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Slavery is a reality for millions of people, and Catholic agencies are fighting to end it for good

Ending slavery: “This special day gives us an opportunity to reflect on what we do and what we buy and if necessary, to commit to act differently in order to work towards the elimination of slavery.”

DESPITE historic leaps made in the emancipation of men and women in the last two centuries, the practice of slavery remains a real and present source of suffering for millions of people around the world.

But, it also remains a real and present source of profit for slavers.

Exact estimates vary due to the illicit nature of the activity, but the 2016 Global Slavery Index reported about 40 million people were enslaved worldwide.

Of these, 71 per cent were female.

The Index estimates about 15 million people, almost exclusively women, are in forced marriages and about 25 million people are in forced labour situations.

The illegal slave trade is estimated to be worth multi-billion dollars.

Pope Francis recently declared the feast of St Josephine Bakhita, celebrated each year on February 8, the World Day of Prayer, Reflection and Action Against Human Trafficking.

Australian Catholic Religious Against Trafficking in Humans, Catholic Religious Australia and Australian Catholic Bishops Conference have invited Catholics to mark St Bakhita Day on February 8, and at weekend Masses on February 9 and 10.

Pope Francis has condemned the practice, which was declared a “sin of man against man, this sin of man against God” by St Pope John Paul II in 1992. 

The Holy See condemned racial slavery as early as 1435, according to US military chaplain Fr Joel Panzer who wrote a book on the topic.

ACRATH, CRA and ACBC join the call for a fourfold commitment to slavery prevention, victim protection, legal prosecution of perpetrators, and partnerships for change. 

This commitment begins with awareness raising and action to eliminate slavery in all its forms at a diocesan, parish, school, family and personal level.

These organisations have applauded the many people who fought hard for a decade to see gains made in 2018 with the passing in Federal Parliament of the Modern Slavery Act, which came into effect on January 1, 2019. 

The first modern slavery statements are due on 30 June, 2020.

ACRATH’s president Sr Noelene Simmons said the Modern Slavery Act required organisations with consolidated revenue of $100 million or more to report annually on the risks of modern slavery in their operations and supply chains.

“Ten years ago, ACRATH began working with schools and parishes, urging them to buy and eat only slavery-free chocolate at Easter,” Sr Simmons said. 

“We still work on that campaign but we know that slavery is part of so many of the goods and services we use and until we slavery-proof all our supply chains people will be forced to live in slavery.”

CRA president Sr Monica Cavanagh said the Modern Slavery Act was an opportunity for companies to be better global citizens because companies will have to release publicly available reports on their progress in slavery-proofing supply chains. 

Consumers can then exert some pressure on companies not doing enough, or support those who are doing well, Sr Cavanagh said.

“This special day gives us an opportunity to reflect on what we do and what we buy and if necessary, to commit to act differently in order to work towards the elimination of slavery,” she said.

Parramatta Bishop Vincent Long Van Nguyen, who chairs ACBC’s social justice commission, said these forms of exploitation flourished because of society’s greed for cheap goods and services.

He said slavery flourished because it was easy to forget that those who meet these needs were human beings with their own innate God-given dignity.

ACRATH, Caritas Australia and Talitha Kum have developed parish, school and community resources which are available at acrath.org.au.

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