TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - Andrew Forrest's fight against modern slavery began in 2008 when his then teenage daughter Grace traveled to Nepal and discovered that children from an orphanage were being trafficked and sold to India. The philanthropist tycoon and former CEO of Fortescue Metal in Australia made a commitment to end modern slavery in 2010 by establishing the Walk Free Foundation. "The Forrest family came together and decided collectively as a family to fight modern slavery," he said.
The family took their time researching and studying the issue and discussed plans for a course of action with other NGOs. In 2012, the foundation was officially launched. A year later, Walk Free published the annual Global Slavery Index, which ranks 167 countries based on their vulnerability to slavery as well as their government's response. Indonesia currently ranks number 39, with an estimated 736,000 people living in modern slavery.
On March 16 and 17, Forrest visited Jakarta to witness the signing of the Joint Declaration of Religious Leaders against Modern Slavery, an initiative by the Global Freedom Network. Faith leaders from six religions and Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla signed the document. "That's a major step to take for a country to publicly admit to having [the problem of] modern slavery. But at the same time, it's also saying we're going to do something about it," Forrest added.
During his visit, Forrest spoke to Tempo English journalist Amanda Siddharta on recent developments concerning modern slavery and the steps he has taken against it.
What is the most common form of modern slavery?
In terms of the number of people, it would be forced manual labor. In terms of the most horrific [form], it would be forced sexual exploitation, forced prostitution of girls and women.
Do you think Indonesia has done enough to protect its people from modern slavery?
Indonesia has laws which should protect their people. And the law enforcers should have knowledge of what's happening. Indonesia has passed laws to protect migrant workers overseas and the Vice President of your country welcomed faith leaders as they signed a declaration to end slavery. So, really, in terms of a major symbol before the [real] action, you couldn't have asked for better.
Speaking of migrant workers overseas, there are numerous cases of Indonesians being subjected to forced labor or abuse. Would a moratorium be an effective way to stop such cases?
Yes, it would be, but it would stop a lot of other things too. It would stop people from joining honest businesses, and [prevent them from] getting income.
So what should the Indonesian government do?
What I would rather do is let Indonesians know the instant they're treated like a farm animal, the instant they're told they cannot leave, that this is totally against the laws of Indonesia and the country they're in. Instead of saying Indonesians can't work overseas, I'd rather have Indonesians going overseas with their eyes wide open. And have countries who take Indonesians know that if they try and exploit Indonesians, this is what would happen to them. That's what we did in the United Arab Emirates. We nearly shut down a major British company who was (producing) goods for me. The goods were being made by workers who had been trafficked into the country as free labor. (*)
Read the full interview in this week's edition of Tempo English Magazine