Sydney archbishop urges implementation of modern slavery law in NSW

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Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney on Wednesday called the New South Wales government a "disgrace" for failing to enact anti-slavery legislation.

The Australian Parliament had passed such a law two years ago.

The Modern Slavery Act 2018 sought to establish annual reporting obligations for Australian companies and companies active in Australia, with the goal of stamping out slavery in their supply chains.

The law is not yet in force, as there is currently a parliamentary inquiry into the law taking place. Fisher has called the parliamentary inquiry unnecessary.

"Disgrace and dishonour it has been that for many years our community was blind, deaf and mute to the problem of modern slavery and human trafficking," Fisher said, as quoted by the Sydney Morning Herald.

"But how much more disgraceful and dishonourable after it has publicly recognised this evil, moved to eradicate it from our supply chains and by other action, and then thwarted such measures apparently so businesses and consumers may continue to benefit from slavery."

The NSW government announced a parliamentary inquiry into the act after it was passed, which supported the enactment of the act by January 1, 2021 with some amendments including a three-yearly review, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.

One of the provisions of the act was to establish the position of Anti-Slavery Commissioner, making NSW the second jurisdiction in the world, after the UK, to establish such a position.

Fisher said Thursday that the COVID-19 pandemic has put migrants, refugees and temporary visa holders at greater risk of forced labor and human trafficking.

"I didn't dream that a law, passed by both houses of our state Parliament and given the Royal assent, with wide public support and in keeping with the best of our Christian anti-slavery and secular human rights traditions, would be blocked from coming into force by a democratic government," Fisher continued.

"Modern slavery" encompasses a number of conditions including human trafficking, slavery, servitude, forced labour, debt bondage and forced marriage.

A recent report from the Australian Catholic Anti-Slavery Network found that the top four companies most at risk for slave labor in the supply chains in Australia dealt in medical supplies and pharmaceuticals.

About 40 million people worldwide are believed to be held in modern slavery today, according to the International Labour Organization. The Asia-Pacific region, by some estimates, contains some 60% of all the world's enslaved people.

The Walk Free Foundation's Global Slavery Index estimated that 15,000 people in Australia were enslaved as of 2018.

The report invoked the intercession of St Josephine Bakhita, patron saint of slavery victims.

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