern day slavery with 70% being women and 25% being children.

 Anti-Slavery Australia is a research and policy centre that is dedicated to eradicating all forms of slavery and slavery-like practices such as forced labour and forced marriages. Stop the Traffik is a coalition of around 30 organisations on a mission to stop modern slavery around the world. 

According to Carolyn Liaw, a researcher at Anti-Slavery Australia (ASA), modern day slavery is at the extreme end of labour exploitation.

“Modern Slavery is an umbrella term that is used to describe a number of practices including human trafficking, slavery, debt bondage and forced labour. It’s labour exploitation plus the person does not feel free to leave their place of work because of coercion or deception, people having their passports or other documents confiscated by employers, people being locked in overnight within the premises, or not being allowed to leave unsupervised,” says Ms Liaw. 

Since its inception ASA has helped hundreds of clients. Most recently, in 2017, the centre assisted over 120 victims of modern slavery nationwide. 

Ms Kitto, Director of Stop The Traffik, states that the key connection Australians have with modern day slavery is the sending of manufacturing offshore. This means that the goods and services we go on to import are then tainted with modern slavery. 

“How is it that when someone knows that the chocolate they are eating are made by child labour they can still nonetheless eat it?” asks Ms Kitto. 

“For modern slavery to become important to people, it also has to become personal. People have to realise that we are talking about human beings that are just like them. We are talking about their little boy or their little girl, we are talking about their mother or their sister, we are talking about people who just by accident of where they are born and what is going on in those countries are extremely vulnerable to it.” 

ASA’s Ms Liaw sees education as the key to combating modern slavery because many Australians aren’t aware that modern slavery is happening in Australia. 

“What modern slavery looks like on a day to day basis could encompass many household items for example electronics, clothing, and food. They could all have been made by slave labour either internationally through global supply chains or through domestic supply chains. It can be kitchen workers at your local café or domestic help at private residences.” says Ms Liaw. 

The new commonwealth laws which took effect in January 2019 will require organisations with a revenue of $100 million or over to report on the risk of slavery within their supply chains and what actions they are taking to address the issue. This reporting requirement also extends to the Commonwealth Government. The first reports are predicted to be due the 2019-2020 financial year.

Both Ms Liaw and Ms Kitto are optimistic about the new laws but believe that more can be done. 

“It’s definitely a good start, business and government have the responsibility to protect and respect human rights –we hope this increases the accountability and transparency of supply chain…[yet] supply chains are only one element of human trafficking and slavery, given that the survivors that we work with on a day to day basis weren’t part of complex global supply chains or even local supply chains, they were just people working in your local cafes and restaurant, so they will not be captured by the law” says Ms Liaw. 

No penalties currently exist for non-compliance under the new laws and Ms Liaw Points out that the lack of penalties will lead to low levels of reporting. This has been observed in the UK which, like Australia, did not introduce penalties. She further notes that the lack of a dedicated anti-slavery commissioner is a limitation within the Australian context. 

“If we look at the UK and NSW acts, there is the establishment of anti-slavery commissioner in both those acts and that plays an important role in educating and advocating and quite an important role in terms of monitoring the overall effectiveness of policies and the government response to modern slavery.

“NSW has also introduced a modern-day slavery act which does have penalties of up to $1.1 million for failing to produce a modern slavery statement and also for producing false and misleading statements.”

Stop the Traffik’s Ms Kitto points out the Australian laws are some of the strongest in the world. 

“We can’t wait for someone to do better, we did better from the UK and someone needs to do better than us. What was remarkable about the bill was that it basically had the support of NGOs, business and bipartisan support.” 

Stop the Traffik is currently working in areas where human trafficking is rife, namely the production and manufacture of chocolate, tea, seafood, fashion and electronics. They will be releasing an interactive website later in the year which allows users to go shopping for these products and find out what is happening in specific areas. 

“We will tell stories of not only what’s bad but also what’s good”, says Ms Kitto. 

Find out more about Anti-Slavery Australia and Stop the Traffik

Anti-Slavery Australia Stop the Traffik
Daniel Sleiman

About Daniel Sleiman

Daniel is a freelance writer and content producer who is passionate about giving a voice to the voiceless and those in our society who have been marginalised. He has a strong interest in social justice and loves to tell stories. For Daniel, stories can be powerful, hard-hitting, and a call for change.

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