Archbishop of Sydney Anthony Fisher OP has condemned the New South Wales Government for ‘disgraceful and undemocratic’ conduct for its failure to enact anti-slavery legislation in NSW two years after the NSW Anti-Slavery Act was unanimously passed by Parliament and given Royal Assent in 2018.
“NSW was offering the nation and the world a lead in this, by holding [itself] to a higher standard than many. Yet here we are, two years later, and that law has still not come into force,” Archbishop Fisher said.
The Archbishop’s condemnation came at the launch of the inaugural 2019-2020 Australian Catholic Anti-Slavery Network report on 29 July.
The report indicates a growing risk of modern slavery in Australia – with the COVID-19 pandemic and recession further compacting migrants, refugees and temporary visa holders into unethical forced labour.
The definition of modern slavery covers working conditions including debt bondage, servitude, human trafficking and forced labour. According to the 2018 Global Slavery index, the Asia-Pacific ranks highest in the prevalence of modern slavery and accounts for over 50 per cent of modern slaves today.
Described by Pope Francis in 2015 as ‘an open wound on contemporary society, a wound on the body of Christ and a crime against humanity,’ modern slavery affects over 40 million people worldwide – more people than any other time in history.
In Australia, the number of slaves number several thousand but the interconnected web of global trade and consumption inseparably link the global crimes of modern slavery with the supply chains in the domestic market.
“Today the risk that a product or service is tainted with slave labour somewhere in the supply chain occurs in almost all industries,” said John McCarthy QC, chair of the Sydney Archdiocese’s Anti-Slavery Taskforce, which is investigating the supply chains within the Archdiocese.
In response the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, the Archdiocese of Sydney, and other Catholic organisations strongly advocated for the introduction of respective Commonwealth and NSW Modern Slavery Acts.
ACAN emerged as a key recommendation from a conference organised by the Anti-Slavery taskforce in 2019.
the Catholic Church is in a pivotal position to lead the momentum for change
Key findings from the report, which investigated $3.18 billion (98 per cent of spending) from 32 participating Catholic entities and 2075 suppliers, indicated that 54 per cent of suppliers are at risk of modern slavery practices in the supply chain with medical equipment and supplies being in the top risk category.
“As the largest employer in Australia outside the public sector, the Catholic Church is in a pivotal position to lead the momentum for change on this critical issue,” said Mr McCarthy.
“The extent of Catholic supply chains is therefore highly significant and indeed the major exposure to modern slavery of the church in Australia is related to procurement decisions – to the buying of goods and services and investment.”
Mr McCarthy is confident, only if immediate and proactive measures are taken, that “it is possible to eradicate modern slavery in this generation.”
While the Church is paving the way to eradicate modern slavery, Archbishop Fisher said the Government was “stalling for time” after having declared the law a “moral imperative” in 2018 and that is was exceptionally disgraceful.
We simply cannot afford as Christians to remain complicit
“For many years our community was blind, deaf and mute to the problem of modern slavery and human trafficking. But how much more disgraceful and dishonourable after [the NSW Government] publicly recognized this evil, moved to eradicate it from our supply chains and by other action, and then thwarted such measures apparently so businesses and consumers may continue to benefit from slavery?” he said.
The NSW Government announced a parliamentary inquiry into the 2018 Anti-Slavery Act after it was passed. Archbishop Fisher, however, said the parliamentary inquiry had been “unnecessary” and that immediate action needed to be done – urging Christians in Australia to speak up.
“We simply cannot afford as Christians to remain complicit in such a crime against humanity as modern slavery,” said Archbishop Fisher on social media.