By Amanda Murthy
“Human trafficking [Modern Slavery] is an open wound on the body of contemporary society, a scourge upon the body of Christ. It is a crime against humanity.” – Pope Francis, 2014
In a report by the 2016 Global Slavery Index, there were some 15,000 people living in “conditions of modern slavery” in Australia.
The global partnership dedicated to eradicating forced labour, modern slavery, human trafficking and child labour around the world, Alliance 8.7 says that there are currently 40 million people globally who are victims of Modern Slavery, with almost 25 million being forced into labour and 15 million forced marriage cases.
Furthermore, an alarming 152 million children suffer from child labour, with more than half of them facing the worst forms primarily hazardous work conditions.
Western Australian Catholic Migrants and Refugees Office Director Deacon Greg Lowe explained why it is important for the Church to reacts to this epidemic.
“The Church is very clear about its stance towards ‘the poor’ meaning any person who is vulnerable and in need such as persons entrapped by modern slavery,” Deacon Lowe said.
“Drawing on Scripture, Canon law states: ‘The Christian faithful are also obliged to promote Social Justice and mindful of the precept of the Lord, to assist the poor’ [CCC, 1983 Canon 222].
“This preferential option for the poor, as it has come to be known, is part of what we do as followers of Christ not least because there is clear witness in both testaments of the Bible of preference being given to the well-being of the poor and powerless of society in the teachings and commands of God as well as the prophets.
“Jesus also taught that on the Day of Judgment, God will ask what each person did to help the poor and needy: ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me’ [Mt 25:40],” he added.
Dcn Lowe went on to express that through the formation of the Perth Catholic Archdiocese’s Anti-Slavery Working Party (incepted in May) he hopes that more awareness will be created and the public will be able to know how to detect Modern Slavery in Western Australia and throughout the country.
“Just the other day, two people were charged in Launceston which means, the authorities are getting better at finding it and we should support them,” Dcn Lowe confirmed.
“It is important to do our part as a Church because we would not be following the Gospel if we didn’t – In practice this means creating conditions for marginalised voices to be heard, to defend those who cannot defend themselves and to assess lifestyles, policies and social institutions in terms of their impact on the poor including those entrapped by Modern Slavery.
“Most importantly, there is a high risk that Modern Slavery exists in the supply chains of suppliers used by Catholic schools, agencies and parishes.
“To combat this the schools, agencies and parishes need to collaborate to identify shared suppliers and high risk chains – there is much leverage to be gained,” he explained.
Dcn Lowe added that his hope for the outcome of the Anti-Slavery Working Party’s efforts are that rather than terminate a contract with a supplier, Catholic schools, agencies and parishes could work with the supplier to eradicate modern slavery from identified at risk supply chains both on-shore and off-shore because that would be the best outcome for the vulnerable person concerned.
“Such a collaborative approach between Church organisations and Church organisations and suppliers will enable the church to lead effectively in the broader community on this terrible reality as well as offer a model of how modern slavery can be addressed,” he cited.
“I believe Australian society, especially the youth, will support the Church in this endeavour.
“In Perth, many of the victims of Modern Slavery are vulnerable migrants and refugees working in the construction, cleaning and fruit-picking industries – offshore, labour chains around the provision of school uniforms have been identified,” he concluded.