Modern slavery has millions of faces — and Moe Turaga is one of them

Modern slavery has millions of faces — and Moe Turaga is one of them

Modern slavery has millions of faces — and Moe Turaga is one of them

Updated 25 August 2017, 21:10 AEST

Bundaberg father-of-four Moe Turaga says he is living proof modern-day slaves have invisible chains — and he is now trying to help others avoid the heartbreak he suffered on a farm in rural Victoria.

Bundaberg father-of-four Moe Turaga says he is living proof that modern-day slaves have invisible chains.

For three years, he worked from dawn to dusk on a Victorian farm to supply grapes to farmers' markets and winemakers, supermarkets and restaurants — all for no pay.

Few if any of the Australians who nibbled on these grapes or poured themselves a glass of wine would have known they were consuming the fruits of slave labour in their own country.

But Fijian-born Mr Turaga wants to change this, sharing his story to international government and business leaders at the Bali Process forum in Perth as they discussed ways to end modern slavery.

Business leaders took part for the first time in the Bali Process, with the forum co-chaired by mining billionaire and anti-slavery campaigner Andrew Forrest and including executives from Wesfarmers, Walmart and Chinese e-commerce company JD.com.

They heard how Mr Turaga found himself in debt slavery at the age of 17 after moving to Australia at the invitation of his cousin, a respected religious leader.

After losing his father four years earlier, he was excited about the opportunity to earn money to send home to support his mother and extended family.

But his cousin took his passport, gave it to a migration agent and told him there was a debt he had to pay for his travel and visa costs.

"So summertime was [spent] picking, six in the morning until seven at night," he said.

"We were on the tractor, picking grapes, picking up grapes.

"Winter we pruned from dawn to dusk. We weren't getting paid. There was no direct payment to our hands. It was being paid to our cousin."

After two years, he was finally able to phone his mother but was devastated to discover she had not received any money from his cousin.

"We believed we were sacrificing because all the money was going straight to our families. When that never happened, it broke our heart," he said.

"There was talk of suicide, there was talk of doing something really silly, there was talk of running into a police station and handing ourselves in.

"But we couldn't. To do that, we would go back to the backlash at home. [So] we prayed every day for better opportunities."

'That night we packed up'

Their prayers came true after singing at church, where they met a kind neighbouring farmer named Audrey who offered them jobs, got their passports back and changed their lives.

"We played the day as normal, then that night we packed up three pairs of pants each and marched out," he said.

Although Mr Turaga's story is now almost three decades old, it is not an unusual one.

Mr Forrest told the forum there were about 32 million slaves in the Indo-Pacific region.

He wants businesses and governments to work together to implement anti-slavery measures, including appointing independent anti-slavery commissioners to advise businesses on eradicating slavery from their supply chains and also certifying slavery-free products.

The Australian Government has also committed to introducing modern slavery laws, based on United Kingdom legislation.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said the legislation would be introduced "as soon as possible".

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