Responding to Trafficking

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 ACRATH_optmoved 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 oneviet_human_trafficking_1106themselves 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 companiesPoster-Boy-Web-ACRATH-140113_edited-11 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 2-6_and2-7a_acrath_croppedvictims 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,Human-trafficking-raid-007 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.


About Passionist JPIC Australia

I am a priest with the Passionist Congregation and a part of our Australian Province which includes Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and Vietnam. I have been ordained since December of 1992. I was born in the Philippines, though am from Spanish decent. I came to Australia in 1972 with my family when I was 11 years old, and we settled in Brisbane. That is where I did the rest of my growing up. On completing high school, I went to Queensland University where I studied for 4 years, completing a B.Sc. with a major in Microbiology. The following year I decided to enter into the Passionist Congregation to study for the priesthood. I trained for 9 years, and have been a priest for 25 years. In my time as a priest I have been Director of the Passionist Family Group Movement in Victoria, Tasmania and Queensland; conducted over 400 Parish Missions all around Australia and New Zealand, but particularly in Victoria and Western Australia; worked in adult faith education, Sacramental preparation for children and parents; Hospital chaplaincy; High school chaplaincy, in-services and retreats. In the year 200 I became engaged in developing young adult retreat teams and training them to carry on our high school retreat programs. I am also chair of our Province’s committee for Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation (JPIC). I am also a member of ACRATH (Australian Catholic Religious Against Trafficking in Humans).
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One Response to Responding to Trafficking

  1. Fabiane says:

    Slavery is endemic in much of the uniivclized world, and especially in the muslim world. Religion is still a large part of the problem mainly because religion permits and even endorses slavery.

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