Saintly Abolitionism

“And may that Power enthroned on high!
He whom Christians ye adore,
Root in your hearts humanity,
And trampled human rights restore.”
— William Lloyd Garrison, 'Hymn 7'

There are many different ways in which people can and have challenged modern slavery. We mightn’t have every resource or opportunity to contribute towards some of these ways — like education, poverty alleviation and economic development, rescue and redemption, legal action, policy development and policing, and digital development. But as individuals and as a faith community, there are several appropriate options in which we can humbly challenge slavery together:

1. Truly respect all people

A deep respect in all of our relations can be helpful at undermining, resisting and overcoming those mechanisms that impoverish, disempower, exploit and harm others, and ultimately permit slavery to exist. It seems like an obvious lesson but it requires much thought and continual effort. For Christians this respect can be founded upon their faith that God creating all humans (masters included) with inalienable rights and a hope for their universal recognition (see Saint Gregory of Nyssa).

2. Promote inclusive and egalitarian communities

By having relationships with marginalised and vulnerable people, we can protect people from falling victim to slavery or support them as they rebuild their lives here.

3. Inform and inspire yourself and others

Unlike the United States and Britain, there is no public discourse about Australia’s history of slavery, or that former slaves live amongst us, or that we might contribute to the persistence of slavery here and abroad. As slavery is widely unrecognised, it is important that we begin the conversation by informing each other and reaching out to our different communities — our friends and families, our workplaces, churches, community organisations, and government. Request that anti-slavery be included in your different communities’ agenda and in their practices; or invite an anti-slavery campaigner to speak for you. Many Australians may find the publication “Australians and Modern Slavery” (2011) to be helpful in providing a comprehensive and accessible account of slavery, available for purchase here (some extracts available for free).

4. Support anti-slavery groups concerned with the dignity of vulnerable people

There are many groups that confront various aspects of modern slavery in a way that respects the dignity of the people they are trying to help. Your support as a donor and/or volunteer is invaluable. The Australian anti-slavery organisation Slavery Links has some resources available for free, can speak to organisations and workplaces and welcomes donors or volunteers. The American website Charity Navigator guides charity supporters with careful evaluations on the success and responsibility of many American and international charities and also has helpful suggestions for donors and volunteers.

5. Contact parliamentarians or Non-Governmental Organisations

Contact your local MP or the NGOs you currently support and challenge them to include anti-slavery on their agenda.

6. Use and invest in companies that uphold International Labour Organisation standards

We can use and invest in reputable companies that maintain ethical business practices. An easy way to do this is by downloading the Shop Ethical! app on your phone and checking the products you purchase (available also in book format). One can also choose a superannuation product or an investment company that prioritises social and environmental responsibility.

7. Consume responsibly

It’s important we support slave-free initiatives, like fair-trade products. It is certainly more expensive and fair-trade is not perfect, but it’s important that we commit to these initiatives insofar as we can, as they are integral in securing justice and distributing costs fairly through the supply chain. In Australia, where the fair-trade movement is still in its infancy, its particularly essential that it receives our support. Buy and use fair-trade tea, coffee and chocolate on all occasions at home. Investigate other forms of fair trade (including co-ops, such as the one pictured above) and prioritise child- and worker-friendly carpets, clothing, diamonds, fish, footwear, spices or sports equipment. When traveling for tourism or business learn to recognise and avoid the exploitation of slaves.

8. Prayer

Many Christians may feel it helpful and encouraging to keep slaves and abolitionists in their private or communal prayers.

9. Use an anti-slavery liturgy

Anti-slavery can be included in the liturgy of your church services, with appropriate sermons and hymns. Consider observing some slavery-related UN International Days with your church.

Unfortunately there is no simple way to abolish slavery — that ancient and stubborn phenomenon — overnight. But by becoming informed, sharing our awareness, and acting meaningfully together we can all journey a little closer to Saint Gregory's hope — a life where "there will be neither disease, nor curse, nor sin, nor death, so slavery also along with these will vanish away."

"That the blest day may soon arrive, 
When equal all shall be, 
And freedom's banner waving high 
Proclaim that all are free."
— William Lloyd Garrison, 'Hymn 9'

Image: Neela (left of picture), 39 y.o., is the founder of a rural cooperative project (sustained by the ILO) gathering women from her village of Kesavarayampatti (Madras). She poses in front of the shop where products of the cooperative are sold © 2002 International Labour Organization/Crozet M