Media Release09 Nov 2018

Religious leaders come together in New Zealand to eradicate modern slavery

Religious leaders from Australia, New Zealand and 17 Pacific Islands have gathered in Auckland for the signing ceremony of the Joint Declaration Against Modern Slavery.

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Signing of the Religious Leaders’ Joint Declaration Against Modern Slavery in Auckland. Photo Credit: Caitlin Distefano via Minderoo Foundation.

HRH Queen Nanasipau’u of Tonga, together with senior church leaders from 17 Pacific Islands, Australia and New Zealand, have gathered in Auckland, New Zealand for the signing ceremony of the Joint Declaration Against Modern Slavery.

The 1 November, 2018 event brought together faith leaders, heads of councils of churches and government representatives representing 15 denominations to attend proceedings and mark the launching of the Pacific Freedom Network.

During the ceremony, the Religious Leaders’ Joint Declaration Against Modern Slavery was signed by:

  • Rev Dr Tevita Koloa’ia Havea, Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga
  • Archbishop George Takeli, Anglican Church of Micronesia (Solomon Islands)
  • Rev Bernard Siai, Papua New Guinea National Council of Churches
  • Nukanuka Tauevihi, Niue Council of Churches
  • Faaeteeete Saifoloi, Congregational Christian Church in American Samoa
  • Allen Nafuki, Vanuatu Council of Churches (Presbyterian)
  • Illiesa Naivalu, Fiji Council of Churches
  • Rev Dr Finau Ahio, National Council of Churches Chairman; President of the Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga
  • Samaauga Motu, Samoa Council of Churches
  • Etenaiti Tiroba, Kiribati Uniting Church
  • Rev Francois Pihaatae, General Secretary of Pacific Council of Churches (Maohi Protestant Church)
  • Kalahati Kilei, The Congregational Christian Church of Tuvalu

The new signatories join 71 other Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Sikh, Baha’i, Muslim, Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox leaders who have signed the Joint Declaration at historic events in Vatican City (2014), Canberra (2015), New Delhi (2015), Jakarta (2017) Buenos Aires (2017) and Medellin (2018).

This event took place alongside the Pacific Conference of Churches’ General Assembly, where leaders and key representatives across the Pacific gathered in Auckland, New Zealand from 29 October-1 November.

The assembly meets once every five years and one of the main agenda items is for delegates to determine their priority areas for the next five years. Modern day slavery was unanimously supported as one of these priorities and has been put forward by the secretariat to the council. It is anticipated that this will be adopted, and focus groups established in the coming months.

According to a census taken in 2013, more than three-quarters of Pacific people identified as Christian. An engaged leadership will raise the profile of these issues and bring modern slavery into focus, where it has been hidden, misunderstood or ignored.

“Today’s development by the Pacific Conference of Churches is really important in strengthening that support mechanism for the Pacific Islander diaspora, and we’re working with faith leaders in Australia and NZ to make sure we can support those people, and end the abuses,” Walk Free Foundation’s The Honourable Chris Evans said.

At the event, leaders spoke of their duty to care for the needs of those who have been discriminated against and treated unfairly.

Moe Turaga told of his own experience being held in modern slavery in Australia, where he was promised work, study and the opportunity to earn an income for his mother in Fiji.

“I didn’t know how much money my cousin was getting from my labour,” Mr Turaga said.

“There was never any contract or accounting for my work. I jumped on a truck at 6 am and pruned and picked grapes until 6 pm or dusk, seven days a week. These grapes went to supermarkets and farmers markets in Melbourne and Sydney.

“After about two years, I was finally able to contact my mother and found out that my cousin had never sent any money to her. I couldn’t believe this, and I was emotionally devastated. I felt cheated and deceived by this man, who I and our community trusted, but I also felt trapped.”

40.3 million people globally are victims of modern slavery according to The Walk Free Foundation’s 2018 Global Slavery Index. The UNODC reported that the Pacific region is a source, transit point and destination for human trafficking, particularly for sexual exploitation purposes or to provide labour for local extractive industries, including fishing, logging and mining. (UNODC (2016). Transnational Organized Crime in the Pacific: A Threat Assessment.)

Pacific migrant workers will often travel to Australia, New Zealand and further afield to gain formal and informal employment opportunities. Though strong steps have been taken by both sending and receiving countries, more work must be done on a community level to raise awareness on these issues of modern slavery and related forms of exploitation.

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