It is estimated that millions of women, girls, men and boys are trafficked annually into domestic servitude, sexual exploitation, pornography production, forced marriage and forced labour.
Pope Francis has declared the feast of St Bakhita, which is celebrated each year on February 8, to be the World Day of Prayer, Reflection and Action Against Human Trafficking. St Bakhita is the patron saint of victims of slavery and of Sudan.
Australian Catholic Religious Against Trafficking in Humans (ACRATH), Catholic Religious Australia (CRA) and the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (ACBC) have joined the call for a four-fold commitment to slavery prevention, victim protection, legal prosecution of perpetrators, and partnerships for change. They said this commitment involved awareness raising and action to eliminate slavery in all its forms at a diocesan, parish, school, family and personal level.
The organisations have also applauded the many people who fought hard for a decade to see gains made in 2018 with the passing in Federal Parliament of the Modern Slavery Act, which came into effect on January 1 2019. The first modern slavery statements are due on June 30 2020.
ACRATH’s president Sr Noelene Simmons sm said the Modern Slavery Act requires organisations with a consolidated revenue of $100 million or more to report annually on the risks of modern slavery in their operations and supply chains.
“Ten years ago, ACRATH began working with schools and parishes, urging them to buy and eat only slavery-free chocolate at Easter. We still work on that campaign but we know that slavery is part of so many of the goods and services we use and until we slavery-proof all our supply chains people will be forced to live in slavery,” Sr Noelene said.
CRA president Sr Monica Cavanagh rsj said the Act was an opportunity for companies to be better global citizens because they will have to release publicly available reports on their progress in slavery-proofing supply chains. Consumers can then exert some pressure on companies not doing enough, or support those who are doing well.
“This special day gives us an opportunity to reflect on what we do and what we buy and if necessary, to commit to act differently in order to work towards the elimination of slavery,” Sr Monica said.
The Feast of St Josephine Bakhita Mass will be celebrated at St Francis Xavier’s Cathedral at 2.30pm on Sunday February 10.
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