Sydney Catholic Schools sets anti-slavery target

Staff and guest speakers attend Sydney Catholic Schools anti-slavery briefing for suppliers on 6 August. Photo: Kitty Beale

Sydney Catholic Schools (SCS) has committed to a plan that will slavery-proof its supply chains.

The organisation, which is responsible for the management of 152 primary and secondary schools within the Archdiocese of Sydney, briefed more than 100 suppliers of uniforms, stationary, cleaning and other services to its schools in August on measures to ensure their own products and services are slavery free and can be used with confidence.

You don’t need a theological qualification to understand that this is the right thing to do.

– Anthony Cleary

Suppliers will need to declare their commitment to anti-slavery principles and take steps to ensure their own operations and supply chains are free of slave labour or human trafficking by 2020. The plan is part of an Archdiocese response to the problem of modern-day slavery, which affects more than 40 million people worldwide.

In March last year, Archbishop of Sydney Anthony Fisher OP gave evidence before the Legislative Council select committee on human trafficking in NSW, and committed the Archdiocese and its agencies to a program directed towards eradicating modern slavery and human trafficking.

Sydney Catholic Schools has taken up the challenge to address the problem at school and policy level.

SCS Director of Religious Education and Evangelisation, Anthony Cleary, is a sponsor of SCS anti-slavery project.

“The commitment of a major employer like SCS to this sends a very positive message to the community,” he said. “State parliament has passed a law recently, the Pope has spoken against it – this is an area that you wouldn’t find many people disagree with.

“There are facets of Church teaching where some who aren’t Catholic, or even some who are, might not be aware of the perceived relevance to their own life, but this cuts beyond that. You don’t need a theological qualification to understand that this is the right thing to do.”

The education plan involves units in the Religious Education curriculum at primary and secondary level, and activities that support awareness of modern slavery and its impact.

Content will rely on history and empathy to help younger students appreciate the problem of slavery. The building of Egypt’s pyramids and Abraham Lincoln’s abolition of slavery in the United States may be part of the discussion. More serious aspects of slavery, such as human trafficking and organ harvesting, will be reserved for older grades.

“We need to teach them about the problems that lay underneath that and for them to recognise how lucky we are to live in a country that we don’t have to run away from to live, but also that when people run to our country, that we treat them well.”

“It’s also about creating a culture where people aren’t forced into silence. By making people conscious of the issue we can help them be aware of the warning signs, and can take measures so that people can identify how they might address their concerns within their community.”

Examples of modern slavery

  • Forced work through coercion, mental or physical threat
  • Being dehumanised or treated as a commodity
  • Restricted freedom
  • Forced marriage
  • Being owned or controlled by an employer, or forced to work off a debt (debt bondage)

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