Over 40.3 million people are in modern slavery around the world. Not only that, there is an estimated 15,000 people in slavery on any one day right here in Australia.

It can seem hard to believe. However, this is the stark reality facing all of us today. Therefore, we need to ask, what can we do about it?

On Friday 29 March, The Freedom Hub hosted a panel of modern slavery and human trafficking experts. The aim was to open up the conversation about how to support survivors of modern slavery, and how to prevent modern slavery in the first place.

It is such a big and complex issue. It can seem impossible to tackle. But hearing from these experts, we learnt that there are concrete steps we can take to make a difference.

The panel included:

  • Matt Friedman – UN advisor on Slavery & Founder of the Mekong Club
  • Gordon Renouf – Founder of the Good on You app
  • Prof. Jennifer Burn – NSW Modern Slavery Commissioner (interim)
  • Fuzz Kitto – Stop the Traffik
  • Sally Irwin – Founder The Freedom Hub

Let’s reflect on some of the key messages from the night.

Ethical business

Modern slavery doesn’t just have big social impacts. It has big economic impacts too. And the private sector has an important role to play.

Of all the different types of modern slavery, forced labour makes up the large majority. It is even ahead of sex trafficking.

75% of slaves around the world are in forced labour. 60% of these are involved in supply chains.

What does this mean? Businesses are operating across the globe without basic conditions or pay for their workers.

And in the current global economy, this means many supply chains contain some level of slavery.

The Mekong Club

Matt Friedman founded The Mekong Club to tackle this very issue in Asia. The Mekong Club is a not for profit organisation focused on empowering the private sector to make a change.

Currently, the core focus of most businesses is higher profit margins. Modern slavery leads to higher profit margins. It’s estimated that the annual profits from modern day slavery are US$150 billion.

However, Matt Friedman believes that businesses can do better. The private sector has a critical role to play in removing modern slavery from supply chains. The Mekong Club brings together businesses across 4 main industry associations. Banking, Manufacturing, Hospitality and Retail. This model allows businesses to network. They can share best practice and work out strategic, business-oriented solutions to modern slavery. The Mekong Club has developed 11 corporate tools that can be used by businesses to help them discover and limit modern slavery in their supply chains.

The Freedom Hub is strongly for this approach too, with a commitment to a slavery-free supply chain in their cafes.

Australian businesses can learn more about eradicating modern slavery from their supply chains through the tools and resources on The Mekong Club’s website.

Stop the Traffik

Fuzz Kitto from Stop the Traffik, also shed a light on the role of the private sector in combating this issue. Working with communities, consumers and businesses, Stop The Traffik has a particular focus on abolishing human trafficking. An important part of their approach is education. Therefore, they have made a range of resources available for businesses, organisations and individuals to learn more about human trafficking and how to prevent it.

The Freedom Hub has been part of  Stop the Traffik coalition for 3 years and is very grateful the relationship.

Watch what you wear

As a consumer, you also have the opportunity to make a big difference.

While the private sector continues to address the issue of modern slavery in their supply chains, consumers can talk with their dollars by supporting businesses that make ethical choices.

One of the biggest consumer industries that involved modern slavery is the fashion industry.

Most of us know that fashion and clothing brands use forced labour to an extent, but as a consumer how can you know you are making the right choices and buying the right brands?

That’s where Gordon Reunof’s app, Good On You, can help.

Good On You is all about rewarding responsible fashion brands, over those that aren’t. The app lets you discover ethical brands and compare ratings across their impacts on people, the planet and animals.

The simple rating system is based on the hard work and research of the Good On You team, and helps us as consumers to make good choices.

As a consumer, our strongest power is often the power of choice – and there is an app that helps you use it!

Laws that listen

While businesses and consumers can do their part, this is not enough to make a widespread change.

Sometimes, the law needs to step in.

Professor Jennifer Burn, Director of Anti-Slavery Australia, has taken on the role of interim NSW Anti-Slavery Commissioner to drive the implementation of the NSW Modern Slavery Act.

The NSW Modern Slavery Act will come into force on 1 July 2019, and Professor Burn has been working with stakeholders and the community to ensure a smooth roll-out of the reforms.

These new laws introduce a range of measures to ensure businesses mitigate the risks of modern slavery in their operations and supply chains, including annual reporting requirements and a publicly available register of statements.

Professor Burn acknowledges that the new legislation is not enough, but it is certainly a good start. Legal reforms like this can quickly progress the fight against modern slavery across Australia and the world.

Support survivors

Eradicating global modern slavery is an extremely important mission. But so is supporting survivors.  The Freedom Hub has always been focused on supporting victims of modern slavery to regain their life and independence.

The Freedom Hub is the only charity in Australia with this focus. As founder Sally Irwin explained, getting people out of slavery is only the start.

Survivors of modern slavery have often been through trauma, abuse and are not financially secure. Rebuilding their lives after this distressing experience is not easy.

The Freedom Hub’s survivor school is able to help survivors rediscover their confidence, find a sense of community and gain the skills to be financially independent.

Though the panel discussed some complex issues, one thing was clear. A multifaceted approach is required to effectively tackle modern slavery and human trafficking at all levels. From the private sector, to the law-makers, to individual consumers, to community organisations, we all have a role to play.

Thank you to all our panellists, and to those who attended the event. Among all the actions discussed on the night, taking the time to raise awareness and learn is a crucial first step to making a real difference.