A Synod hotspot presentation by Rev Chris Frazer, Deacon for Social Justice
“I am a man, am I not your brother?”
Set in 1748 onboard a slave trader ship, a very sick slave poses this thought-provoking question to John Newton on a voyage that would see Newton’s life changed forever, as his eyes are opened to the brutality of the slave trade. This scene as played out in the film Freedom continues to be a poignant reminder for us today that our lives are inextricably bound with innumerable others, known and unknown, who produce the myriad of goods we buy, and provide many of the services we enjoy, all at bargain prices.
The film, which follows and moves between the lives of two men who are separated by 100 years, yet bound together by their search for freedom, portrays the best and worst of human nature as we watch Plimpton the notorious slave hunter relentlessly pursuing Samuel Woodward and his family as they desperately try to escape.
The quest for freedom for all people is not weakened by time or distance, neither is it dimmed by the cruelty or indifference of some, but rather continues to be strengthened by the unwavering determination of ordinary women and men, young and not so young, who recognising we are all bound together by the love of Christ choose to continue to stand up and challenge all forms of inhumanity.
The exploitation in people for profit does not recognise or respect borders and today, no country is immune to the crime in its many and complex forms. Yet whilst awareness campaigns and programmes are increasing throughout the world, there continues to be no lessening of the criminal activity and even less effective is the detecting of the women, men and children being exploited, or the bringing to justice of the perpetrators.
Our biggest concern in New Zealand relates to labour exploitation.
Globalisation has seen heightened economic competition and considerable pressures to meet consumer ‘just in time’ supply demands which in turn, has driven down wages. A global push for cheap labour is seeing an ongoing increase in the need for more overseas workers, especially for the “3D” jobs (dirty, degrading and dangerous) which New Zealander workers won’t fill. A chilling observation was made in relation to workers from overseas and the driving down of costs: “Ensuring that economic activity remains competitive in global markets requires that this labour supply be cheap and docile.” This is not just happening globally, it’s also present on our national doorstep.
So what more can be done to help bring about effective transformation in our country? What role at a diocesan, parish and personal level are we called to actively participate in?
Perhaps the first step is for us to recognise we are all part of the trafficking chain and take up the challenge to change from being consumers to becoming contributors. Then, as the Diocese of Wellington, in collaboration with others, we need to seek further opportunities for gathering empirical evidence and accurate data which will help to inform and guide our work.
What we don’t know we cannot possibly begin to work to put right.
Putting aside misleading, over-inflated statistics which cannot be substantiated; and false Hollywood images, we are well overdue now to address the real issues which are complex and not easily solved.
At a meeting last year where the past UK Anti-Slavery Commissioner was speaking, he emphasised the valuable role of churches in anti-trafficking work providing they understood their role. Spread as we are throughout this country, we have valuable local knowledge which when coupled with anti trafficking training offer greater opportunities for detecting possible cases of exploitation.
Indeed our country’s first ever trafficking conviction began with a parishioner in a church noticing something was not right for a visitor to their Sunday service, so she invited her out for coffee and during the course of the conversation became aware more help was needed and with her permission contacted the department of Immigration.
As I conclude, may I suggest you may like to open up Movement Online and read the trafficking workshop report which will give you a greater understanding of what is happening within our country. Lastly, if you would like to give consideration as to how you may be involved, do please contact me.
Someone once said, “we create the path by walking.” Following on from this Synod, what paths of service to those being exploited within Aotearoa may you begin to take?