In their biggest week of the year, the AFL and NRL have had to respond to reports that they are using footballs stitched by Indian child labourers who are paid mere cents for the work.
Child labour is a serious evil and needs to be combated everywhere. Not only are child labourers exploited economically, but their health and safety is often endangered, and they are deprived of the chance to get an education.
I would expect the football codes and clubs to take this issue seriously and I am pleased they have done just that. The AFL, and North Melbourne in particular, pride themselves on social responsibility. So it must have come as a shock for North when The Age reported that commemorative balls to be given away at their Grand Final Breakfast had been made with child labour. The club has acted quickly and decisively, redirecting payments for these footballs to World Vision, their charity partner.
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For most Australians human trafficking and slavery takes place in faraway places or behind the blacked out windows of sex businesses. It is a shock to learn that human trafficking and slavery happens right here in Australia and affects a much broader group of people.
I have supported men, women and young people subjected to forced labour, servitude and women deceptively recruited into slave-like marriages. These experiences are devastating, traumatic and a gross violation of human rights.
Government agencies and community service organisations have identified and uncovered slavery-like practices in many different sectors of the economy right here in Australia. These include, but are not limited to hospitality, construction, agriculture, manufacturing, domestic work, retail and even for the purpose of organ removal.
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Articles like this one from the The New York Times explore a facet of life in India that most visitors from the West will surely notice, and anyone that lives here will have to confront to some degree – having servants, or “help”.
I still don’t even like writing or saying the word. A lot of that undoubtedly has to do with some kind of privileged-white-person, colonial-style guilt. Perhaps it is just something I am simply not used to, having grown up in a middle-class household in Australia.
Whatever reason you want to attach to it, generally speaking I feel uncomfortable with someone serving me unless they are working in a restaurant or a hotel for a decent wage.
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On the northern tip of Queensland, a young woman from the Philippines worked up to 18 hours a day for a married couple. She looked after their three small children, cleaned their house at night, and worked in their store in the day.
The woman, known in court as Ms G, was repeatedly raped by the husband, threatened, abused and exploited. After numerous appeals, in February 2010 the husband was jailed for slavery offences. The wife was also convicted, although she has since lodged another appeal.
These workers are Jills of all trades: cooking, cleaning, caring for kids, the elderly and the sick. Domestic workers – nannies, maids, au pairs, “the help” - make the lives of Australian families easier. But sometimes the lives of these workers are unbearably hard.
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The kneejerk response to stories about sex trafficking is to ramp up criminal laws and crackdown on the sex industry. We need a more nuanced approach.
Last night I watched the Four Corners special on ‘sex slavery’. I work as a lawyer representing women and men who have been trafficked to Australia but most of the time I’d rather watch YouTube videos of cats yowling than a sex trafficking doco.
Still, I turned on Four Corners to hear the story of two Chinese women who had been trafficked into the sex industry.
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