Kevin Hyland: Catholic Church ‘an incredible team for good’ against modern slavery

Reading Time: 3 minutes
Kevin Hyland with Anti Slavery Taskforce members John McCarthy QC and Alison Rahill

He’s been dubbed a modern-day William Wilberforce: Kevin Hyland OBE, former Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner for the United Kingdom, visited Australia this month to advise on anti-slavery measures undertaken by various organisations including the Sydney Catholic Archdiocese.

Modern slavery is forced condition depriving a human of their dignity and includes sweatshop work, sex trafficking, forced marriage, unsafe work conditions, and debt bondage.

Mr Hyland’s experience as head of the London Metropolitan Police’s Human Trafficking Unit has given him insight into modern slavery within the criminal underworld.

Since his appointment as the First Anti-Slavery Commissioner in the United Kingdom in 2015, he has worked to advise similar legislative movements across the world including with Australia’s own Anti-Slavery Bill passed in 2018.

We need to work quicker

However, according to Kevin, much more work needs to be done given the gravity of situation. “Every year thousands of children and tens of thousands of adults die in slave-like conditions around the world. We need to work quicker,” he said. “We need enormous commitment that means we need resourcing, proper political engagement and commitment and we need action measured on its outcomes.”

Mr Hyland said important areas for improvement are stronger penalties for large organisations that do not actively comply with anti-slavery measures. He lauded the work of the Sydney Archdiocese’s Domus 8.7 program aimed at securing supply chains in the Sydney Catholic Archdiocese from buying from unethical supply sources.

Kevin Hyland speaking at Domus 8.7 event

“This is  living testament to what the Church can achieve in the modern time with all the challenges it faces with the ‘globalisation of indifference’ Pope Francis speaks of,” he said.

This is  living testament to what the Church can achieve

In conjunction with the Holy Father, Kevin Hyland helped to establish the Santa Marta Group, a body comprising international law enforcement agencies co-operating with the Catholic Church.

“One of the biggest global organisations in the planet is the Catholic Church. The role of the Church is protect and support people and justice is a lot wider than just the court system – its about compensation and reparation and prevention. When you bring two organisations the Church and criminal justice organisations you have an incredible team for good and that’s what we need. “

An image of St Josephine Margaret Bakhita, patroness of victims of human trafficking, is carried in procession during a prayer service led by Pope Francis for peace in South Sudan and Congo in St Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican on 23 November 2017. Photo: CNS, Max Rossi, Reuters

“Kevin is a modern Wilberforce,” John McCarthy QC, former Ambassador to the Holy See and current Chair of the Sydney Catholic Archdiocese Anti-Slavery Taskforce told The Catholic Weekly.

Kevin’s vision in conjunction with Pope Francis is that we end modern slavery in this generation

William Wilberforce (1759-1833) was a British politician, philanthropist who for decades led the movement to abolish slavery in the UK and the Atlantic slave trade which sustained it. Although he did not live to see the slave trade abolished in his country, he survived long enough to learn that passage of anti-slavery legislation through the Parliament was assured, dying three days after hearing the news.

“Kevin’s vision in conjunction with Pope Francis is that we end modern slavery in this generation,” Mr McCarthy said.