Chair of the anti-slavery taskforce John McCarthy QC has welcomed the endorsement of the Australian Catholic Anti-Slavery Network (ACAN) by the head of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference.
President of the ACBC Archbishop Mark Coleridge said that the formation of the network, which is administered by the Sydney-based taskforce, is a “major achievement” within the Catholic Church in Australia and beyond and cemented the Church’s role as a leader in eliminating modern forms of slavery.
More than 40 million people are estimated to be trapped in some form of modern slavery, including forced labour, child labour and human trafficking, in the world today, with 15,000 victims estimated to be in Australia according to the Global Slavery Index.
The Catholic network was formed following the first national conference on the problem and solutions hosted by the Sydney archdiocese’s Anti-Slavery Taskforce last July, and the launch of a report proposing the way forward for Catholic entities in assessing and removing slavery from their operations and supply chains.
“[The network] has done much in a short time, working to ensure a high level of cooperation and coordination among Australian Catholic entities in dioceses, as well as education, health and age care, welfare, finance and investment in response to the Modern Slavery Act,” Archbishop Coleridge said in a letter dated 27 April.
“Catholic entities participating in ACAN are strongly positioned to respond effectively to the statutory requirements in the Modern Slavery Act with a comprehensive risk management program.
“The Modern Slavery Statements of Catholic entities will also form a compendium of Catholic principals and action for the advancement of human dignity and the common good.
“Australia can be a leading force in the Catholic world in seeking to eradicate modern slavery, human trafficking and forced labour.”
Mr McCarthy said the Federal Government has an effective ally in the Catholic Church in its efforts at eradicating modern slavery, a fact which is evidenced by a recent grant to enable the taskforce to focus on its presence in the construction industry, a sector that has been identified as high-risk for Catholic entities.
Other members of the ACAN network will be able to utilise the tools created via the grant to raise awareness about the connections between modern slavery and their own building projects and with their own staff and suppliers.
“Where the Government can expect consistent effort, assistance and momentum currently on this issue is in the Church,” said Mr McCarthy. “Sydney is the entity around which the Catholic Church has gathered to support this cause and Archbishop Anthony Fisher is one of the leading anti-slavery figures in the country, while Archbishop Coleridge has been a very strong supporter from the very beginning.”
The Catholic Church is the largest single entity in Australia after the State and the Federal Governments which is obligated under the Modern Slavery Act 2018 to file annual anti-slavery statements describing their actions to assess and address modern slavery risks.