John Follows Sisters’ Lead


John Willis says it was a ‘no brainer’ when asked why he donates to ACRATH as part of Give4Good (G4G), St Vincent’s Health Australia’s workplace giving program. John, who runs SVHA’s Inclusion Health Program, first heard about human trafficking many years ago.

“I really became immersed in the topic when I was asked to take the lead on our response to human trafficking and modern day slavery. I heard first hand that human trafficking is here today in Australia, not somewhere remote and far away,” John said.

It was a training program with clinicians, run by ACRATH, several years ago that had a powerful impact on John. He heard clinicians talking about people they had treated who they believe had been trafficked and the need for a clinical and referral pathway.

“These clinicians had a gut reaction to the patient in front of them and felt that something was wrong. When they realised it was a modern slavery/human trafficking issue, they went looking for a social justice response, which is influenced by Catholic Social teaching. It’s a response that is driven by our mission, embedded across the organisation and it started with the *Sisters all those years ago,” John said. “It is what they did from the very beginning of St Vincent’s, caring for those on the margins.”

A few years on and John is as enthusiastic as ever about the challenge of combatting human trafficking at a global level, while also responding to the needs of trafficked people who might present at any of SVHA’s 32 sites. That care has continued in a myriad ways. St Vincent’s Health Australia, with support from ACRATH, has established training programs for staff and works to ensure supply chains are free from forced labour. One recent example was SVHA’s involvement in a global campaign to ensure workers at a rubber glove company in Malaysia received reimbursement for the unlawful recruitment fees they were charged by their labour hire firm.

 “There is so much to be done in terms of our supply chains and it is a significant challenge in such a large organisation, but ACRATH encourages us to keep pushing and stay in it for the long haul. While we do have the Modern Slavery Act to comply with, there is also the need to keep pushing because it is an issue of justice,” John said.

In the last two years staff at SVHA hospitals in Sydney and Melbourne have identified trafficked people and been equipped, through Advocates for Change training, to support the people through referral pathways. Other staff are working on slavery-free tea and coffee in staffrooms, while a member of John’s team also helped a trafficked woman secure employment at one of the SVHA sites last year.

“It is really important that we have heart-led individual responses, as well as staying focused on the system changes for the poor and vulnerable. We always want to do more than ‘patch them up’ and ACRATH keeps bringing the trafficked person into the centre of the conversation. Our organisation’s Give4Good program is a very efficient and simple way of giving and is dealing with the here and now as well as addressing the system change required. It’s a small contribution, but it is taking our partnership to a new level and helping make ACRATH more sustainable so it can continue to carry out great work,” John said.

* In 1889, five Sisters of Charity arrived in Melbourne with the dream of establishing a hospital. The dream was realised on 6 November 1893, with the opening of a small ‘cottage hospital’ in converted terraces on Victoria Parade.