This story reveals very disturbing information about avarice (i,e. greed for gain), lack of compassion and distain for human dignity and life. Jesus would condemn the slavery it recounts if alive today, because it fails the test of a just and fair society abominably.
In India, Bangladesh, Vietnam and other developing countries, women work in exploitative conditions to make clothing which directly connects us to Australia’s 23.5 billion fashion and clothing industry. Big clothing brands pay as little as 62 cents an hour for women to cut and sew the garments which, when sold, are making their factory owners, as well as the Australian-based clothing brands that distribute them exceedingly rich. The wages paid do not constitute a living wage for the women and their families and they live in poverty as a result. Working hours are often from dawn till dusk and beyond. On top of this, the women work in unsafe conditions and are unfairly treated.
At the ‘ What She Makes exposé run by Manningham and Koonung Heights Uniting Churches on Monday, 5 August, a packed audience heard how Oxfam Australia is running a campaign to shame high fashion and other brands into lifting the wages of these women to a living wage at the very least, and improving their working conditions. Research by Deloitte indicates, on average, it would cost just 1% of the retail clothing price for brands to pay a living wage – that’s just 10 cents for a $10 t-shirt!
As buyers of fashion goods and basic garments – and that means all of us – there are other measures we can take to push this campaign to ensure that garment workers making our clothing receive justice, and we were exhorted to do so.
But the Australian government is also taking action to assist the plight of garment workers overseas as well as workers in various pursuits in our own country.
‘From 1 July this year many Australian businesses will be forced to start documenting the risk of slavery in their supply chain, making them accountable not just for their own workers but those of suppliers and suppliers’ suppliers – all the way back to the extraction of raw materials.’
So ran the opening paragraph of an article headed ‘Shopping around to stop slavery’ by Catlin Fitzsimmons in The Age of 27 June. It discussed the prevalence of forced labour in countries that supply clothing or food sold in Australian shops. The Commonwealth Modern Slavery Act was passed last year, to take effect from 1 July 2019.
What do we mean by ‘modern slavery’? The article quotes a source who describes it as, ‘… an umbrella term that includes forced labour, servitude and forced marriage. At its heart, it is the same age-old wrong as all slavery, involving “commodification of a body of a man woman or child, the theft of liberty and sometimes life”.’
The Global Slavery Index estimates there are about 4,300 people trapped in modern slavery in Australia. Fortunately, some of this is being exposed by whistle blowers and the perpetrators brought to book. In 2018, Anti-Slavery Australia assisted 123 people who had been trafficked into Australia, or experienced slavery-like conditions here, although the organisation suspects they only detected 20% of the problem.
But it is reported that many millions of people around the world are modern slaves: and you thought slavery ended with the drawn-out parliamentary battles by Pitt and Wilberforce in Britain (1833) and in the USA following the end of the American Civil War (1865) didn’t you? There is much to be done yet to rid the world of slavery. There are people in Manningham Uniting Church who can inform you about what you can do to aid exploited workers: they are to be found in the Social Justice Action Group – just ask them.