Hidden in plain sight – the plight of the modern slave

When you shop, have you ever paused to consider where the products you buy come from? Were children exploited to make the beans that are in your morning coffee? Was your latest outfit made in a factory that has hazardous working conditions?

Did those individuals have the freedom to choose to work and the right to leave if they wished? Were they given a ‘living wage’ – a wage that allows workers to live, not just survive? These questions are crucial if enslavement is to be stamped out.

Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking are critical issues on the Catholic Church’s radar. There are approximately 50 million people trapped in situations of modern slavery, equating to nearly one in every 150 individuals worldwide.

The victims of modern slavery might be much closer to you than you realise. This practice takes various forms, including: entrapment, financial coercion, withholding wages, seizing of identity documents (which can lead to trafficking in persons), slavery, servitude, forced labour, forced marriage, debt bondage, deceptive recruitment for labour or services, and the worst forms of child labour. It infiltrates numerous global supply chains, touching the products we often take for granted.

The Catholic Church has a strong commitment to eradicating modern slavery, a stance grounded in Catholic Social Teaching: “At its heart the call to eradicate modern slavery and human trafficking is a call to make a choice for respecting the intrinsic and inalienable dignity of every human person.”

The Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle has taken a stand against modern slavery. Its Modern Slavery Policy outlines the commitment it has made to work with others to end this abhorrent practice globally. The Diocese is dedicated to protecting and respecting the freedom and dignity of people everywhere.

St Josephine Bakhita The Patron Saint of Sudan and victims of Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking

Josephine Bakhita was born around 1869 at Dafur (modern-day Western Sudan), and was a member of the Daju people. In 1877 she was kidnapped and sold into slavery. She was bought and sold several times, eventually finding herself in Italy. There she found freedom and became a Canossian Sister. Josephine died on the 8 February 1947. On 1 October 2000, Josephine Bakhita was declared a saint by the Catholic Church and 8 February was established as her feast day.

On the 8 February 2024, the Diocesan Liturgy Council will invite people throughout the Diocese to highlight the feast of St Josephine Bakhita as a way of drawing attention to the plight of modern slavery. A range of resources regarding formation and prayer have been made available to provide assistance. The goal is to create a greater awareness of the issue of subjugation and the need to uphold the dignity of all people. It is a reminder for everyone to open their minds and hearts and be inspired to act in ways that comfort and empower the oppressed, promote justice and challenge social structures. The International Day of Prayer and Awareness Against Human Trafficking is also held on 8 February every year.  

What can you do?

  • Become knowledgeable. The more you know, the more you can help.
  • Learn to spot the signs. Be aware of your neighbour/neighbourhood.
  • Be a responsible consumer. Check if your favourite brands have a modern slavery statement on their website.
  • Join the movement. Support CatholicCare and other agencies.
  • Spread the word. Educate your friends, family and peers.

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Fiona Duque Image
Fiona Duque

Fiona is the Pastoral Ministries Officer - Worship and Prayer.

Formerly, she was the Ministry Coordinator and Religious Studies Coordinator at St Bede's Catholic College, Chisholm.

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