Stories of Activism

Read ACRATH’s 16 Days of stories about people and projects combating human trafficking here in Australia and globally.

November 25th – International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women

The United Nations 16 days of activism begins on 25th November and was declared to pay tribute to three sisters, Patria, Minerva, and Maria Teresa Mirabal, as well as global recognition of gender violence.

Patria, Minerva, and Maria Teresa were born and educated in the Dominican Republic. All three sisters and their husbands were constantly persecuted for their outspoken and clandestine activities against the Trujillo regime.

In early November 1960, Trujillo declared that his two problems were the Church and the Mirabal sisters. On 25 November 1960, the sisters were assassinated in an “accident” as they were being driven to visit their husbands who were in prison. The brutal assassination of the three women caused much public outcry, and shocked and enraged the nation.

The memory of the Mirabal sisters and their struggle for freedom and respect for human rights for all has transformed them into symbols of dignity and inspiration in the Dominican Republic and around the world.

November 26th – Activism Against Forced Marriage

Megan Bourke may be new in the role of ACRATH’s forced marriage worker, but for years she has worked to try and prevent people being vulnerable to human trafficking. She joined ACRATH in October after seven years in education and advocacy as the Caritas Australia Justice Educator (Melbourne Archdiocese).

Megan is supporting the United Nations 16 days of activism against gender-based violence which begins on 25th November – International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and ends on 10th December – Human Rights Day. Human trafficking, a $150 billion global industry, is one of the greatest examples of violence against women and girls. Millions of women and girls are forced to marry, or to work in terrible conditions for little, or no, pay and no chance of an education.

For years Megan developed close connections with the Caritas projects that supported communities to develop jobs and programs that would help prevent people being vulnerable to human trafficking. Now she will work in schools and communities to educate people about forced marriage. She will also train front-line workers to know the correct referral pathways for people who are at risk of, or who are in, a forced marriage.

“I do believe that many of the projects Caritas supported did prevent women and girls being forced into a marriage. Relieving poverty can be like an intervention,” Megan said.

For the past eighteen months Megan has also served as the Caritas representative on the Victoria-Tasmania Catholic Modern Slavery Taskforce.

“Working with ACRATH is a neat fit for me because it takes in my passion for Catholic social justice in action. Working to combat human trafficking and forced marriage is a way to do this,” Megan said. “We are called to accompany the vulnerable and marginalised. John’s Gospel talks about people having ‘life to the full’, but human trafficking is an affront to that.”

Megan is excited by the job, but also conscious of the challenges of working in communities and in schools where the well-being of young women needs to be the highest priority.

November 27th – Activism Through Advocacy

Liz Morris is fairly new to ACRATH, but already her contribution has been enormous. Most recently, she drafted ACRATH’s submission to the Senate’s Select Committee on Temporary Migration, which is looking into the impact temporary migration has on the Australian economy, wages and jobs, social cohesion and workplace rights and conditions.

The submission draws upon the many years of experience ACRATH has had with temporary migrant workers around Australia, but particularly in Victoria and Queensland. ACRATH member Fr Peter O’Neill, who worked with Liz on the submission, is a member of a Government Committee looking at the Seasonal Worker Program.

Following a successful career with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Liz now provides consulting and advisory services to the private, government, and not for profit sectors. As a former diplomat she has significant experience advocating for Australia’s interests overseas including in human rights, humanitarian and civil-military affairs. Liz was more recently an advisor to the Global Freedom Network, an initiative of the Walk Free Foundation. She has played a major role in some of ACRATH’s advocacy efforts in 2020, including this year’s Canberra Advocacy meetings.

Liz is a supporter of the United Nations declared 16 days of activism against gender-based violence which begins on 25th November – International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and ends on 10th December – Human Rights Day.

Human trafficking is one of the greatest examples of violence against women and girls. According to the ILO human trafficking is a $150 billion global industry — and growing. As well, millions of women and girls are forced to marry, or to work in slave like conditions for little, or no, pay and no chance of an education. The Walk Free Foundation’s recently released publication ‘Stacked Odds’ highlighted the horrendous statistic that one in every 130 women and girls is living in modern slavery.

Liz stressed the importance of evidence-based advocacy. “It is easy to stand up and shout about something, but it is more effective to have an evidence base to your advocacy and be willing to hang in for as long as it takes. Advocacy is one of the key mechanisms for NGOs and other organisations to influence policy makers and deliver concrete changes”.

Liz said raising awareness in communities and gaining their support for advocacy work was important as well as challenging.

“We have to be aware of our audiences and tailor the way we convey our messages. We know it is difficult to capture people’s attention and clear and sharper ideas can be effective,” she said.

Liz cites ACRATH’s submission to the Senate’s Select Committee on Temporary Migration, as an example of advocacy based on evidence and years of work ‘in the field’.

ACRATH’s submission presents 10 recommendations including that the Government:

  • implement a national labour hire licensing scheme that covers all industries
  • introduce stringent penalties for wage theft
  • provide a mechanism for workers to report unlawful workplace practices
  • explore mechanisms and processes to ensure migrant workers’ claims, for example wage redress and superannuation recompense, are dealt with expeditiously and workers’ visas are amended to allow them to remain in Australia until their case/s are resolved.

The submission shines a spotlight on some of the issues requiring urgent attention to protect migrant workers and calls for practical changes that would see more structured and relevant information given to migrant workers (in their own language) before they arrive and once in Australia. Liz believes ACRATH is well-placed to support the delivery of some of these support services.

Liz said ACRATH has spent years advocating on behalf of migrant workers, particularly in the case of 22 men from Vanuatu who came to Australia under the Seasonal Worker Program in 2014 and are still waiting for payment. ACRATH recently secured the pro bono support of a major law firm to help pursue justice for these workers.

To read the submission (number 108) go to https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Temporary_Migration/TemporaryMigration/Submissions

November 28th – Exploited workers win Act of Grace payment

ACRATH’s four-year battle for justice for 22 men from the Pacific, who were exploited on farms in Australia when they came to work as part of the Seasonal Worker Program, has resulted in the men receiving Act of Grace payments.

Judge Jarrett in the Brisbane federal circuit court in his 2017 judgement called the treatment of these workers on farms in Australia ‘egregious’. As a result of the multiple representations over several years, the Australian government agreed to offer the people exploited in Australia an Act of Grace; this was in recognition of the fact their wages and airfares were stolen from them by a labour hire company while they were on the Seasonal Worker Program, a program which forms part of Australian aid to the Pacific.  One requirement for the Act of Grace is that it needs to address a mistake in an Australian government program.

The years of advocacy have been a partnership with our ACRATH membership, with civil society colleagues, and at least 38 people in Parliament and departmental roles. This has of course brought the men the money they were owed, acknowledging stolen wages and airfares, but it has had two other significant effects. It has built ACRATH’s credibility in standing with the disempowered and staying the course, and it has raised the issue over and over again that forced labour needs to be addressed in the employment of seasonal migrant workers vulnerable to exploitation.

Last year ACRATH’s Executive Officer Christine Carolan summed up the determination of the team that has worked for years on this case: “We will stay with this until we get justice for these men.” And they did.

ACRATH is aware of the great pressure on the families when the 22 men failed to earn the wages they had banked on receiving and to repay bank loans to get them to Australia.

The United Nations 16 days of activism against gender-based violence begins on 25th November – International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and ends on 10th December – Human Rights Day. It shines a spotlight on the many people exploited in labour around the world, including Australia.

November 29th – Activism Against Forced Marriage in Australia

Forced marriage happens in Australia. This is *Tamin and *Shamira’s story…

Tamin was 20 when she discovered her parents intended sending her out of Australia to marry in another country. She had been promised to a relative. Tamin did not want to leave Australia to marry a stranger. She made contact with an agency and disclosed the imminent marriage. The person she spoke to had participated in an extended training session, presented by ACRATH in the past year.  The person knew how to access support for Tamin and the importance of keeping her safe. Tamin was supported as the worker followed the referral pathway. The marriage was stopped. Tamin, who has experienced many difficulties as a result of rejecting a forced marriage, knows she did the right thing. She continues to receive support.

Shamira was 15 and in Year 10 at a secondary school in Australia. She was doing well and hoping to study to be a nurse when she finished Year 12. But she feared that the ‘holiday’ planned to her parents’ homeland in term three break was to marry a much older cousin. Shamira became depressed and began self-harming. Her friend convinced her to speak to a teacher. The teacher contacted the AFP who intervened to stop the marriage. But the cost was high. Shamira has been hospitalised twice after serious self-harming and she is still under pressure from her family to go through with the forced marriage. But she now has support.  Though her life has been changed forever, Shamira hopes to become a nurse one day. And she hopes to fall in love with someone she chooses.

The United Nations 16 days of activism against gender-based violence begins on 25th November – International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and ends on 10th December – Human Rights Day. Human trafficking, a $150 billion global industry, is one of the greatest examples of violence against women and girls. Millions of women and girls are forced to marry, or to work in slave like conditions for little, or no, pay and no chance of an education.

Today, the marriage of an Australian girl, or woman, is being planned. She might be a schoolgirl, or a woman over 18, but either way she won’t know about the marriage until it is imminent. She will not have a say in the marriage. Forced marriage is complex and ACRATH has developed a suite of resources to support those working in health, child protection and education. A recently launched ACRATH training video explores the complexities of forced marriage, the impact on a victim of forced marriage, the extent of the problem in Australia and globally, and referral pathways for victim/survivors.

The video is a compelling tool for those working to combat forced marriage and provides some disturbing information about forced marriage in Australia.  During the 2019/20 financial year, the AFP received 92 reports of forced marriage, with just over half of these relating to victims under the age of 18 years. 70% of the reports alleged that victims were taken offshore or the intent was for them to travel offshore for the purpose of forced marriage. The most vulnerable group seen by the AFP during this period was young females between the ages of 15 and 19 years.

*Not their real names.

Caption: Wedding Gown of tears. Photo Credit: Liz Payne.

To access ACRATH’s extensive forced marriage resources go to: https://acrath.org.au/resources/forced-marriage-kit/

November 30th – Be the Voice of Victim/Survivors

Chiara Porro was appointed Australian Ambassador to the Holy See last year after a career that has taken her to some major human trafficking destinations globally. She is passionate about doing whatever she can to create awareness and strengthen networks to combat human trafficking, and to support victim/survivors. Chiara praises Pope Francis for using his influence to shine a spotlight on human trafficking and by working closely with faith and secular leaders on the issue. She spoke with ACRATH this week about her work. View the interview here.

Caption: Australian Ambassador to the Holy See, Chiara Porro, presents her credentials to His Holiness Pope Francis.

December 1st – Activism in Health

St Vincent’s Health Australia (SVHA) and ACRATH have worked together for several years to ensure human trafficking and modern day slavery can be identified and addressed within the health organisation’s 32 sites. This work began long before the Modern Slavery Act was passed in 2018.

“The work we do to combat human trafficking is about more than complying with the Modern Slavery Act, it’s about ensuring the dignity and flourishing of every human being, especially where a person is vulnerable. I cannot imagine any organisation whose purpose is healing being committed to anything less,” said Dr Lisa McDonald, Group Mission Leader with SVHA

SVHA’s work is being acknowledged during ACRATH’s 16 Days of Activism. The United Nations 16 days of activism against gender-based violence began on 25th November – International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and ends on 10th December – Human Rights Day. Human trafficking, a $150 billion global industry, is one of the greatest examples of violence against women and girls. Millions of women and girls are forced to marry, or to work in slave like conditions for little, or no, pay and no chance of an education.

SVHA has taken significant steps in recent years to identify and address human trafficking, including:

  • Advocates for Change which program enables key staff to raise awareness of modern slavery. The advocates help their colleagues to identify and support vulnerable people who have been trafficked who present to their facilities.
  • People rescued from slavery. At both emergency departments of Melbourne and Sydney Public Hospitals, staff have safely identified women who have been trafficked and/or enslaved. The staff called upon specialist services to facilitate the safe removal of these women from slavery and they are now receiving support.
  • Supply Chains. Involvement in a global push to bring about fairer work conditions for people working in rubber glove factories in Malaysia.
  • Staffrooms. Working towards making staffrooms slavery-free by purchasing certified slavery-free tea, coffee and chocolate.
  • Raising Awareness of and educating staff about human trafficking, particularly forced marriage and forced labour, as well as supply chains.

Several people have been identified and referred to support services as a result of the work of the Advocates for Change. Eight volunteer advocates have been recruited from SVHA sites in NSW, Victoria and Queensland. The advocates volunteered to take on the human trafficking work as part of their existing roles because they identified it as a major social justice issue.

SVHA’s Samantha Corrie – who has coordinated the training across the organisation – said justice, and working to eradicate human trafficking, was a core value for the organisation.

“The advocates are very proud that our organisation is working to eradicate human trafficking, particularly in the area of procurement of goods and services. But this is an opportunity for them to work at a more clinical level to influence change,” Sam said. “It’s so encouraging to be working with these people who are passionate about eradicating human trafficking and who have support from the organisation and the encouragement of their colleagues.”

December 2nd – Activism and Awareness Raising

As a child, Samita Rai would hear stories of children being kidnapped and sold into brothels or circuses. When she was older, she witnessed some of her peers leave school, only to learn they had been sent somewhere, to marry someone. She didn’t call it forced marriage then – she does now. After years of work in the sector and involvement with ACRATH, Samita knows only too well the reality of forced marriage.

Samita, a volunteer member of ACRATH’s Research and Advocacy Group, supports the United Nations 16 days of activism against gender-based violence which begins on 25th November – International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and ends on 10th December – Human Rights Day. Human trafficking, a $150 billion global industry, is one of the greatest examples of violence against women and girls. Millions of women and girls are forced to marry, or to work in terrible conditions for little, or no, pay and no chance of an education.

Next year the Australian Government appears before the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva for its major four yearly Universal Periodic Review (UPR), essentially a review of the Government’s human rights behaviour. ACRATH’s Research and Advocacy Group contributed to this review, making a number of recommendations that included: 

  • Continue to provide support and services to all victims of human trafficking.
  • Take concrete measures to eradicate labour trafficking and exploitation by implementing a National Compensation Scheme for victims of human trafficking and slavery.
  • Appoint an independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner to advise and encourage businesses to implement ethical business practices to eradicate human trafficking and slavery.

Samita first encountered ACRATH when living in South Australia. She worked in the Red Cross Support for Trafficked People Program and developed strong networks with other agencies to ensure that the program reached those who needed it. “I really believe that pooling the expertise that people have can lead to maximum effect. When it comes to human trafficking we can’t work in silos, we have to work together,” she said.

Samita, a youth coordinator with Sunshine Youth Space in Melbourne, with ACRATH is helping to establish the Brimbank Anti-Trafficking Network in Melbourne’s west and is working to raise awareness of forced marriage through the network. Samita’s involvement with ACRATH in South Australia also ‘opened her eyes’ to different aspects of human trafficking particularly with supply chains and how forced labour is used in so much of what we buy. In 2018 Samita moved to Melbourne and linked up with ACRATH’s co-founder and current President Sr Louise Cleary csb, becoming part of the Research and Advocacy Group coordinated by Sr Louise.

Her own story drives her passion to combat human trafficking, particularly forced marriage. Raised in Singapore, of Nepalese background, Samita knew of students in her school who were forced to marry someone and who didn’t come back to complete their education.

“I think there is a greater understanding of forced marriage now. When I was growing up I think it was something that was considered part of a culture and left at that. For a long time people only associated human trafficking with women forced into sex work,” she said.

She is also inspired by her faith and belief that everyone is a child of God and has intrinsic value.

December 3rd – Stories of Activism in WA

ACRATH members in Western Australia are good at raising much-needed funds, given the organisation runs without any government funding. But Heather McNaught knows that every speaking and social engagement is an opportunity to spread the word about human trafficking.

“It’s never just about the money. But it is always about telling the stories, advocating for those people who are forced into labour, those women forced to marry and those people making products in unsafe conditions,” said Heather, one of three people leading WA. “Fundraising is never our end goal. We set out to raise awareness no matter what the event is and the byproduct is sometimes raising money. Because the reality is that we do need to have funds to continue doing the work we do.”

An ACRATH group formed in WA in 2009. It is now a thriving group of 25 members with leadership shared between Heather (Administration and Fundraising), Rosa Ranieri (Education) and long-time WA Co-ordinator Kathy Fagan (Forced Marriage and Companionship). Each brings particular skills to the group, but creating awareness, often through partnerships, is a talent they all share.

In the past year ACRATH members in WA have run a Bollywood and a movie night, handed out information at the Fremantle Festival, produced fliers and posters that were distributed to all Catholic schools and parishes in the state and spoken at many schools. The secret to the group’s success is teamwork, ensuring each person’s skills are recognised and utilised.

The excellent networks the group has made through the Catholic Archdiocese of Perth and Catholic education enhances their capacity to create awareness. One example is a recent presentation at Iona Presentation College in Perth by Rosa and group member Sr Kaye Bolwell rsm that resulted in a $500 donation, but more importantly, a raft of projects to combat human trafficking. One student was so inspired by the talk that she used the topic for her English essay and received the top mark in the class

The students created their own posters around the school, had a fair trade cake sale of products made with Fairtrade certified ingredients (where possible) and produced a video. Rosa said the girls’ energy and creativity showed the power of raising awareness and advocating.

Volunteers Heather and Rosa would like to focus more next year on school presentations using ACRATH resources, to inspire the students, who in turn will become the change-makers in the fight against human trafficking.

The group has also focussed on building its database this year in order to spread the message further.

“We have stories of human trafficking to tell and the challenge is how to reach more people. But we are trying to build our networks so the story can be told to more people. Human trafficking is happening here in Australia and globally and if people know that then they will want to act to end it,” Heather said.

Rosa added: “It’s so important to continue advocating and raising awareness as you never know who is touched by your presentation.  I was so humbled when I did a presentation at a school a student came up to me and said ‘I remember you from last year you were teaching us the game about ethical fashion at the Catholic Youth Festival and I have now started only buying clothes from ethically sourced retailers’.”

Heather knows only too well the power of story. A few years ago Kathy Fagan spoke at St John of God Health Care in Perth where Heather’s husband, Keith was Mission Director. That night he told Heather of the amazing work of ACRATH and ….the rest is history.

Caption: Heather McNaught and Rosa Ranieri.

For more 16 Days Against Gender Based Violence Campaign information and resources click here.

December 4th – Activism in Prisons

Caritas Australia CEO Kirsty Robertson travelled to Cambodia early this year and met some of the women most vulnerable to human trafficking because of poverty and lack of education.

As part of the UN 16 Days Campaign against gender-based violence, Kirsty, through a Q & A, talked about the risks faced by Cambodian women leaving prison. The 16 Days Campaign shines a spotlight on human trafficking, one of the greatest examples of violence against women and girls.

ACRATH: Can you talk about your recent visit to a Cambodian prison where CARITAS runs a prison education program?
Kirsty: Caritas Australia through its partner Caritas Cambodia runs programs in six prisons in Cambodia. Many vulnerable Cambodians turn to migration in search of economic opportunities to survive. This puts them at increased risk of trafficking for sexual exploitation, labour exploitation, begging, or forced marriage. When women in Cambodian prisons are provided with livelihood training and education, they are supported to develop the skills necessary to find paid employment when they leave prison; this reduces their risk of human trafficking.

ACRATH:      Are Cambodian women leaving prison more vulnerable to human trafficking?
Kirsty: The majority of women in Cambodian prisons come from disadvantaged communities, with poor literacy and numeracy skills. The prison program supports vocational skill trainings such as Khmer literacy, computer skills, sewing skills, traditional music, handicrafts and other skills, which are keys to improved livelihoods for inmates after they leave the prison. Inmates also learn about health, life skills, and the consequences of drug use, human trafficking and domestic violence. In the female section of the prison, women learn hairdressing and beauty skills that they can use to get jobs once they leave.

Srey Oun (not her real name), a woman who I met in prison said: “I had never really experienced love or compassion until I went to prison. Inside the prison, officers gave me advice and direction, so I became more self-aware – and I learnt so many skills. I won’t make the same mistakes again.” Around 4,500 inmates and 370 prison staff benefit from this program each year.

ACRATH:      What form of human trafficking are the women most vulnerable to?
Kirsty: Cambodian women are most vulnerable to being trafficked to Thailand, Malaysia, Korea, and Taiwan, to work in brothels, factories or domestic labour.

ACRATH:      Did your time in the prison reinforce for you the importance of telling the story of these women and advocating for them?Kirsty: ‘I was a prisoner and you visited me,’ Matthew 25:36.

I found myself with tears in my eyes at the end of the day when we were interviewing Srey Oun, who was being released that day. I wondered later if it was because her story in some ways mirrored mine- she is a mum of a little boy about the same age. Or perhaps it was because of all of the suffering that was compacted in that one prison. So many of the inmates said that this was the first time that they had ever experienced compassion or even love.

Regardless of the reason, I was left with the overwhelming feeling that it was places like this that Caritas was called to be; with people who have been forgotten; in the darkest parts of humanity. Our tag line “uphold dignity” is a much harder challenge in a place like this and yet the results are truly transformational.

People can support this program, and other Caritas Australia programs that support human dignity and hope, by going to https://www.caritas.org.au/donate/online-donation

Photo: Kirsty with Chanthea Nou, Caritas Australia’s program coordinator for Cambodia and India.
Photo credit: Nicole Clements/Caritas Australia

December 5th –  Taking ‘healing’ to heart

Pip McIlroy is the sort of person Lisa McDonald has in mind when she talks about the ‘head and heart’ needed to combat human trafficking. Lisa, the Group Mission Leader at St Vincent’s Health Australia (SVHA), has been part of a partnership with ACRATH for several years. Pip entered the picture a year ago when the responsibility for leading SVHA’s national response to Modern Slavery was included in her role at St Vincent’s.

Pip, who works on ethics education, advice and strategy and supports staff formation across the SVHA network, including the Modern Slavery Advocates for Change Program, heard about victim/survivor *Karlie, who had completed a health care certificate and was looking for work in the health sector. Karlie has been supported for the past five years by an ACRATH volunteer in regional NSW, through the Companionship program.

Pip’s determination to help Karlie set off a chain of events involving many staff and departments within St Vincent’s. All worked together to try and find work for Karlie within the network. Pip took a lead role when Karlie’s application for work at one of the SVHA facilities in Sydney led to an interview.

“We are a very large network so I was able to explore several options to determine where Karlie might best find work. I ended up talking to colleagues in Sydney and there was a sense ‘that we can make this happen’,” Pip said. There was a clear commitment to put Karlie, a victim/survivor of human trafficking at the heart of the ‘story’.

“We were no longer talking about abstract cases, but about a woman who had survived human trafficking,” Pip said.

Pip became Karlie’s mentor in the lead-up to the interview, running through possible questions with her and explaining the process of the interview and familiarising Karlie with the St Vincent’s staff on the panel. The pair even tested the Zoom technology that Karlie was required to use for the interview.

“Karlie had never had a job interview before, so I just tried to allay her fears by giving her as much information and preparation as possible. She had the qualification, the skills and the passion, she just needed support.”

Karlie got the job in clinical support at St Vincent’s Private Hospital Sydney. ‘Team Karlie’ involved many St Vincent’s staff and a Sister of Charity who help Karlie find accommodation in Sydney.

“I was just a tiny part of this story that involved various St Vincent’s staff and ACRATH. We are a big organisation, our mission is at the heart of who we are and it was such a privilege to be part of Karlie’s story, which is ongoing.”

Dr Lisa McDonald said: The work we do to combat human trafficking is about more than complying with the Modern Slavery Act, it’s about ensuring the dignity and flourishing of every human being, especially where a person is vulnerable. I cannot imagine any organisation whose purpose is healing being committed to anything less.

*Karlie is not the woman’s name.

December 6th – Activism in Faith Communities

PATH members in the spirit of St Joseph have been inspired by the assurance of Jesus that “I have come that you may have life and have it to the fullest” John 10:10 ~ Path vision statement

Josephite Sister Margaret Ng never misses a chance to talk to people about human trafficking. She knows only too well what such conversations can achieve. During a talk in 2015 at her Sydney parish, St Joseph’s in Enfield, to mark the feast day of St Josephine Bakhita, Margaret challenged parishioners to think what they could do personally and what the parish could do in response to human trafficking. Within a few weeks PATH (Parish Against Trafficking of Humans) was up and running.

Sr Margaret supports the United Nations 16 days of activism against gender-based violence, which begins on 25th November – International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and ends on 10th December – Human Rights Day. Human trafficking, a $150 billion global industry, is one of the greatest examples of violence against women and girls. Millions of women and girls are forced to work in terrible conditions for little, or no, pay and no chance of an education.

Since PATH began, the group has set about changing the way people in the inner western Sydney parish think about slavery, forced labour, supply chains and their own roles as consumers.

“Parishioners now know that human trafficking and forced marriage happens in our own backyard. It isn’t something far away,” said Margaret.

Margaret, a founding member of ACRATH more than 15 years ago, believes PATH could be replicated by parishes around Australia to create awareness of issues and to ensure that people understand the links between human trafficking and some of the push factors such as poverty. The group examines supply chains and the importance of changing consumer practices. Members also raise funds for trafficked people, living in Australia, who need clothing or rental support.

“We have tried to have a local focus, as well as the global overview and that’s where supply chains are particularly relevant,” Margaret said. “We tell people what is happening globally and then how we are complicit in keeping the injustices going. That’s where we can make big changes, by using our money and demanding certain products that are slavery free,” Margaret said. “Our group and as a result, our parish, has certainly developed a better understanding of human trafficking and what we can do,” Margaret said.

PATH members have created awareness and change in their parish through many projects and activities, including:

  • Regular updates and news in the parish bulletin about local and global human trafficking issues.
  • The sale of slavery-free certified chocolate at Easter, and handmade cards at Christmas, each raising about $1000 annually. COVID-19 meant no sales happened this year.
  • Discussions and advocacy about the sourcing of slavery-free clothing, the licensing of labour hire agencies and the seasonal workers’ program.
  • Writing a submission regarding the NSW Modern Slavery Act and letters to relevant Government inquiries.
  • Film nights, or speaking events that have featured Professor Jennifer Burn, Director of Anti-Slavery Australia and Interim Anti-SlaveryCommissioner for NSW.

“Our parishioners are now very clear about buying slavery-free certified chocolate at Easter and how it supports people around the world to be paid a fair wage and prevents slavery of children,” Margaret said.

The group, which meets monthly, works on a variety of projects that will ‘capture’ as many parishioners as possible, particularly older parishioners who might not be able to attend events. One initiative was the setting up of a ‘pledge wall’ at the Church where people had to sign up and pledge to do three things – say a prayer for those trafficked, tell at least one person about human trafficking and to sign a postcard advocating for a change on a supply chain issue. More than 20 people signed the pledge.

“One day after Mass when I had spoken about this work, a man came up and gave me $500 to buy some clothing for the people I work with. People want to respond to the injustice of human trafficking, sometimes we just need to provide opportunities,” she said. “I am encouraged by the resilience of the trafficked people I work with and our PATH group aims to give hope and make a difference, even if it is just to one person.”

Image: Sr Margaret holding PATH’s slavery-free certified t-shirts and some of the Christmas cards made and sold each year.

December 7th – Activism and Hope

Mary Cameron joined ACRATH’s Victorian group three years ago and already she has made her mark. She pulled together the 2019 Christmas raffle that raised $1000 for anti-trafficking work.

The United Nations 16 days of activism against gender-based violence begins on 25th November – International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and ends on 10th December – Human Rights Day. Human trafficking, a $150 billion global industry, is one of the greatest examples of violence against women and girls. Millions of women and girls are forced to marry, or to work in terrible conditions for little, or no, pay and no chance of an education.

Mary retired in 2018 after a career that included five years as Co-ordinator of Ministry for Pastoral Associates in the Melbourne Archdiocese and pastoral associate at Padua College on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula for the past 17 years. Through her work, and as a parishioner and member of the social justice group at St Thomas More parish Mt Eliza she came to know a lot about human trafficking through the parish and school’s social justice activities.

“It was in joining ACRATH that I came to a deeper awareness of the extent of human trafficking,” she said.

The numbers of people convinced that human trafficking is a problem ‘somewhere else’ surprises Mary. She’s become passionate about the anti-trafficking work and trying to bring about change that will improve the lives of people affected by human trafficking, whether it is the mistreatment of seasonal workers, forced marriage, those trafficked into sex work or those forced to produce goods for our use in Australia.

“Once I started coming to meetings I felt like I had found my place. ACRATH is a community where I have fitted in because of the shared passion for the work. Retiring from work left a void, but that has been filled by my ACRATH work,” Mary said. “We have a big focus on raising awareness which is so important because a lot of people are surprised to think we in Australia have any involvement in human trafficking. But I heard a report recently that said most of us have seen, touched or bought a product that has been made by human trafficking.”

 

December 8th – Activism in Research

Melbourne researcher Erin Cassell recalls volunteering to do a few hours work evaluating an ACRATH project. That was 10 years ago and since then she has done several major evaluations, which were used in Federal Government grant applications and reports. Erin has also taken on many research projects, the latest looking at coronial reports into NSW and Victorian family violence murders to determine how data relating to a forced marriage might be identified and collected.

Erin is one of many volunteers across Australia who works to combat human trafficking and her contribution is being acknowledged during ACRATH’s 16 Days campaign. The United Nations 16 days of activism against gender-based violence begins on 25th November – International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and ends on 10th December – Human Rights Day.

Human trafficking, a $150 billion global industry, is one of the greatest examples of violence against women and girls. Millions of women and girls are forced to marry, or to work in slave like conditions for little, or no, pay and no chance of an education.

Erin, a Senior Research Fellow (Adjunct), Victorian Injury Surveillance Unit, Monash University Accident Research Centre (MUARC), admits her understanding of human trafficking was limited until she began volunteering with ACRATH.

In the decade since she first offered her skills, she has influenced the way ACRATH collects and manages data. An important aspect of her work has been developing grids for staff and volunteers to record their work in the community.

“It’s very important when applying for grants, and doing grant evaluations, that you can show that you did what you said you would do,” Erin said.

For someone who put her hand up for a few hours work more than 10 years ago, Erin has tackled major ACRATH projects like a desk top research project on rubber gloves made in factories in Malaysia. She served on the working party established to guide the partnership work of ACRATH and St Vincent’s Health Australia and co-wrote the final report with an ACRATH staff member.

Her current research involves trawling through public coronial reports to determine if any relate to a forced marriage. It isn’t ‘happy reading’ but she’s had a career looking deeply into accidents and incidents to determine how events happened and what might be done differently. Complicating factors such as culture, isolation, language barriers, and a lack of education surround forced marriage. Erin doesn’t believe the current method of collecting data in a family violence murder has the capacity to ‘catch’ information that might indicate a forced marriage was involved.

“But I enjoy this sort of research and I can do it from the comfort of my lounge chair,” Erin said.

 

December 9th – Activism with Young People

Jess Brady wants young people to get the message about human trafficking so they become life long advocates of change.

“I was late to the party on this one. Even though I had always been involved in social justice, the issues around human trafficking and modern day slavery weren’t on my radar,” said Jess, a Project Officer with Catholic Education Melbourne.

All that changed in 2019 when Paul Sharkey, CEM’s Director of Catholic Leadership and Governance, asked Jess to work with ACRATH on promoting slavery-free chocolate in schools during Easter.

Jess supports the United Nations 16 days of activism against gender-based violence, which begins on 25th November – International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and ends on 10th December – Human Rights Day. Human trafficking, a $150 billion global industry, is one of the greatest examples of violence against women and girls. Millions of women and girls are forced to marry, or to work in slave like conditions for little, or no, pay and no chance of an education.

“I realised I didn’t know enough about the issues and the more I learnt the more I wanted to share that information in schools and try to influence younger people,” said Jess, who now only buys slavery-free certified tea, coffee and chocolate in her own home.

Within a few months Jess was working with ACRATH and Fairtrade Australia New Zealand to produce the Make Your School Slavery-Free kit which was launched in Melbourne in February to help students, teachers and staff eliminate slavery from Catholic schools by only buying slavery-free certified tea, coffee and chocolate.

The kit, an initiative of the Victoria-Tasmania Catholic Modern Slavery Taskforce, is available online on the Catholic Education Melbourne website. It contains a comprehensive guide to making your school slavery-free, starting with the staffroom and includes, ‘how to go slavery-free’ step-by-step, a sourcing guide, testimonials from other schools, information on Catholic Social Teaching that underpins the kit and resources.

“If young people learn about human trafficking at school, they will start making changes to what they buy and do better at only consuming goods that are slavery-free. And they will influence others. The Modern Slavery Act looks at compliance, but we also need people to understand why change is necessary,” Jess said.

Jess is currently working to expand the kit to include slavery-free certified school uniforms and sports equipment.

“Imagine if Catholic schools used their buying power and worked with uniform suppliers to ensure the supply chains were slavery free. That would make a huge difference to the people who produce our clothes. That’s my next goal.”

Jess suggests everyone look at the kit and use the sourcing guide to find where you can buy slavery-free certified produces. Make the change today, even if it is only with one product. Just pick something and change to slavery-free.

Image: Jess Brady – Project Officer and Simon Stephens – Education Officer, Catholic Leadership and Governance celebrating International Coffee Day with an ethically soured brew.

December 10th – Human Rights Day – A Journey in Activism

Anne Gallagher is a true veteran in the field of anti-trafficking, with a record of engagement on this issue that goes back to the late 1990s when she was working at the United Nations Human Rights Office in Geneva. At that time, she was asked by Mary Robinson, the-then High Commissioner for Human Rights, to lead her Office’s response to human trafficking, an issue that was still on the margins of international attention and concern.

Over the next few years Anne led a coalition of United Nations agencies in the fight for a legal framework around trafficking that placed the rights of victims front and centre. She participated in the drafting of the UN’s Trafficking Protocol and spearheaded the development of the UN Recommended Principles and Guidelines on Human Rights and Human Trafficking. These two documents have since provided the inspiration and template for new national laws on trafficking in most countries – including Australia. Anne then moved into the field, spending more than a decade working with governments in South East Asia to help them build systems to prevent trafficking, prosecute perpetrators and protect victims.

Anne is currently Director-General at the Commonwealth Foundation, a position that makes her unofficial ambassador for the 2.4 billion citizens of the Commonwealth. In what she refers to as her ‘spare time’ she continues her focus on advocating for those who are caught in exploitation or at most risk of harm. After a term as the first-ever woman President of the International Catholic Migration Commission, she was recently appointed Chair of Girls Not Brides – the global partnership of more than 1500 organisations working to end child marriage. When taking over as Chair, Anne reflected on how her experiences had shaped her approach to advocacy around issues such as human trafficking and child marriage:

Over more than three decades of working on issues of human rights, justice and equality, I’ve come to understand that strong legal frameworks are essential, but they are not enough. Advocacy is at least as important, but it can’t be the only focus. The provision of support and assistance to individuals and communities that have been marginalised is a critical pillar in any response, but it cannot shoulder the entire burden … we must bring all these aspects together. We need to unite people and organisations towards a common purpose. We need to embrace collaboration and understanding in order to reach across even the deepest of divides.

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