I have been a member of ACRATH for about a year now. ACRATH stands for Australian Catholic Religious Against Trafficking in Humans. That is, in fact, the way it all began – as a group of religious: Priests, brothers, nuns – mostly Religious women – who felt so moved by the horror of human trafficking that they formed as a group to do something about it.
I attended the ACRATH conference and AGM about 3 weeks ago in Sydney, and of the 40 delegates present, only 4 of us were men. I suspect it is because us men are more results driven. We like to see the fruits of our labour, that our efforts are getting big results. Women, on the other hand, know in this business it is about patience and timing. You won’t see the huge results, but you have to do what you can because to do nothing is not an option.
You won’t see big results because the problem, worldwide, is enormous. At the moment it is estimated that there are around 20.9 million people who have been trafficked into slavery. The breakdown of this figure is that about 22% have been trafficked into the sex industry (these are mostly women and children); about 10% are trafficked into Government sponsored slavery – such as Child Soldiers; and the vast majority are trafficked and sold into slave labour. But there are also those who have been trafficked for their organs. To rattle off statistics like that, though, doesn’t really communicate the horror of what these people have gone through.
Some people think of the film ‘Taken’, starring Liam Neeson, when they think of Human trafficking. But the scenario of this film is more thriller based and Holywoodized and does not communicate the normal realities of how a human being ends up being trafficked. Better films for gaining an understanding of the realities are the Australian film, “The Jammed” or the recent international film, “The Whistle Blower.” These films better describe the reality of how people who are trafficked are either sold into it by family members who are in terrible poverty and trying to pay off a debt, or are tricked into thinking they are going to work overseas for good pay and the chance to get a better life.
But when they get to their destination, their passports are taken and they are told that the costs of bringing them to their destination need to be paid back by their labour. These people often don’t protest as they don’t speak the language of the country they find themselves in, they have no money, they don’t trust the police as their experience from their own countries is one of police corruption, or they are beaten or raped into submission.
We ourselves can unwittingly contribute to slave labour by the products we buy from supermarkets. Like the chocolates we buy for Easter. The bulk of the cocoa used to make the chocolate comes from West Africa, from farms where child slave labour is used. The Free market economy that we live with pushes competition between companies, like those that produce chocolate, to produce a cheaper product so as to compete effectively. The cheaper these companies can get the cocoa means the cheaper they can produce the chocolate. Cocoa grown and harvested through slave labour is cheaper than that where people are payed a fair wage for their work.
Groups like ACRATH try to raise awareness of these issues through their network of religious organizations and have mounted successful campaigns against companies like Nestle to ensure that they purchase only cocoa from farms that do not use child slave labour. Their campaign has resulted in Nestle officially announcing 3 weeks ago that all their chocolate coming into Australia is free of slave labour.
ACRATH members are also involved with caring and supporting victims of trafficking found here in Australia. When the organization was first formed, it was to help the victims trafficked into the sex industry in this country. Since then it has come to recognise that slave labour is a bigger issue and the work has expanded, with ACRATH now registered as an official NGO (Non-Government Organization) that receives government grants for its work.
Organizations like ACRATH also have had success in lobbying the Australian Government to introduce tougher laws making trafficking a criminal offence and thus giving the police force powers to pursue and prosecute. Today ACRATH involves the voluntary efforts of lay people as well who are keen to help. Sr. Carol Hogan, for example, has assembled a team of young lawyers and law students in Sydney who volunteer their time to work to toughen laws in this country and get support and justice for victims. Unfortunately, so far, the number of convictions is not large.
Why does trafficking happen in such a large scale? – because there is money to be made. The most lucrative forms of organised crime are: trafficking in arms; followed by trafficking in illegal drugs; then followed by human trafficking. It is sobering to note that while the world has officially abolished slavery, there are more people living in slavery today than at any time in history.