Taking part in Polished Man? Some of your fundraising efforts will help support Hagar Australia, a non-profit working to rebuild the lives of women and children affected by human trafficking, modern slavery and sexual violence. We spoke to Jo Pride, CEO of Hagar Australia, to find out more about their work.
The thirteenth amendment might have prohibited slavery in the United States in 1865, but that’s not where the story ends. In fact, there are more people in slavery today than at any other time in human history.
“I think people are surprised to hear that,” says Jo Pride, CEO of Hagar Australia, a non-profit that works tirelessly to stem the tide of modern slavery and rebuild the lives of those who have been affected. Hagar’s aim is simple: to restore the lives of women and children in Afghanistan, Cambodia and Vietnam who have lived through human trafficking, modern slavery and sexual violence.
And it’s no small job. “We’re talking more than 40 million people trapped in slavery in the modern world today,” says Jo, CEO. “We don’t want to get these women and children just back to where they were before the abuse occurred, we want them to thrive, to become leaders in their communities.”
Bank Australia: Regarding human trafficking, slavery and sexual violence, what are some of the other misconceptions you guys unearth in your work?
Jo Pride: One misconception is that slavery is perpetrated by people who are a long way away. In fact, it's quite confronting when we consider that a big proportion of modern slavery is labour slavery. It’s the type of slavery that is producing the kind of products that we all use every day.
There are not many supply chains coming into Australia that are completely free of slavery. That's something that we need to take a long, hard look at – both in terms of looking at ourselves and the consumer practices that we engage in.
What resources are available to people who might want to start making more conscious choices?
There are a few good ones that are starting to emerge in Australia. There's the Ethical Fashion Guide, which takes a pretty comprehensive look at many of the well-known labels in Australia. Stop the Traffik, a coalition that's based here, produces a useful chocolate guide around Easter every year, so you can buy ethically-sourced chocolate. We're starting to see these publications come through and I think eventually, we'll get to the point where we can all have an app on our phone that helps us with those decisions.
Do you have any stats on how many Australian brands might make use of slavery, knowingly or not?
I don't have any percentage, but I think there is certainly agreement among most of the organisations that have been researching and working in this space that most supply chains do include some form of slavery, if you look hard enough.
We're at a really interesting stage here in Australia in that the government has introduced our first ever Modern Slavery Act in Parliament. We expect it to be passed before the end of the year. The act will require the largest companies in Australia to report at the board level on what steps they're taking to guard against slavery.
What are the most common forms of slavery and human trafficking?
Labour slavery in industries like fishing, cocoa production, tea, coffee – all of those are high-risk industries. Then there's domestic servitude, where people are kept in the home of someone else as a slave, serving a family. That's a really difficult one to measure because it's so invisible. Even here in Australia, there have been allegations of slavery in some of the diplomatic households in Canberra.
Child and forced marriage is obviously a huge issue in all of the countries we work in. Obviously, the very well-known one is commercial sex exploitation, which is a significant problem but not as large as you might assume.
What are some of the long and short-term impacts on those who’ve experienced this kind of treatment?
A real loss of trust. Anxiety, depression, self-harm, suicide – just a loss of hope, I think. When you look through the case studies of our clients, there's a very clear pattern and one of the key themes is that people had absolutely no hope of escape, no hope for their future and just felt completely helpless. Their agency had been completely stripped of them.
Why aren't people more outraged about this?
That’s a really good question. I think a lot of it goes back to a lack of awareness about how significant a problem this is in the modern world. I think sometimes people feel a little overwhelmed by how complex it seems. But I don't think complexity is any excuse for inaction when you're talking about damaging human lives; often very young human lives.
What forms does it take in Australia?
People are always really shocked to hear that there is trafficking and slavery within Australia. Here, there is obviously the big issue of women being trafficked into the sex industry – I think everyone knows that's happening.
But then you have vulnerable agricultural workers who might be here for seasonal work or might be migrating to Australia. They might go straight from the airport or port where they've arrived in Australia out to a regional area to work on a farm. They're extremely isolated, their passport could be taken away from them, and they're very vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.
A few years ago, we were talking about 4,000 people enslaved people here in Australia. But some new estimates put that figure closer to 15,000. That said, I don’t think that’s necessarily an increase, because we have sharpened our research and analysis skills when it comes to how we measure this.
How will funds raised by Polished Man help contribute to your efforts?
The project that Polished Man is supporting this year is our community learning centre in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, which has a focus on catch-up education. If we’re talking about a primary-school-aged child who is recovering from severe trauma, they may never have been to school before, so one of the things that we'll be doing is getting them into school and helping them to catch up as quickly as possible. At this school, they can complete two years of school in one calendar year, and therefore catch up much faster than if they went to a regular school.
As well as getting involved in initiatives like Polished Man and donating to organisations like Hagar, what else can the average Australian do to help?
I think there are three things. The first thing is to find organisations that are doing good, reputable work with survivors and give to them. The second thing is to be a responsible tourist – which means not visiting or volunteering in orphanages. We have children in our care now who’ve been severely abused in orphanage situations.
The final thing is to be a responsible and ethical consumer – tell your favourite brands that you care about slavery, that you don't want to purchase products that have been made using slavery at any stage in the supply chain, and encourage Australian companies to get this stuff out of their supply chain.