Tackling modern slavery

Freedom and fairness — two words long taken for granted in Australia.

With globalisation and the complexity of supply chains, modern slavery, an “old problem in the new world”, is subtly present in our lives. While many of us may not realise it, a wide range of the goods and services we purchase and use daily are produced by people trapped in slavery.

In a demonstration of strong proactive support in the fight against modern slavery, the Australian Catholic Anti-Slavery Network (ACAN) has been established to provide a collaborative platform for Catholic schools, healthcare, aged-care, community services, finance and other Catholic entities to comply with the Modern Slavery Act, and, more importantly, eradicate modern slavery from Catholic supply chains and operations.

The Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle is fully committed to opposing modern slavery, supporting victims of modern slavery and complying with the law. Therefore, the Diocese Social Justice Council has listed modern slavery as a key issue that must be addressed.

The Diocese is a participant in ACAN and has appointed a Modern Slavery Liaison Officer who works closely with the network to raise awareness and take action. ACAN develops resources to highlight modern slavery risks and legislative requirements applicable to the Diocese. This includes participating in trials for e-learning modules and arranging workshops to train staff to engage with suppliers about modern slavery.

With strong support from the Bishop’s Office and the Diocesan Leadership Group, senior leaders and staff with a passion for this significant issue have formed a Modern Slavery Liaison Committee. The committee’s focus is to review resources provided by ACAN and consider how to best use them within the Diocese.

Sadly, slavery is deeply rooted in human history. Tackling modern slavery is undeniably a complicated task involving every member of our society who directly and indirectly form part of supply chains as consumers, retailers, manufacturers, educators, law makers and law enforcers.

Eradicating modern slavery is our social and legal responsibility. To this extent, The Commonwealth Modern Slavery Act 2018, is the decisive action of the Australian government’s commitment to taking a global leadership role in combating modern slavery. The act established a national Modern Slavery Reporting Requirement requiring eligible Australian entities to prepare and make public an annual Modern Slavery Statement on their actions to assess and address modern slavery risks in their operations and supply chains.

Pope Francis has declared human trafficking a crime against humanity. The Holy Father emphasised the importance of education in preventing people from falling into human trafficking and slavery during this year’s feast of Saint Josephine Bakhita, the patron saint of victims of modern slavery and human trafficking.

ACAN’s next steps are to roll out e-learning with modules specifically designed for board members, staff, procurement teams, suppliers, key external stakeholders and the wider community. In the near future we will provide online training for staff on Supplier Strategy and Engagement. A face-to-face Supplier Forum Training Workshop is also on the agenda with the aim of equipping staff with practical skills and techniques to engage and partner with suppliers.

The Social Justice Council is also planning to run a face-to-face series of modern slavery forums with the wider community later in 2020.

The Diocese will focus its efforts on construction and maintenance, information and communications technology, subcontracted services such as cleaning, office and other supplies and school apparel. Together with ACAN, the Diocese is developing a modern slavery risk profile of our major suppliers in high-risk categories. This will enable the Diocese to partner with our suppliers to address the risk of modern slavery within the supply chains.

The hands of people trapped in slavery touch all of us through the products we consume. We must ask ourselves “what can we do as individuals to make a difference?” We must ask ourselves “what can we do collectively as an organisation to make a difference?”

Ending modern slavery is about taking real and meaningful action. It is as much about what we choose to act upon as it is about what we do not act upon. Start the conversations with your colleagues, friends and family. Support your organisation, and the wider community by engaging in dialogue about modern slavery. Change some of your own purchasing decisions at home and parish by supporting Fairtrade products and other ethically sourced goods.

It is time for us to consider our actions, and understand that our individual decisions, even small, may collectively inspire a force of change to rid the human race of slavery.

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