No Quick Fix for Slavery

Mark Copeland 2

Dr Mark Copland was appalled when a group of Mercy sisters told him about the exploitation of seasonal workers in regional Queensland. That conversation 15 years ago was something of a revelation for Mark and the beginning of a long battle against modern day slavery.

After learning about the forced labour of workers in agricultural areas around him, Mark used his position when he was head of the Toowoomba Diocese’s Social Justice Commission to raise the profile of human trafficking and modern slavery, including forced labour, forced marriage and exploitative supply chains.

“A lot of people still think of slavery in images from the 19th century. But once people become aware of how local modern slavery is, they want to do something. A big focus in the early days was in schools and the community looking at the supply chains of what we purchase,” Mark said.

Mark, who is now Mission Executive with St Vincent’s Private Hospital in Toowoomba, is part of the St Vincent’s Health Australia (SVHA) groundbreaking training program to help key staff identify and support vulnerable people who have been trafficked who present to their facilities. The Advocates for Change initiative is part of a wider anti-trafficking project that SVHA began in 2017 in partnership with ACRATH (Australian Catholic Religious Against Trafficking in Humans).

The Advocates for Change training covers all forms of slavery including forced marriage, forced labour and supply chains. It is estimated, that more than 40 million people globally, including in Australia, are trapped in slavery or slavery-like conditions.

Mark and the other SVHA volunteer Advocates do the human trafficking work as part of their existing roles. He was inspired to become an Advocate for Change because he believes trafficked people are ‘often overlooked’ in society. Mark has created awareness through training sessions with the hospital’s emergency department and other staff.  “This is a practical way to support someone who has been trafficked by knowing the best support processes and correct referral pathways,” Mark said. “It is great to be part of a team and knowing we don’t have to have the solutions. We can pick up the phone and know where to go for support.”

Mark said that despite years of work combating forced labour and forced marriage he still finds it confronting that the buying choices we all make, personally and in business, impact so dramatically on the lives of people around the world, particularly in the area of food, drink and clothing.

“It’s very confronting to think that the foods associated with our biggest celebrations in Australia, particularly chocolate at Easter and seafood at Christmas, are so closely associated with the exploitation of people in developing countries,” Mark said.

“An important aspect of this project is creating awareness of the issues and the understanding that human trafficking happens in regional Australia, not just in our capital cities.”

Mark continues working with staff raising awareness of tainted supply chains and the benefits of buying local, especially at Christmas time. His hope is to one day see only slavery-free tea, coffee and chocolate in the SVHA staff rooms.

ACRATH is excited to be one of only four organisations included in the SVHA Workplace Giving Program, Give 4 Good. The G4G program means the 20,000 SVHA staff have the chance to contribute to one, or all of the organisations, through a payroll deduction scheme.


Leave a Comment