Don’t trade lives
With Easter upon us students from the University of Melbourne’s VGen – the national youth movement of World Vision – are urging people to think about the implications of their chocolate choices, and whether or not they have inadvertently supported companies that turn a blind eye to forced labour and human trafficking.
Arts student Hamish McKenzie, President of the Melbourne University Vision Generation, and Universities Team Leader for VGen Victoria, says human trafficking is among the most serious and fast-growing global crimes, with around 217 million people affected worldwide.
“Human trafficking can lead to many kinds of exploitation including sexual servitude, domestic labour, debt bondage, slavery, or child labour,” he says. “Interestingly, sexual servitude accounts for only 10 per cent of forced labour. A huge 80 per cent of exploitation occurs in the agricultural, fishing and garment industries. People, often children, are forced to work long hours, in horrific conditions, for little or no pay, to create products which are then sold and often end up in western markets.
“Australians need to understand that as consumers, we often find ourselves unwittingly complicit in supply chains which sustain the exploitation of vulnerable people. We need to bring ethical consumerism mainstream, encouraging consumers to ask questions of the products we buy and vote with our dollars. Consumers can look for ethical certification schemes like Fairtrade for ‘problem’ products like chocolate, coffee and tea, and look for ethical clothing brands such as Etiko and 3Fish.
“The best way to stop or at least reduce exploitation and trafficking is to reduce demand for exploitative industries and increase demand for ethical production.”
Mr McKenzie says the Asia-Pacific, with the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) at its epicentre, is the global hotspot of human trafficking, with the GMS consisting of Myanmar, China, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.
“Together, these countries account for the vast majority of trafficking crimes,” he says.
As part of their awareness building campaign, University of Melbourne VGen members were recently hosts to United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Trafficking, Dr Joy Ezeilo (pictured above).
In her only meeting with youth during her visit to assess Australian anti-trafficking policy, Dr Ezeilo told the students she could see infectious energy in their generation.
“This is a movement, and I need this movement in every part of the world,” she said. “We need to involve young people as actors. You guys are the ones that make transformation possible. We are not just bringing you to the program ready-made, here you are making the program and that’s what we need to see.”
During her Australian visit Dr Ezeilo also called on the Australian Government to appoint an Ambassador for Trafficking.
“We need someone who can raise the profile of this issue because it’s important. People are doing great work, ambassadorial work, but we need this Ambassador,” she says.
Melbourne Science/Engineering student Jesse Poulton, who is Victorian State Director of VGen says many people think slavery disappeared after the abolitionist work of William Wilburforce and the eradication of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
“The sad reality is that slavery has never gone away,” he says. “There are more slaves in the world today than at any point in human history and modern day slavery takes many and pernicious forms like debt bondage, forced labour and sex work.”
Among their tangible efforts to fight human trafficking during 2011 VGen ran a series of successful initiatives including a major campaign to achieve Fairtrade certification for the University, a series of stunts to engage the public in ethical consumerism, and called on governments to take further steps in the Asia-Pacific to pro-actively prevent exploitation and trafficking.
“One of the most successful stunts pulled off by VGen was our Slave Protest in Canberra,” Hamish McKenzie says. “A group of 40 of the most active VGenners nationally converged on Canberra for some high-level lobbying about our campaign call to appoint an Australian Ambassador for Human Trafficking. We dressed up as slaves, sang Amazing Grace on the lawns of Parliament House, and presented 110,000 signed petitions to Kevin Rudd (then Foreign Affairs Minister) and Tim Costello.
“On another occasion we dressed up as cleaners with brooms and cleaning equipment and did a flash-mob through Federation Square asking the government to ‘Clean Up The House’ and make sure all government procurement is ethical.
“It’s about raising awareness and making sure people realise they have the capacity, and the responsibility, to ensure their everyday purchases don’t have a destructive impact on others.”