International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade

International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade was marked in Canberra by the event, “Ending Slavery: Forum on combating slavery today”. The forum, organized by UNIC Canberra in conjunction with the Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture (ACC&C), was also a partnership with the civil society organizations, STOP THE TRAFFIK and Anti-Slavery Australia.

After a welcome by the Right Reverend Stephen Packard on behalf of the ACC&C, UNIC Director, Christopher Woodthorpe, opened the evening by reading the UN Secretary-General’s message and talking about the origins of the Day and the exhibit Remember Slavery: A legacy of Black Achievement, which was on display.

The theme of the exhibit was taken up by Mr Luis C deBaca, Former US Ambassador to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons as he skilfully wove a narrative tying the travesties of the trans-Atlantic slave trade with those of modern slavery today.

One example of that modern day form, child marriages, was the focus of Grace Thangasamy’s talk explaining the legal work she and others are undertaking at the University of Technology Sydney’s Anti-Slavery Australia. She pointed out the difficulties in defining the issue and also the need for people to be more aware of the potential for slave-like situations to occur in activities they see every day. While noting the contributions of some of her peers in combatting the issue, she stressed that it was upon us all to have greater awareness and to look for tell-tale signs of slavery in our midst.

The role of campaigners who have contributed to the fight against slavery, was taken up by Carolyn Kitto of STOP THE TRAFFIK when she pointed out that more often than not those who take up the fight do so because it was a personal issue. She explained her own personal connection with Blackbirding in Australia and how this drove her in her work to hold companies, in particular in the chocolate industry, accountable for the labour conditions in their supply chains. She reminded the audience that Australians consume 32 Kg on average each year, yet many cocoa farms in Africa still rely on child labour and trafficking. She pointed out how we can all make a difference to the issue by supporting companies working to ensure their supply chains are child labour free.

The emphasis on supply chains and the level at which companies should report on these was a key element of Chris Crewther’s review of the current Australian policy debate that is hoped will lead to a Modern Slavery Act. As the Federal MP that chairs the Subcommittee tasked with reviewing the issue and putting forward the bill, he gave the audience an insightful view of its progress and the key issues of discussion. Its rapid progress, he explained, should lead to the bill being introduced for parliamentary debate later this year.

The forum concluded with a lively question and answer session including issues such as whether cultural issues should be taken into account when assessing cases of slavery to technical questions on the proposed Modern Slavery Act. Luis deBaca caught the overall mood of the room, when he pointed out that just as in the USA, where its citizens owe it to the victims of slavery that this issue is eradicated forever, Australians have a similar debt to all those that were Blackbirded.

For more information on the UN’s Outreach Programme on Slavery please go to this site.