MODERN slavery is, in the words of Pope Francis “an open wound on … contemporary society, a scourge upon the body of Christ. It is a crime against humanity.”
Phil Colley is a new face in co-ordinating the frontline fight to eradicate modern-day slavery.
Brisbane archdiocese’s governance, risk and compliance officer, Mr Colley, has the important task of leading local Catholic agencies, schools and parishes to reshape the way they do business, by introducing anti-slavery awareness to supply chains to ensure that goods and services procured from around the world are sourced ethically.
“It’s about going in and finding what are the normal costs in a country and then what are the wages being paid to these people by working in these industries,” he said.
“For example, talking about the persecution of the Uighurs in the Xinjiang region in China.
“They produce a large percentage of the world’s cotton – cotton is used in fashion – so a number of Australian companies have already had to source cotton materials from different supply chains because of that.”
Introducing modern slavery-free supply chains across the Brisbane archdiocese is no small task, however as Pope Francis, one of the leading global campaigners against modern slavery has pointed out, buying goods is not just a commercial matter; it has moral dimensions.
It includes an estimated 40 million men, women and children in every country, every industry sector, and includes human trafficking, debt bondage, slavery-like practices, forced marriage and deceptive recruiting for labour or services.
And, as consumers, modern slavery practices can account for the appliances we buy, the clothes we wear and the food we eat.
“Taking fishing,” Mr Colley said. “People sign on to fishing crews and when they do they hand in their passports and then are basically kept as slaves – kept in really bad conditions – not allowed to leave the boat for nine months at a time, and paid substandard wages.
“It could be the fish we eat, depending on where it is sourced from.”
Efforts to tackle modern slavery in Brisbane are growing quickly after Mr Colley attended a national Catholic conference in Sydney last July, aimed at building a coalition of like-minded Church agencies dedicated to “Eradicating Modern Slavery from the Catholic Supply Chain”.
The Archdiocese of Sydney is leading the push against modern slavery, and is already well advanced with its own dedicated taskforce.
Mr Colley said there were 22 Catholic organisations enlisted in the program and the number was growing each week.
The power the Church in Australia can have in doing something about the modern slavery scourge can be appreciated by considering two points: 80 per cent of trade flows through global supply chains; while Catholic institutions (such as schools, hospitals and universities) in Australia are the largest employer and the largest procurer of goods and services in the country outside the public sector.
“It’s a massive challenge and we can only bite at it bit by bit – so we identify our top 10 suppliers, for example, for each of the agencies, then do a risk analysis,” Mr Colley said.
“Making sure people source their goods responsibly not going where they know they are going to get cheap stuff that is likely the result of the slavery supply chain.”
Anti-slavery efforts have ramped up since Federal Parliament passed the Modern Slavery Act (2018).
It will require large Australian businesses to report on their supply chains starting from the middle of 2020.
Brisbane archdiocese will submit a “Modern Slavery Statement” (MSS) on behalf of the Church and its entities including Brisbane Catholic Education and Centacare.
More importantly, Mr Colley said the archdiocese was aiming for best practice in scrutinising supply chains and procurement, and broadening awareness across the archdiocese.
“We’ll be changing terms and conditions on our contracts to ensure there is an anti-slavery clause in there about the sourcing of goods and services,” he said.
“It’s more about quality and sourcing those materials ethically, not price.”
It’s a big target by Pope Francis to end slavery by 2030. So we are moving towards that goal.