Catholics lead the way against slavery on feast of St Josephine Bakhita

St Josephine Bakhita - 350.jpg

Catholic organisations got together on February 8, the feast of St Josephine Bakhita, to celebrate with Pope Francis and the whole Church the World Day of Prayer, Reflection and Action Against Human Trafficking.

St Josephine Bakhita is the patron saint of victims of slavery and of Sudan.

Australian Catholic Religious Against Trafficking in Humans (ACRATH), Catholic Religious Australia (CRA) and Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (ACBC) invited Australians to mark the day by committing themselves to work together, through grass roots action and corporate governance, to end slavery around the world as well as through prayer on weekend Masses on February 9 and 10.

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.

Sr Noelene Simmons sm

Sr Noelene Simmons sm

 ACRATH’s President Sr Noelene Simmons sm said the Modern Slavery Act requires organisations with a consolidated revenue of A$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. 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,” Sr Noelene said.

 CRA President Sr Monica Cavanagh rsj 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.

 “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,” Sr Monica said.

 It is estimated that millions of women, girls, men and boys are trafficked annually into domestic servitude, sexual exploitation, pornography production, forced marriage and forced labour.

Sr Monica Cavanagh rsj

Sr Monica Cavanagh rsj

“These forms of exploitation flourish because of society’s greed for cheap goods and services and because it is easy to forget that those who meet these needs are human beings with their own innate God-given dignity,” the Bishop of Parramatta, Vincent Long Van Nguyen, wrote in ACSJC & ACRATH publication No 79. Bishop Long is Chairman of the ACBC’s Bishops Commission for Social Justice - Mission and Service.

Meanwhile, The Catholic Weekly reports that the Archbishop of Sydney Anthony Fisher OP has launched an ethical shopping guide as part of efforts to combat modern slavery on the International Day of Prayer and Awareness Against Human Trafficking.

Archbishop Fisher announced the Shop for Good initiative at an anti-slavery seminar and expo at St Mary’s Cathedral College Hall which he hosted along with the archdiocese’s Anti-Slavery Taskforce led by John McCarthy QC.

The event was attended by hundreds of business, education, civic, community and religious leaders.

“Between us we have very considerable purchasing power and therefore power to deter any supply-chains that profit from modern slavery,” said Archbishop Fisher.

 “And this is no longer simply a moral and spiritual imperative, but a legal requirement for us; no longer merely a pipe-dream for the future, but an urgent reality, a call to act now, today; no longer only lip-service to the issue of modern slavery and human trafficking, but engagement in real action for real change.”

John McCarthy QC, Jennifer Westacott, and Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP

John McCarthy QC, Jennifer Westacott, and Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP

The Shop for Good guide is a process to purchase a range of ethically-sourced goods including fresh food, beverages, clothing, and school and office supplies and equipment endorsed by the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney.

Chief Executive of the Business Council of Australia, Jennifer Westacott, who attended the event, made an impassioned plea on behalf of those “on the wrong side of the ledger; those with no control over their lives or their circumstances”.

Australian businesses must partner with the Church in taking the lead on ending economic and sexual slavery, she said.

“Stamping out modern slavery isn’t a feel-good exercise,” she said.

“Today modern slavery is an economic issue. And this is why business is best placed to take the lead on ending this odious practice.

“Large businesses with the might of their purchasing power have the means to uncover modern slavery in their supply chains and the economic firepower to cut it off at the source.”

See the ACRATH, CRA, ACBC media release here.

See The Catholic Weekly story on the anti-slavery seminar here.