Judith Neilson backs effort to eradicate slavery and trafficking in Australia

Anti-Slavery Australia (ASA) Director Associate Professor Jennifer Burn (centre) with the ASA team. Picture by Kevin Cheung

Anti-Slavery Australia (ASA) Director Associate Professor Jennifer Burn (centre) with the ASA team. Picture by Kevin Cheung

In summary: 
  • Philanthropist and art world identity Judith Neilson has been appointed patron of Anti-Slavery Australia, the only specialist legal research and policy centre of its kind in Australia
  • Ms Neilson has provided financial support for the UTS centre's work and as patron will represent it in the community, raising awareness of the reality of human trafficking and slave-like practices in Australia

Philanthropist and leading figure in the art world Judith Neilson has offered her support to tackle a human rights issue that many Australians don't realise exists here – slavery and human trafficking.

Ms Neilson has been appointed patron of Anti-Slavery Australia, the only specialist legal research and policy centre of its kind in Australia, based in the Faculty of Law at the University of Technology Sydney.

Since its foundation in 2003 Anti-Slavery Australia (ASA) has provided access to pro bono, high-quality legal services for men and women who have been trafficked into, or experienced slavery and forced marriage in Australia.

"When I first came across the work of Anti-Slavery Australia I was shocked to learn about the conditions some people are subjected to in one of the world's most affluent nations," Ms Neilson said. "It especially moved me that in this free country, in the 21st century, people are still being held in bondage.

"Some people I talk to can't believe such things even happen in Australia. The more people understand about forced labour and forced marriage and similar forms of bondage, the better chance we'll have of eradicating these evils from 'the lucky country'."

The Director of Anti-Slavery Australia Associate Professor Jennifer Burn said Ms Neilson has provided financial support for the centre's work. Her role as patron would extend that support to representing ASA in the broader community and raising awareness of the reality of human trafficking and slave-like practices in Australia.

"Judith's backing allows us to pursue research and policy development in a number of emerging areas including migrant worker exploitation, commercial surrogacy and trafficking," Associate Professor Burn said. "Just as important is the inspiration her appointment gives for the continued growth of the centre and efforts to place this issue firmly in the public gaze."

UTS Vice-Chancellor Professor Attila Brungs said the work of Anti-Slavery Australia was incredibly valuable and reflected not only UTS's commitment to social justice but the core values of the university in collaborating with government, professions and the community to bring positive change.

"ASA is a vibrant and dynamic centre bringing law students, alumni and the wider community together in the shared aim of eradicating slavery and trafficking in Australia," Professor Brungs said. "Having a patron of Judith Neilson's standing is an important step in taking that objective to the next level."

"Anti-Slavery Australia is unique because it is focused on people in Australia," Ms Neilson said. "The ASA staff and volunteers are very experienced and deeply committed, and they have strong networks with other support organisations to ensure that clients get the services they need.

"Another thing I admire is the research they are doing into the practices of slavery and forced labour within Australia and the region – how they operate and how they entrap people and move them around." 

Last night Anti-Slavery Australia held its bi-annual Freedom Awards to recognise the outstanding work of individuals and organisations making a positive impact on the lives of people who have experienced trafficking, slavery or forced marriage.

This year's recipients were:

Alison Aggarwal
Alison Aggarwal is a Principal Adviser/Manager at the Australian Human Rights Commission, working on the Australian Defence Force Cultural Reform. Alison's work has been vital in ensuring that a human rights perspective is embedded in the Australian response to human trafficking, slavery and slavery-like practices. Alison has consistently advocated for Australia to strengthen its response to human trafficking by protecting and respecting the rights of people who have been exploited in Australia. She has highlighted the need for further reform to ensure that survivors of trafficking have access to effective remedies. As well as her humanitarian work in Australia, Alison plays a critical role in promoting the human rights of women and girls in the Asia-Pacific region through her work with the Asia Pacific Forum.

Baptist World Aid Australia, Behind the Barcode Campaign
Behind the Barcode: Australian Fashion Report is a campaign by Baptist World Aid Australia, launched in the wake of the catastrophic Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh in 2013. Promoted in the print and broadcast media, these Reports enable consumers to make educated choices when purchasing clothing and technology. The campaign seeks to empower consumers to shop ethically. By shaping demand and increasing awareness of human rights abuses in the fashion industry, the campaign encourages companies to protect workers from exploitation and to be accountable for working conditions throughout their supply chain. The 2015 release of Behind the Barcode rates 219 fashion brands and 47 companies producing electronic equipment. The campaign provides impetus for fashion and technology companies to ensure their supply chains are free from exploitation.

Dr Maree Marsh
Sister Maree Marsh csb is a Brigidine sister, psychologist and former chair of ACRATH, (Australian Catholic Religious Against Trafficking in Humans). Maree volunteers as a psychologist at Anti-Slavery Australia and is an invaluable member of the team. As an expert psychologist, she has prepared more than 30 expert reports on behalf of survivors of human trafficking, slavery and slavery-like practices. These reports provide expert opinion and have been used in applications to the NSW victims' compensation scheme. This specific contribution alone has resulted in more than $1 million in compensation payable to survivors. Maree's involvement and commitment to vulnerable men and women is a testament to her dedication, professionalism and kindness. Maree supports survivors in rediscovering their own voice, strength and personal power. One survivor shared that "after meeting with Maree and speaking with her, I have come to realise how capable I am and what I can achieve."  

Alan Morison
Alan Morison is a veteran Australian journalist who owns and operates the Phuketwan news service in Phuket, Thailand. He has been an outspoken advocate on the plight of the Rohingya refugees and has, at huge personal cost, raised awareness of one of the world's most persecuted groups. Following a controversial criminal defamation trial this year in which Alan and fellow journalist Chutima Sidasathian were acquitted, they drew international attention to the difficulties that journalists and NGOs face in reporting on human trafficking in Thailand. As a result of Alan's determination, mainstream media in both Australia and the Asia Pacific have raised awareness of the vulnerabilities of the Rohingya people to exploitation through migrant smuggling and human trafficking.

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