Addresses and Statements

Anti-Slavery Action in the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney, World Day Against Trafficking Persons

29 Jul 2022

SCS Offices, World Square, Sydney, 29 July 2022

Let me begin by commending the leadership and tireless work of the Archdiocesan Anti-Slavery Taskforce and now the Australian Catholic Anti-Slavery Network (ACAN), headed by John (“Wilberforce”) McCarthy and his dedicated team. Their engagement with various Catholic groups has led to the expansion of ACAN to including now fifty partner entities, many of which represent hundreds of church institutions and activities, and each committed to the eradication of modern slavery in all its guises. Through the decisions made by our Catholic education authorities and individual schools, by our health and aged care networks and their individual facilities, by our universities and other tertiary institutions, by our insurance, banking and investment funds, by our social service and pastoral care providers and more, we are contributing to dismantling the structures and behaviours that uphold modern slavery—a project dear to us all.

Grounding this common effort is the recognition of the dignity and moral equality of every human person. What is the basis of this? It is that each person is one another me, another self, intrinsically worthy of our love and respect, and entitled to the same fundamental human rights as we are; what’s more, each person is created in the image of God, restored to that likeness by Christ’s incarnation and passion, and destined for the communion of saints. Slavery, at its core, is a refusal to acknowledge these realities, treating others as less than human, with fewer or no rights, instrumentalising them as if they were exploitable resources and saleable commodities, rather than our siblings, potential friends and future fellows in heaven. In his 2014 address at the signing of the Universal Declaration Against Slavery, Pope Francis noted that while the victims of modern slavery come from every walk of life, they are more often to be found among the poor and vulnerable, especially women and children.[i] Our responsibilities as members of Christ’s body in reverencing every person, especially the poor and vulnerable, and securing their rights and dignified treatment, are highlighted by Our Lord’s stark insistence: “What you did or neglected to do for one of these the least of my family, you did for me” (Mt 25:31-46).

The second ACAN Compendium of Modern Slavery Statements launched today offers a snapshot of the efforts and successes of the last year in our ongoing challenge to help create what the Holy Father refers to as a ‘care economy’: a mindset and structures that put people rather than profits at the centre of things; a commitment to fighting for the common good and not just our personal interests; a practice of justice, compassion and decency that demonstrates a deep reverence for others.

To be sure, there is much to celebrate today. The inroads already made demonstrate just such a mindset and commitments, and an attempt to build such structures and practices. But they are only a beginning and should motivate us to press forward with continued vigilance and fervour. Similarly, developments in law and corporate governance have been encouraging, despite some faltering starts: I welcome the recent appointment of Dr James Cockayne as the first Anti-Slavery Commissioner, and commit our Catholic agencies to collaborating with the commissioner in meeting and bettering legislative requirements.

As we know, however, eradicating modern slavery is a complex task. Dehumanising mindsets, abusive structures and exploitative behaviours are often sophisticated and multifaceted, operating in the shadows and twilights of this world, or hiding “in plain sight” behind the bright lights of plenty in our products, supply chains, employment systems, whole economy. For this reason, the work undertaken by ACAN is invaluable. By raising awareness through their expertise and helping us navigate these complexities, we are being given the means to walk our talk about human dignity in our agencies day to day.

However, as important as resources, programmes, expertise, laws and reporting are, they can only take us so far. For these things to really work requires spiritual, moral and cultural conversion such that slavery is unthinkable. That in turn requires a real dedication by leaders and staff to such change. We must be very intentional about this, not regarding anti-slavery as a tick-a-box exercise in minimalist compliance but as a defining commitment without which we could not in conscience engage in our many activities; and not as something only to trouble the business manager or mission officer, but as everyone’s concern. Pope Francis reminds us that the anti-slavery challenge demands patience, perseverance and courage from each one of us.

My hope is that there will be a time in the not-too-distant future where we can walk into any Catholic institution or ministry and be confident that every element of their operation, from the sourcing of products like uniforms, equipment, IT components and building materials to wages and conditions of staff members are free from any ties to modern slavery whatsoever. We pray that God will guide and energise us in this endeavour. May we persevere together in making slavery truly a thing of the past. God bless your efforts! St Josephine Bakhita pray for us!

[i] Ceremony for the signing of the Faith Leaders’ Universal Declaration Against Slavery (2 December 2014) | Francis (