Sarah Morse from Unchained, an expert in Modern Slavery
After working in a safe house for survivors of human trafficking, I have seen first-hand the impact of exploitation and slavery on innocent lives. It has helped me understand how our every day choices as consumers drives the global slave trade. I have seen the worst side of humanity, but I have also seen the very best. In the women at the safe house, I saw an incredible resilience, a determination to rise above their trauma and rebuild their lives to provide for their families in their countries of origin, and to create a better future.
Current statistics tell us that approximately 40.1million people are currently working in slave-like conditions world-wide, around 60% of these making the clothes and goods we buy. Even here in Australia, we are not exempt, with an estimated 15 000 people facing slave-like conditions, according to the most recent Global Slavery Index. Amidst these staggering numbers are real people, with names and stories and families, with their own hopes and dreams.
As I think about the Social Outfit, my mind is cast back to a Nigerian lady I met at the safe house called Grace. After years of exploitation, Grace finally arrived at the safe house. Here, she found her passion and skill in sewing, and diligently attended the sewing classes at the local job training centre. I sat with her at the dining room table as she sewed handbags, working hard to make sure they were good quality to sell at the local markets. She made a little bit of money, but not enough to live on or send home, which made her continually reliant on our organisation. If only there had been something like The Social Outfit to further empower her to gain high level skills and employment.
The Social Outfit is helping refugees and new migrants step into their future in Australia with courage and creativity, and provides a preventative model for some of the most vulnerable in our community. It stops them from becoming another statistic of those who are exploited on our own soil in the fashion industry as well as in domestic servitude, hospitality, construction or agriculture.
When the Rana Plaza Factory in Bangladesh collapsed in April 2013, killing 1,134 garment workers, it brought into focus how much our addiction to cheap fashion is wreaking havoc on the lives of the people who make our clothes. The problem of Modern Slavery can feel overwhelming and paralysing, and yet it doesn’t have to be.
As individual consumers, we can take responsibility for our choices and let our favourite retailers know that we want them to look after the people in their supply chains, and the planet. By using an ethical shopping App such as Good On You, or consulting the Ethical Fashion guide at https://baptistworldaid.org.au/resources/2018-ethical-fashion-guide/ we can immediately see how our retailers rate and either congratulate them, or encourage them to do better.
As businesses, we can take the NSW Modern Slavery Act seriously, and not just see it as another act of compulsory compliance, but as a vehicle of culture change. As we are transparent about our supply chains, we have the opportunity to invest in the lives of the people who work in them, and to have an impact far greater than our own backyard. Unchained trains and equips businesses in Australia to be leaders in addressing slavery in their supply chains and operations. Visit www.unchained.org.au to make an appointment.