Too poor to pay his pregnant wife's hospital bill, Prum left his village in Cambodia to seek work in Thailand. Men who ‘appeared’ to be his employers on a fishing vessel promised to return him home after a few months at sea; but instead Vannak was hostaged on the vessel for four harrowing years of hard labour, violence and cruelty. The seafood, mostly illegally caught in foreign waters, ending up on ‘our’ dining tables. Vannak documented his ordeal in raw, colourful, detailed illustrations, created because he believed that without them no one would believe his story. Indeed, very little is known about what happens to the men and boys who end up working on fishing boats in Asia, and these hauntingly confronting images are some of the first records.
Last week, I finished listening to this year’s Boyer Lectures, delivered by Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest; billionaire former CEO of Fortescue Metals, Christian and philanthropist whose privately funded international human rights organisation Walk Free is working towards ending modern slavery in all its forms by taking a strong, multifaceted and global approach. In his lectures titled Rebooting Australia: How ethical entrepreneurs can help shape a better future, Forrest outlines his ideas including; a case for hydrogen energy in the production of ‘green’ steel here in Australia, ways to manage human impacts on the oceans (Forrest has a PhD in Marine Science) and the economics of inequality and modern slavery. The vividly disturbing image he paints of children trapped in Asian fish factories, standing upward of twelve hours every day, their tiny fingers freezing in ice, to provide consumers with the convenience of inexpensive, peeled prawns continues to trouble me at many levels – child slavery, overfishing, consumer indifference . . .
This week I watched the encouraging words about ‘Identity and Community’ vividly bought to life in images on the Diocesan Synod web page. Lent is a time of renewal and these inspiring words and images gave me cause to pause and genuinely consider; How I can be part of a community of “Intentional disciples”? How I can “contribute to a better society”? How can I “Love others in practical service”? How can I “Seek equality” for all? and How can I work for “Justice, Mercy and Love, especially for the poor and marginalised”? How indeed!!
These three seemingly unrelated activities over the past month are, I have come to realise, very stubborn dots which I wrestle with and am continually work towards trying to join and make some sense of. As the degrees of separation between the consumer (me), the manufacturer and the supplier continue to disappear, growing consumer and investor interest in responsible production and sustainability is on the rise. A growing momentum of consumers (like me), are demanding that companies and organisations be more transparent about the way they do business and how they contribute to creating a more just and sustainable future for all. Because, when all said and done, the supply chain stops with me – the consumer.
Catholic social teaching calls for the dignity of work, the rights of workers, responsible stewardship of the environment and advancing the common good. Project Compassion’s theme this year is Be More and centred on the words of Bishop Oscar Romero, “Aspire not to have more, but to be more.” While shopping ethically is a veritable minefield of bewildering and confusing information and misinformation; I’ve decided this Lent is a time for a renewal in why I purchase, what I purchase and whom I purchase from. It’s a time for me to genuinely try to use my buying power to have a positive impact. It’s time for me to try and make my contribution to help break the supply chains which perpetuate human injustice, cruelty, poverty and degradation for our planet.
Click this hyperlink to watch Building the Kingdom of God Together - Identity & Community
Link this hyperlink to watch my Book Chat with Nicola Arvidson on The Dead Eye and the Deep Blue Sea: A graphic memoir of Modern Slavery