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

Today, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, marks the beginning of the United Nations 16 Days of Activism against gender-based violence which 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.

“Sadly, the COVID 19 pandemic and its lockdown measures have exacerbated these vulnerabilities and have put many women at further risk of violence,” said ACRATH co-founder and President Sr Louise Cleary csb.

Sr Louise said the 16 Days of Activism was an opportunity to expose the extent and impact of human trafficking in Australia and globally.

“Importantly, this campaign is also a chance to meet people who are working in their way, in their field, to combat an aspect of human trafficking. ACRATH is using the campaign to introduce these people who, we hope, will inspire others,” Sr Louise said.

Some of the people featured on ACRATH’s website at over the next 16 days, include:

  • Megan Bourke, ACRATH’s forced marriage worker
  • Sr Margaret Ng who has established a parish group in Sydney working to create awareness of, and actions against, human trafficking
  • Jess Brady who is working with Catholic schools in Melbourne encouraging them to examine their supply chains
  • Liz Morris, a former diplomat living in Canberra, who is working with ACRATH on advocacy relating to forced labour
  • ACRATH members in WA who see fundraising and expert network building as the vehicles for creating awareness.

As well as focusing on the people working in the areas of forced labour, forced marriage and supply chains, the 16 Days of Activism is also a time for learning, prayer and reflection. ACRATH has resources and two special events during the 16 Days of Activism campaign that you are invited to be ‘attend’.

On 2nd December we invite you to join ACRATH’s lunchtime webinar, Looking into Australia’s Slavery Past. The webinar will look at Australia’s past practices, particularly the ‘blackbirding’ of people from the eighty islands of Vanuatu and the Solomons. Looking into Australia’s Slavery Past will be held from 1-2pm (Melbourne, Canberra, Sydney time). To participate in the zoom webinar please register in advance at: https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZItdu6srDMuEtdo0MaufHWXPPVlNkQSCARl

On 10th December ACRATH will host an international prayer and reflection zoom gathering to end the 16 Days of Activism against gender based violence. The prayer and reflection gathering, to bring light and hope into the darkness of human trafficking, will be held at 1pm to 1.30pm (Melbourne, Sydney, Canberra time). To participate in the gathering please register in advance at: https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZ0rdeCrrz8iGtz5dB4Lgu68idqhS0AtQG_q

“I am keen for all to download our one pager reflection; in past years I have found it great to use each day as a 60 second focus for each of the 16 days. Sometimes I read it aloud with work colleagues and sometimes at home before our evening meal. You’ll find it here: https://acrath.org.au/wp-content/uploads/16-Days-Reflection.pdf,” said Christine Carolan, ACRATH’s Executive Officer.

For all 16 Days of Activism stories, poster, information and resources go to:
https://acrath.org.au/take-action/16-days/

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

This story is a David and Goliath like battle. It’s the story of 22 men from Vanuatu who came to Australia to work in 2014, some borrowing money to get here. They went home empty handed having been exploited and left with nothing. The case of Maroochy Sunshine Pty Ltd, a labour hire provider, and its director Mr Emmanuel Bani, also illustrates the urgency of implementing a national labour hire-licensing scheme. For several years ACRATH has advocated for such a scheme to bring about systemic change. At the same time ACRATH has doggedly pursued the wages of the 22 workers from Vanuatu who were exploited by Bani.

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.

In July 2014, the 22 seasonal workers from Vanuatu came to Australia on the Australian Government’s Seasonal Workers Program. The twenty-two workers were underpaid $77,649 over seven weeks when they were employed to pick fruit and vegetables on six farms in the Lockyer Valley, Sunshine Coast and Bundaberg areas. When they asked Mr Bani for their wages he refused and threatened to refer them to the police and have them deported.

The treatment of these workers was below the basic living standards including, on occasion, being provided one meal a day.  The matter was referred to the Department of Employment, Australian Federal Police, and the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO). The FWO lodged a Statement of claim titled FWO v Maroochy Sunshine Pty Ltd (BRG1035/2015) in the Federal Circuit Court in Brisbane in November 2015. Maroochy Sunshine Pty Ltd was penalised $186,000 and Mr Bani a further $41,300 in March 2017.

In his judgement, Judge Michael Jarrett stated, “Maroochy Sunshine and Mr Bani treated these employees egregiously.”

Mr Bani attended six enforcement hearings at the Federal Circuit Court in Brisbane from June to December 2019. In May 2020, the FWO obtained financial information to establish Mr Bani does not currently have any substantial means to pay the judgement debt. The court closed the proceedings. The workers who had their wages stolen have not been paid the money ordered by the court and Mr Bani has escaped the court-imposed penalty.

The men were back in Vanuatu and the story might have ended there. But it didn’t.

ACRATH has remained in regular contact with the Vanuatu employees and through our advocacy been linked to the Australian High Commission in Vanuatu who have undertaken to help. ACRATHers have ‘met’ by zoom with most of the men. In September the men were given a glimmer of hope when the FairWork Ombudsman’s office agreed to make a very small first instalment payment to each of the men. Also ACRATH campaigners began working with Allens, a large Australian law firm, who offer ACRATH pro bono legal advice. Allens and ACRATH worked together to support the 22 men applying for an Act of Grace payment from the Australian government to cover the rest of the men’s stolen wages.

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.”

This case study featured in ACRATH’s submission to the Senate Select Committee on Temporary Migration. To read the submission click here then scroll to submission 108.

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/

November 30th – Activism Against Australia’s Slavery Past
A lunchtime webinar exploring Australia’s early days of slavery will be held on 2nd December as part of the UN’s 16-Days campaign against gender based violence.

The 16 days of activism 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.

While the 16 Days campaign shines a spotlight on many current practices, the ACRATH webinar, Looking into Australia’s Slavery Past, will also take a look at Australia’s past practices, particularly the ‘blackbirding’ of people from the eighty islands of Vanuatu and the Solomons.

The, Looking into Australia’s Slavery Past, webinar will be held at 1pm (Melbourne, Canberra, Sydney time) on Wednesday 2nd December 2020. To participate in the zoom webinar please register in advance at:
https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZItdu6srDMuEtdo0MaufHWXPPVlNkQSCARl
After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.

The webinar will feature Emelda Davis MA, Chairwoman – Australian South Sea Islanders Association (ASSI) who will outline the history of ‘blackbirding’ in Australia, particularly in Queensland. She will also explore the impact of blackbirding on today’s society. The webinar, which is expected to attract people Australia wide, will also invite participants to take an action to combat human trafficking today.

ACRATH’s Marguerite Buckley said the webinar is an important event during a 16-Days campaign that explores many aspects of human trafficking and its very real impact on those communities most affected.

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.

One advocate Mali Newman-Plant, a Social Worker at St Vincent’s Sydney’s Sacred Heart Rehabilitation Service, is exploring opportunities to create greater awareness among her colleagues around how people who have been trafficked might present at St Vincent’s facilities.

 “I don’t think human trafficking is on our radar as much as it should be and this project is going to change that, it’s wonderful,” Mali said. “It has the potential to make a real difference if we can equip clinicians with the necessary information and skills and I’m excited to be a part of it. Health workers regularly assess and screen clients for family violence. People who are trafficked endure similar problems such as coercion, threats and fear of reprisals if they disclose their situation.”

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 – Bring light & hope into the darkness of human trafficking
Join ACRATH’s prayer and reflection gathering on Human Right Day – 10th December.

An international prayer and reflection zoom gathering will be held by ACRATH on December 10 to end the 16 Days campaign against gender based violence. The day has deep significance; 10 December 1948 is the day after the horrors of WW2 that the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), a milestone document proclaiming the inalienable rights of all human beings. Article 4 of the UDHR commits the world to freedom from slavery and forced labour.

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.

The prayer and reflection zoom gathering will be held at 1.00 – 1.30pm (Melbourne, Sydney, Canberra time) on Thursday 10th December 2020. To register in advance, please go to the following link: https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZ0rdeCrrz8iGtz5dB4Lgu68idqhS0AtQG_q

One of the prayer and reflection gathering organisers and Victorian ACRATH Coordinator, Claire Griffin CSB, believes Human Rights Day, in the season of Advent, is a fitting day to focus on hope and a call to action.

“This time of Advent offers us a gleam of light and a hope in Jesus, to those who live in despair, especially women and girls who are living in a world dark with violence,” she said.

During the prayer and reflection gathering people will be asked to reflect on various aspects of human trafficking.

“Whenever Jesus encountered a person suffering and apart from the community, he restored their dignity and drew them into the light.  He proclaimed the ‘reign of God’, which is a reign of justice,” Claire said. “Whenever we assist another, especially someone whose dignity has been downtrodden, we are a source of light to them.  No matter how small our action may be, we become co-workers in proclaiming the reign of justice. When we take action we are overcoming the darkness. “We want people to end the 16 Days Campaign on December 10 with a sense of hope that we can go and do something to bring light where there is darkness and despair.”

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 two years ago and already she has made her mark. She pulled together the 2019 Christmas raffle that raised $1000 for anti-trafficking work. Mary’s current project, along with a team of ACRATHers is to host a prayer/reflection zoom gathering on 10th December to end 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 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.”

Prayer and reflection gathering
Mary, along with Victorian ACRATHers Bernie Dobson, Claire Griffin csb and Rosa Ranieri from WA ACRATH, want to give people an opportunity to stop and reflect on the issue and pray for change. They have organised an event at 1pm on 10th December for anyone who is interested in joining in.

“It is Advent and we are inviting people to reflect on what is going on around us. Take the time to look deeper, beyond the tinsel and Christmas wrapping and slow down and wait in hope. We are not waiting in despair,” Mary said.

The prayer and reflection zoom gathering will be held at 1pm till 1.30pm (Melbourne, Sydney, Canberra time) on Thursday 10th December 2020. To register in advance, please click here: https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZ0rdeCrrz8iGtz5dB4Lgu68idqhS0AtQG_q

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