IN 2005 two Catholic religious sisters met in an Indooroopilly coffee shop concerned at the trafficking and exploitation of humans and how the trade appeared to be flourishing.
The two sisters, Brigidine Sister Louise Cleary and the late Good Samaritan Sister Pauline Coll, started planning a response by religious orders and congregations.
From that first meeting in Brisbane, a vast group Australian Catholic Religious Against Trafficking in Humans has grown – now advocating on behalf of victims of human trafficking, educating Australians, and working alongside organisations internationally to shut down human trafficking.
“Many people don’t realise that human trafficking affects us in Australia,” ACRATH’s executive officer Christine Carolan said.
“There is the ever-present reality of women who are trafficked for sexual exploitation, but people are also regularly trafficked into Australia in industries such as agriculture, hospitality, construction, mining and fishing.”
Ms Carolan and co-author and ACRATH’s project officer for NSW Marist Sister Noelene Simmons recently released a paper, Human Trafficking and Slavery: A response from Australian Catholics, the latest in the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council’s Catholic Social Justice Series.
The paper looks at slavery and related crimes in the modern world, at the Church’s teaching, and at the international and Australian laws that deal with this abuse.
The paper then discusses ACRATH’s work advocating on behalf of victims of human trafficking, educating Australians, and working alongside organisations here and overseas to shut down human trafficking.
Ms Carolan said there was a strong focus on exploitation in the horticulture industry.
“In Queensland for example, there will be a crop ripening and farmers need a reliable crop workforce to get the crop in and if they can’t get locals they will look to a labour hire firm,” she said.
Ms Carolan said unscrupulous labour hire companies, for example in Malaysia, would advertise on social media with promises of earning good wages in Australia. But that is not the reality.
“Workers get a visa, come to Australia and then the labour hire firm will say ‘we can get you market value dollars per hour, but you have to pay for accommodation in a fruit pickers hostel’, and then they will charge people again for food, and for a van to pick them up and take them to the farm and bring them back,” she said.
“And so the pickers end up with almost nothing. The worst we’ve heard is a dollar an hour.
“The labour hire company gets a huge amount of money. It is just not an Australian way to do things.”
Ms Carolan said girls and young women were especially vulnerable “… because the labour hire company can say to them ‘you have sex with me tonight or I won’t sign off on your immigration form’”.
“Our organisation is saying – those workers worked, they should be entitled to their back wages. And we want to shut down the systems that are allowing this to happen again and again and again,” she said.
Ms Carolan said ACRATH had also campaigned successfully for ethical sourcing of food and clothing.
“Many Australians are now asking whether their clothing and food – chocolate, for example – have been produced by forced or trafficked labour,” she said.
“Forced marriage is another area where young people, overwhelmingly young women, need help and support.
“People often don’t realise that forced marriage is illegal in Australia and that help is available for those who are facing that possibility.”
ACRATH has developed a set of study notes that can be used for senior schools or for any groups wanting to explore the issue of trafficking.
In his foreword to the paper, ACSJC chairman Bishop Vincent Long Van Nguyen of Parramatta said ACRATH’s “tireless networking, education, research, advocacy and accompaniment have made a huge difference for people who have been trafficked and exploited in Australia”.
By Mark Bowling