Catholic institutions unite at world-first anti-slavery conference

29 July 2019
Vannak Anan Prum. Image: Diocese of Parramatta.


Executives from over 40 Catholic institutions and agencies across Australia’s health, aged care, education and social services sectors serving hundreds of thousands of people will come together at a world-first conference in Sydney, Eradicating Modern Slavery from Catholic Supply Chains.

The conference is convened to coincide with the United Nations World Day Against Trafficking in Persons on 30 July. In 2017 Sydney Archbishop Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP committed his Archdiocese to reviewing and revising all relevant contractual and business practices to ensure they are slavery-free as part of a comprehensive anti-slavery program.

Under the new Australian Modern Slavery Act, entities with a consolidated annual revenue of more than $100 million now must submit a public statement (Modern Slavery Statement) on what steps they are taking to identify and mitigate the risk of modern slavery and forced labour in supply chains.

The incoming Vice Chancellor of the University of Notre Dame Australia, Professor Francis Campbell, will be a special guest at the conference. Professor Campbell established St Mary’s University ‘Centre for the Study of Modern Slavery’, served on the Advisory Board of the first United Kingdom Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, Kevin Hyland who was also appointed by St Mary’s as Honorary Professor.

Mr Alexander Coward from the Business Engagement Unit at the Department of Home Affairs will present a detailed explanation of the main provisions of the new legislation and guidelines for compliance, he will also answer questions entities may have about their obligations under the Modern Slavery Act. Mr Coward will also outline the Australian Government’s approach to public procurement at the public register for Modern Slavery Statements.

Cambodian-born slavery survivor and author, Mr Vannak Anan Prum will speak on his graphic memoir which captures his experience of being trafficked.

Vannak was awarded a Human Rights Defender Award in 2012 by then United States Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, for his bravery and his fight against modern slavery, which he has captured through books and powerful artwork.

At the conference, Vannak will speak about his personal experiences. While looking for work on the Thai-Cambodian border, he was detained as a slave on a fishing boat and was enslaved for four years.

After making his escape by jumping ship, Vannak was sold by his rescuers on the Malaysian coast to a palm oil plantation owner and police official. After another year of hard labour and imprisonment, he was reunited with his family through the efforts of a human rights organisation.

The Chair of the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney’s Anti-Slavery Taskforce, John McCarthy QC said the conference is aimed at fostering closer collaboration across Catholic institutions in the united fight against modern slavery.

“Participants will benefit from case studies from organisations such as the Cleaning Accountability Framework and Ethical Clothing Australia which have put measures in place to deal with a problem which Pope Francis himself as described as a “scourge on the face of contemporary society”, Mr McCarthy said.

“We will be working together to help Catholic organisations lay a foundation for compliance, reporting and for a consistent approach to Modern Slavery Statements across the country”, he added.

The Sydney conference reflects calls by the Holy Father for Catholic organisations to take strong action to help rid the world on this great evil. Pope Francis convened religious leaders from around the world in 2014 to declare that modern slavery, human trafficking and forced labour are crimes against humanity and the present generation must end it.

The Chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and Social Sciences and a principal associate of the Holy Father on the issue of slavery, Monsignor Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo has welcomed the Sydney conference, describing it as a role model for the Church in other countries to follow.

“With millions of people still victimised by modern forms of involuntary servitude, there is no time to waste. This upcoming conference highlights the moral imperative for Catholics around the world to work together to eradicate this evil practice”, Monsignor Sorondo said.

 The conference is being convened by the Anti-Slavery Taskforce of the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney at the Polding Centre on Tuesday 30 and Wednesday 31 July.

With thanks to the Archdiocese of Sydney.


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