A Modern Slavery Act

18 Jan 2019 by Megan McPhee in: News

The President of the Uniting Church in Australia Dr Deidre Palmer has welcomed the passing of Australia’s first Modern Slavery Act.

Under the new Act, businesses and not-for-profits operating in Australia with a global revenue of more than $100 million must report what they are doing to stamp out slavery in their supply chains, both domestically and overseas.

It’s hoped the reporting requirement will bring greater scrutiny and accountability around the human cost of our consumption.  

The Australian Modern Slavery Act follows similar legislation that was passed in the UK in 2015.  

“This a significant milestone in efforts to end modern slavery in Australia,” said Dr Palmer.

“The Uniting Church believes that every human being is precious in God’s eyes and to enslave another person robs them of their human dignity.

“We thank those who have advocated long and hard for this result,” said Dr Palmer.

“We especially thank those survivors who courageously shared their stories at the Parliamentary Inquiry last year and in numerous other forums.”

Survivor advocate Mr Moe Turaga has spoken at a number of Uniting Church events of his experience of being trafficked from Fiji to work in the Australian horticulture industry.

Mr Turaga said he was overwhelmed by the result.

“Last year I was invited into a space, and I’ve talked about things I’ve never opened up in 29 years. The scars and memories will never leave my psyche.”

“Today I honour the victims of slavery who have passed away and their families, those that are broken by it and those who found the strength and support to stand up and keep going on. God is Good.”

The term “modern slavery” covers a range of situations, such as human trafficking, forced labour, domestic servitude and early and/or forced marriage.

Victims are often described as being “hidden in plain sight” – working in agriculture or food processing, hospitality, construction or cleaning.

Dr Palmer said there had been significant advocacy work across the Uniting Church in support of the Modern Slavery Act, from ecumenical leadership through bodies like the Australian Freedom Network, to local congregations who have hosted anti-slavery forums in at-risk regions.

Dr Palmer also acknowledged the significant policy work of the Justice and International Mission (JIM) Unit in the Synod of Victoria and Tasmania since 2010.

According to the estimates of the Global Slavery Index around 15000 individuals are held in modern slavery in Australia.

Recent examples of migrant worker exploitation including debt bondage and deprivation of liberty that fall within the definition of modern slavery suggest the actual figure could be higher.

One area of modern slavery where the Uniting Church has expressed great concern is the exploitation of seasonal workers.

In April, Pacific Island members of the UCA held a Service of Lament at Sydney’s Strathfield-Homebush Uniting Church, for workers who’d been killed or injured picking fruit and vegetables in the Australian horticulture sector.   

In August, the Assembly Standing Committee adopted a proposal to advocate for the compassionate treatment of people trapped in situations of exploitation and to establish support networks for those in the Uniting Church who minister to vulnerable seasonal workers.