It is shocking that slavery and human trafficking exist in the world today and are involved in the production of goods such as cocoa, seafood, bricks, clothing, rugs and palm oil. Many of these goods are imported and sold in Australia and so, without realising it, many Australian consumers are supporting these oppressive working conditions.
I have seen for myself children, men, women, elderly people, and generations of the same family being forced to work in brick kilns, rock quarries and rice mills in India. They would take up a job in one of these workplaces after being promised good wages, regular work and meals for their families, however soon they found themselves in desperate situations of slavery from which they were powerless to escape.
Those bonded range from a 4 year old girl who was forced to sweep floors in a rice mill, to an 88 year old man who had spent the majority of his life in bondage to the same family.
It's hard to believe, but I met a 12 year old boy with a severe vision impairment who, among others, had been forced to work at a rice mill - soaking paddies, sweeping rice and transferring the grains to dry in the sun. He was forced to work 7 days a week from morning to night and sporadically received 10 rupees (approx 20 cents). The owner verbally and physically abused him, and was also known to sexually harass and assault some of the women working there.
Despite campaigns stretching back to the 1800’s slavery continues to exist today. Slavery and/or human trafficking is involved in the production of goods such as cocoa, seafood, bricks, clothing, rugs and palm oil in some countries. These goods are being exported and sold around the world, including in Australia.
A number of international treaties attempt to address this issue, together with laws in the countries where these goods are produced, but adequate enforcement of both laws and treaties is often lacking. Voluntary industry and corporate codes often make a commitment to providing goods free from slavery yet these also fall short in the area of monitoring and enforcement.
Australia is lagging behind a number of other developed consumer countries, most notably the US, in taking actions to encourage companies to ensure the goods they import and sell are free from slavery and human trafficking. Australian law recognises that slavery and human trafficking are serious offences wherever they occur but it has failed to offer any incentive for companies selling imported goods in Australia to ensure slavery and human trafficking have not been involved in the production of goods they are importing.
The failure of these treaties, laws and voluntary codes makes Australian consumers complicit in modern day slavery.
A range of options are available to ensure that goods imported into Australia are not made using slavery or human trafficking. First, the government needs to identify those goods where there is a reasonable risk that slavery or human trafficking may have been involved in the production of the goods. Companies could be required to report on the steps they are taking to minimise the risk of slavery and trafficking within their supply chain. They could also be required to audit the production of the goods to ensure they are slavery free. Also, the government could demonstrate leadership on this issue by not purchasing goods itself where companies have failed to demonstrate adequate action to minimise the risk of slavery or human trafficking in their production. Although the Australian Government currently has ethical standards in place for its purchasing, no specific standard addresses trafficked or slave labour in the production of goods.
Consumers have a right to believe our government has required all reasonable steps from companies to ensure the goods on store shelves are free from slavery and human trafficking in their production. The measures outlined above would be a start to ensuring this outcome. Please sign this petition!