[This article first appeared in October 2015 as a guest writer to the NZ Baptist Magazine – link]
I was recently applying for a student visa for my upcoming trip to the United States. Part of the process is an interview with a US immigration official and one of the questions asked was, “Who is the sponsoring organisation?” I proudly replied, “Stand Against Slavery” and the follow up question was, “What does that organisation do?” The cynic in me wanted to respond sarcastically, “Um, duh, we like, stand against slavery?” But I really needed this visa so thought better of it.
More seriously though, over the last couple of years, I have had to learn to answer this question afresh about every three or four months. You see, if I answer along the lines of “we are an organisation combating slavery around the world,” I get nods of affirmation followed by a question like, “Where do you do that?” Or a statement like, “It’s terrible all that prostitution in Thailand!” Because when people think of modern slavery, many think of sex slavery.
Don’t misunderstand me, sex slavery is wrong and we are right to tackle it. But think on this; there are estimates of between twenty-one and thirty-six million people who are enslaved around the world, and sex slavery only represents around 21% – that’s between four and eight million people. Actually, forced labour is by far the largest form of slavery, and here in New Zealand that includes forced and bonded labour in the restaurant, entertainment, construction, horticulture, agriculture, dairy, viticulture, aged care and child care industries.
I often get a reaction to this because there is disbelief that severe worker exploitation (slavery and human trafficking) happens here in New Zealand. Yet when people begin to acknowledge that perhaps this is true, they lean into the conversation and ask questions about what that looks like and what can be done.
Stand Against Slavery (SAS – and yes the military association is not lost on us!) was launched as a Baptist justice initiative in 2013. It strives to find a way to bring a missional response to an injustice that God calls us to actively respond to with justice and righteousness (Micah 6: 8, Proverbs 31: 8-9, Luke 4:16-21). We are well established in the anti-slavery movement in New Zealand and have good relationships with many people, from individuals and organisations, to government and media. Operationally we serve the enslaved through two broad divisions, SAS Consultancy and SAS Advocacy.
We provide specific consultancy services into organisations, businesses and industry sectors that want to abolish exploitation, slavery and human trafficking practices across their spheres of influence. In the export industry in New Zealand, for example, there are possibly thousands of workers who are recruited by criminal intermediaries who exploit them out of thousands of dollars and treat them like slaves. We have the privilege of working with one export organisation keen to see how we can work together to eradicate worker exploitation across their industry. They are committed to putting this right because they believe in looking after their workers as well as recognising there is a problem. They also recognise that failure to do something could negatively impact their business relationships globally and possibly their contribution to the New Zealand economy.
We provide support, education and resources to the general public and organisations who want to join the cause of fighting for a slave free world. We advocate for better legislation that helps victims, fair compensation for survivors who seek justice, promote conscious consumerism initiatives about the products we buy and engage the church in its response to the injustices that Scripture has mandated. For example, SAS is part of a research coalition of six organisations who have commissioned the University of Auckland to research the prevalence of slavery and human trafficking in New Zealand. We are discovering that our anecdotal evidence is well short of reality. We have been appointed to the steering committee of the New Zealand Network Against People Trafficking (NZNAPT) to bring leadership and new energy, and to facilitate it becoming a proactive presence in New Zealand. We have had good conversations with some of the enforcement agencies like Immigration, Police and Labour Inspectorate in terms of thinking about how we can work better together, and recently we joined with Justice Acts NZ to put a submission into Government in response to the Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Legislation Bill.
As I cast my eyes toward the horizon of where I believe SAS could extend, one thing I constantly reflect on is what is the tangible, missional response of the church? I believe without a shadow of doubt that in my calling to this work I am being missional in my dealings, but my challenge is how the church can be envisioned and mobilised. I’m a self-confessed abolitionist, I am a staunch follower of Jesus, and I have a cause that God has placed in my hands. I believe he is asking me to gather like-minded followers of Jesus to extend our tent pegs and embrace this invisible community in Aotearoa New Zealand, and around the world, and offer freedom to them. With everything else that goes on in the church, is there time for the least of these? I hope so, and I encourage anyone who is touched by God in this endeavour to join me.
Here are some initial steps that you could take:
Measure – how many slaves work for you today? Scary thought isn’t it? Well there is a tool that measures your slavery footprint. Complete the survey at slaveryfootprint.org to determine how many slaves work for you.
Read – knowledge is critical in understanding the issue of slavery. Two books that I recommend are:
Disposable People: New Slavery In The Global Economy – Kevin Bales
Justice Awakening: How You And Your Church Can Help End Human Trafficking – Eddie Byun
Watch – one of the best series of documentaries to watch was created by Al Jazeera in 2011. You can access eight twenty-five minute documentaries at bit.ly/DocosOnSlavery. Consider watching these in a small group setting where you can watch an episode and then discuss your reaction over an eight-week period.
Investigate – learn what abolitionists are doing around the globe by googling ‘modern day slavery.’ Look at the pages of five organisations (not media outlets) within the first ten pages.
Pray – prayer is critical and there is an easy way for you to support the abolition movement and SAS through its prayer calendar options at standagainstslavery.com/pray.
Support – there are many Baptist organisations to investigate and support. Some ideas include:
Question– when you are next in a clothing store purchasing something for your wardrobe, ask the sales attendant where the product was made and if any slaves were involved in making it. Think about the response you get and push for them to find out. Social change comes when you persistently raise the question until others are motivated to think about it and act.
Buy Slave Free – bit.ly/SlaveFreeProducts provides a list of organisations based in NZ who sell slave free products.
Story: Peter Mihaere
Peter Mihaere is the founder and CEO of Stand Against Slavery. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 09 526 6361.
– How much do you know about slavery in New Zealand?
– Do you know if the sphere you work in involves slavery? Would you consider asking SAS to come alongside you in investigating this?
– Which of the eight ideas listed here to further understand and act against slavery, could you take?
Photo Credit: Ruslan Grumble/shutterstock.com