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Modern Slavery and COVID-19 | Senate hearing on COVID-19 | Winter Wonders Blood Drive

3 July 2020

Modern slavery and COVID-19

Hi everyone,

Modern slavery.  A growing and challenging issue in Australia and globally. The reality is that modern slavery is often underground and difficult to detect. Did you know that in 2018 only one in every five cases in Australia were identified, and globally, more than 40 million people are impacted (71% are women and girls, and nearly a quarter are children)?

We are keeping a close eye on the ways in which the economic and social impacts of COVID-19 are leading to an increase in factors that fuel modern slavery and human trafficking: namely poverty, inequality and lack of opportunity for decent work, combined with expected higher rates of irregular migration.

In fact, people in low-paid and insecure work, migrant workers and female workers are particularly vulnerable in Australia, with an increased risk of destitution and increased risk of exploitation. People are taking unimaginable risks to try and escape poverty or persecution, accepting precarious job offers and making hazardous migration decisions.

Our Support for Trafficked People Program is present in each state and territory in Australia and uses a strengths-based casework approach that is responsive and flexible to individual needs when individuals are referred. Since 2009 83% of the clients supported have been female and we have supported over 60 minors (under the age of 18). This data aligns with global trends.

The most common forms of trafficking in Australia are for the purposes of sexual exploitation and labour exploitation. Labour exploitation is common in – but not limited to - regional and remote parts of Australia. Who is exploited changes based on the industry (e.g. Pacific Islander men tend to be exploited in our agricultural sector, South Asian women in domestic settings).

Let me share with you an example of forced labour here in Australia – which violates the dignity and integrity of a person, endangering their life and physical security. A young man escaped from a house where he had been held and forced to work. Although he was injured while escaping, he was able to flag down a passing car which took him to the local police station to report his treatment. We provided the young man with a living allowance, access to healthcare to treat his injuries, essential items, emergency accommodation, a psychologist for mental health support and linked him to legal support to address his visa status. He was able to take English classes and join social activities to form a community and sense of belonging here in Australia. He also took part in the criminal justice proceedings and was able to reconnect with his family, who he was restricted from contacting while being exploited.

What we are doing – trafficking and modern slavery
We are active nationally, regionally and globally through:

  • preparation of desk reviews and technical advice
  • co-chairing state networks, writing submissions to guide Australian Government's national and international strategies 
  • delivering internal and external webinars
  • engaging with sister National Societies, especially in the Asia-Pacific, on labour migration and modern slavery in COVID 
  • engaging globally with ICRC through trafficking communities of practice and really making sure that the causes and impacts of modern slavery are well-known.

We have recently approved our own Modern Slavery Policy that is applicable to all Red Cross humanitarian work. This reaffirms our commitment to contribute to ending all forms of modern slavery and outlines our approach to reducing the risk of modern slavery practices within our supply chains and operations. 

There are also additional information and resources on our approach to reducing the risk of modern slavery practices that you can find here

Senate Committee Hearing on COVID-19

On Wednesday we were invited to attend the senate committee hearing on COVID-19.

Noel Clement (Director, Australian Programs) gave the opening statement, sharing our concerns about the impact of COVID-19 on already vulnerable people and communities, both internationally and within Australia. From its early stages, local Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies have supported efforts in over 164 countries to prepare for and respond to the impacts of COVID-19.

In Australia, we are focusing on four main areas of concern:

  • The psychosocial wellbeing of people in quarantine or otherwise in isolation.
  • The significant risk to the health and wellbeing of temporary visa holders.  
  • The critical need for people to access, understand and implement health and hygiene messaging.  
  • The need to continue and extend existing supports for people already vulnerable in the community.  

Thanks to each and everyone of you who reached out and provided help in different ways.

From psychological first aid support in all state and territories with over 110,000 calls to over 24,500 people since February, to providing isolation kits to support people in hotel quarantine, and promoting, developing and disseminating public messaging to support community safety, you were there to provide help where they are most needed.

And we’ll continue to advocate specific humanitarian issues directly with responsible authorities to do all we can to respond to the needs of the people and communities most impacted.

Next week I’ll update on the research we have done into the emerging needs as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, both in Australia and beyond.

Winter Wonders Blood Drive

Winter is a tricky time for blood donations and even more so in 2020 with COVID-19 restrictions. In some places it’s colder outside and people are worried about leaving their homes more than necessary, greatly impacting on the number of regular donors we see.

You can understand why it's so important to do all we can to keep our stocks healthy. That's why from 1 July to 30 September, we are teaming up with our colleagues at Lifeblood for the Winter Wonders Blood Drive to encourage our amazing people to donate regularly over the difficult winter period.

We are aiming towards a common goal of 1,250 donations from Lifeblood and Australian Red Cross people across the three months.

Here’s how you can join.

  1. Register a blood donor account if you don’t already have one - you can register online.
  2. Join the ‘Australian Red Cross’ Lifeblood Team - just follow our step-by-step instructions on how to join a team. 
  3. Book a time to give life. Every donation you make automatically goes towards our team’s tally and the overall drive total!

That’s it. You can track your donations online and see just how big a part Australian Red Cross has played at any point during the drive. 

If you can’t donate right now, that’s OK. You can still help. Simply spread the word and help get the rest of your team on board.

Talk to you next week.