Inquiry hears the reality of modern slavery

Inquiry hears the reality of modern slavery

SBS World News Radio: Australia is being encouraged to take a lead in ending modern slavery by formally establishing a "Modern Slavery Act."

Flanked by Hollywood star Rachel Griffiths and in the unfamiliar bite of Melbourne winter, Cambodian slavery-survivor Sophea Touch entered Victorian Parliament to explain the reality of an insidious cycle.

Through an interpreter, the now 24-year old bravely told a parliamentary enquiry her experience of violence and exploitation after being removed from her family at the age of 4, and her hopes for the future.

"Just like other children I want to have full freedom and be able to do anything that I want to do. I would like to have parents who love me and have schooling like other children."

Modern slavery describes a range of exploitative practices including human trafficking, forced labour, wage exploitation, forced marriage and debt bondage.

It's found in a range of economic activity such as domestic work, construction, agriculture, manufacturing, sexual exploitation and forced begging.

Rachel Griffiths is a patron of the child protection organisation Hagar Australia.

She also addressed the inquiry, which is assessing the viability of Australia establishing a Modern Slavery Act.

"The truth is there are more people in slavery today than at any other time in history. It's the second biggest illicit trade behind drugs on our planet. It's happening mostly in our region."

The 2016 Global Slavery Index estimated there are almost 46-million slavery victims around the world.

Two-thirds of those live in the Asia Pacific region, with about 4,000 thought to be in Australia

Jo Pride is the Chief Executive of Hagar Australia.

She says so-called "Orphanage Tourism", or volunteering in what are presented as orphanages, while well-intentioned, can provide incentives for the destruction of families.

"We know that in Cambodia, three out of four children in orphanages still have a parent alive. Many of them don't need to be there but we've created this 'orphanage economy' which is forcing parents living in poverty to rip their families apart, causing that intergenerational trauma."

Rachel Griffiths agrees.

"It can feel good to have 50 children come and hug you and you could walk away thinking you've done good because it felt good and the selfie you uploaded looked good - if you really analyse the facts, and what we know from psychologists and criminologists is that that's not true. The fact is, many orphanages operating in south-east Asia are not registered and nor are the children, they don't exist.... and who goes in and out does not have 'safe working with children' accreditations."

Jo Pride says Australia's government can play a leadership role by implementing a Modern Slavery Act, similar to one recently introduced in the United Kingdom.

"Encourage and require business to look in to their supply chains, to look at where their products are coming from, to actually find slavery - it's in most supply chains. So let's actually celebrate that transparency in finding it, then we can address it. We feel they need that encouragement. There are some leading lights that are doing well in this space but there are others that need an extra incentive of government regulation to require them to report."

The parliamentary inquiry is expected to hear over 200 submissions.


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