Uncovering slavery in our times


SlaveryIn December of 1948 the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights including Article 4 which declared with great purpose that No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.

More than 60 years on from that declaration and with slavery outlawed in all countries, we actually find there are more slaves than at any other point in human history.

The best estimates of the number of people living as slaves around the world today using UN definitions is 27 million.

Over two days in May the University of South Australia’s Hawke Centre will stage a forum on modern day slavery covering both what forms slavery takes in the 21st century, where and how it exists in Australian society today and what individuals can do to fight against it.

The Hawke Centre forums on May 22 and 23 will be held at UniSA’s City West campus in the Bradley Forum and will be led by Roscoe Howell, public officer of Slavery Links Australia Inc and author of Australians and modern slavery.

Howell says the four factors that combine to leave people vulnerable to slavery - poverty, powerlessness, crime and corruption and conflict - need to be recognised if people are to play a role in eliminating slavery.

“Many might think that a country like Australia is immune from slavery but if you understand that anyone can be vulnerable given the alignment of these factors, you realise it can and does exist in our midst,” he said.

Under the United Nations definitions, Howell counts forced marriage, human trafficking for sex and labour trafficking rackets as three examples of slavery that are likely to occur in Australia.

“But it is not only the criminal rings that take advantage of poor and disenfranchised people to force them into slavery, as Australians with purchasing power we can inadvertently support whole industries that rely on slavery if we do not look to make ethical buying decisions,” Howell said.

“If you look down the food and product chain, it is possible to find examples of child labourers, debt-bonded slaves and forced labourers as part of the mix – so in supporting these industries we play a role in supporting slavery.”

The two-day program, held for one hour on Tuesday evening and an hour and half on Wednesday at lunchtime - will inform about the extent and complexity of the issues and then provide means for people to take personal actions to make a difference.

“Sometimes issues such as this one seem too hidden, too distant or too big for people to feel they can make a difference but there are ways to fight modern slavery,” Howell said.

“The first step is become really informed on the issue – to get on the internet and look up child labour, human trafficking and particularly the United Nations sites and information sources that provide broad information on the topic.

“Then talk about it – share your information, with the clubs you are a part of such as Lions or Rotary or similar organisations – it may just be that the group will want to take on the issue for further action.

“Just letting people know about the issue is really important.

“Finally a practical action is as simple as thinking about and changing your buying habits – make sure you are not regularly buying products that have been produced reliant on child or slave labour – check out your coffee, tea  and chocolate brands as that first step.”

Howell says buying Fair Trade can be a bit more expensive but it is one way to assure some sort of justice back through the supply chain. He says these individual actions of many can and will make a difference.

More information about UniSA’s Hawke Centre free event is available online at http://w3.unisa.edu.au/hawkecentre/events/2012events/Slavery.asp

Media contact: Michèle Nardelli office (08) 8302 0966 mobile 0418 823 673 email michele.nardelli@unisa.edu.au

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