As more and more Australians hopefully choose to buy slavery-free Easter eggs this year, both shoppers and the Federal Government are being urged to broaden their focus and shine a light on the supply chain of many of the goods that we buy every day.

The Australian Catholic Religious Against Trafficking in Humans (ACRATH) assembly held in Sydney recently challenged its members and the wider population to delve more deeply into issues of forced labour and slavery in the supply chain of the goods which are sold, and even produced, in Australia. Many Religious Orders are part of this group including Franciscan Friars and Sisters, Mercy Sisters, Christian Brothers, Presentation Sisters, Redemptorsits, Passionists and many more.

The assembly explored the problem of slavery and exploitation in the supply chain of products such as fashion and food, and what is being done to advocate for change and better conditions for workers. In its final paper at the conclusion of the Assembly we were told…

“These efforts have already brought about significant change, but there continues to be a need for public pressure for companies to behave ethically… This need to pressure individual companies to behave in ways that befit the human dignity of all workers must be supported by laws which insist on justice for workers, and punishment for companies and individuals who profit from the exploitation of workers.”

Thanks to the work of ACRATH and others, to raise awareness of the issues of slavery, human trafficking and child labour in the manufacture of chocolate, slavery-free chocolate will be widely available in Australian stores this Easter. “Sadly, the problem of forced and exploitative labour is now known to be so big and in so many industries around the world, that advocacy on single products is not a viable solution.” Along with other organisations, ACRATH is calling on the Australian government to require that companies bringing goods into Australia can prove that they have taken all possible steps to ensure that goods sold in Australia are free of slavery and human trafficking.

Many people don’t realise that human trafficking affects Australia. “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.”

Chairman of the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council, Bishop Vincent Long Van Nguyen, told the ACRATH assembly that ACRATH’s success in raising awareness of the problem of human trafficking and slavery showed that even small groups can have a positive impact if they speak out for human dignity. He said that instead of requiring a “critical mass” of people to take up a cause, we could instead focus on being a “critical yeast”.

While the problem of slavery and exploitation in the modern world may feel far away and disconnected from daily life, the reality is that Australians connect every day with the products and profits created through exploitation. “We must listen for and seek out opportunities to be the ‘critical yeast’ in our communities; the small presence, which, when mixed and held together can, beyond expectation, bring life and growth to our world.”

May we be the “critical yeast” in the decisions we make at the supermarket and beyond! Look for the ‘fair trade’ symbol on products you purchase.

Stephen ofm