Eighteen national faith leaders are calling on the federal government to legislate to discourage slavery-like conditions in Australia and in its trading partners. Writing as the Australian Freedom Network, they're asking the government and business leaders to support a Modern Slavery Act.
The open letter comes from leaders of 18 faith groups including Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu and Jewish. It expresses concerns about the welfare and human rights of thousands of migrant workers who are either at risk of, or are already experiencing, forced labour in Australia.
They're calling on the leadership of government, business and civil society to focus on eradicating contemporary forms of slavery, such as trafficking in people, sexual exploitation, child labour and forced marriage.
Jenny Stanger is National Manager of the Salvation Army's Freedom Partnership to End Modern Slavery. She says official government statistics estimate around 500 people were identified to be in slavery in Australia over the past decade.
But the Global Slavery Index has assessed around 4,300 people are currently in slavery in Australia.
I think if your listeners think about all the stories of exploitation that we've heard over the last 10 years in industries as varied as hospitality and construction and restaurants and cleaning and in the sex industry, in many, many industries across Australia we know that people are being exploited."
She says exploitation paves the way for slavery to occur.
"International students, people on temporary visas, working on farms, and a lot of investigations by various media have indicated to us that exploitation is quite severe and quite sad. So that there's a lot of exploitation ending up in our fresh food industry and meat-packing as well."
Jenny Stanger says she has only seen one or two cases in Australia involving children, but the issue of forced marriage still exists.
"Since forced marriage became a crime in 2013 we have seen a significant part of our work now being responding to young people at risk, and young people and women who have been forced to marry. So that's become about 35 per cent of the people that we assist."
The letter goes on to say Australia has an opportunity to learn from what has worked in other countries.
The United Kingdom, for example, introduced a Modern Slavery Act last year to highlight community awareness, reporting and care for victims.
The British legislation places a public obligation on large businesses to report on steps they have taken to ensure that slavery and human trafficking are not taking place in either their business or supply chains.
David Cooke, chief executive of Konica Minolta Australia, says the same should happen here.
"Some years ago I started to think a bit more deeply about where perhaps some of the goods that we purchase in order to conduct our business, where they might be manufactured and how they might be manufactured. And even some of the services we procure here in Australia, you know, cleaning contractors and people of that nature and I just wanted to satisfy myself as the custodian of our brand here in Australia that we weren't inadvertently involved in any human rights abuses at any stage of that supply chain."
Australians, he says, are attracted by cheap fashion, but that usually comes at a price.
"If a t-shirt is for sale in Australia that was manufactured overseas and freighted out here for $2, that's an immediate warning light that it's unlikely the people involved in the manufacture of that product were paid correctly or treated correctly. Otherwise it can't be retailed here in Australia for $2."
David Cooke also has a message for his fellow chief executives from the corporate and business world.
"There's a very good chance, regrettably, that unknowingly that you are caught up in human rights abuses and modern slavery by virtue of the fact that you are procuring things without going deep into your supply chain to see how they were actually manufactured."
The problem, he says, is often with third parties recruiting labour from places like Nepal and Bangladesh with the false promise of high-paying jobs in other countries.
He's calling on businesses to check their supply chains and only work with suppliers who are also committed to stopping slavery.
He has this message for his company's suppliers.
"If you don't want to go and check your supply chains then, I'm sorry, but we won't be able to spend another dollar with you. Because we are going to shift our spending patterns and and we are going to use the power of the dollar to drive change within the manufacturing sector."