17 September 2009


Edmund Rice International (ERI) has developed an online course intended to help people learn more about the work of ERI, how they can be part of it and how they can take effective action for justice at a global level.

You can access he course by clicking on this link

No prior knowledge is assumed, and whilst it is meant to be informative and interesting, it is not an academic course. It is also free, and course participants can work through the material at their own pace.

The course is designed for busy people who would like a basic understanding of how organizations such as ERI can work within the UN system to bring about improved outcomes for the most vulnerable people on our planet and for our earth itself.

The course is divided into eight topics containing material for reading and reflection, some questions for discussion and an opportunity for chat with like-minded people around the world – (an optional feature), some suggestions and guidelines for engaging in a simple exercise in advocacy of your own choosing and some quizzes to test your own understanding – (there are no marks or grades associated with the course)

Those interested are encouraged to sign up and either work through the course individually (each topic takes about two hours to work through) or to form a group and work through it together.


An estimated minimum of 9.3 million people are in forced labour in the Asia-Pacific region, the majority of whom are in debt bondage.

Debt bondage (also known as bonded labour) is probably the most common, but least known contemporary form of slavery today. Debt bondage affects many millions of men, women and children across the world. It occurs in a variety of sectors, including agriculture, logging, construction, domestic work, brick kilns and the textile and garment industry.

A person becomes a bonded labourer when their labour is demanded as a means of repayment for a loan, often for a very small amount such as the cost of medicine for a sick child. Once in debt, the person loses all control over their conditions of work and is forced to work long hours, often for seven days a week, for very little or no pay.

The value of their work is invariably greater than the original sum of money borrowed. The debt becomes inflated through charges for food, transport and interest on loans, making it impossible to repay and trapping the worker in a cycle of debt. Entire families may be bonded, including children who work alongside their parents to help repay the debt. In some cases, the debt will be passed down through generations. Bonded labourers are often subjected to other forms of coercion including violence and restrictions on their freedom of movement.

Poverty, social exclusion, and the failure of governments to implement legislation lie at the heart of debt bondage. Bonded labourers are disproportionately members of groups which are discriminated against, including scheduled castes, religious and ethnic minorities, indigenous people, women and migrant workers.

A group of NGO’s including Franciscans International recently organised a side-event at United Nations to draw attention to this issue and to accompany a submission to the Human Rights Council as it considered the report of the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery.

For more information about this issue, some case studies and suggestions for action visit the Anti-slavery international website.


In a statement for this year's Social Justice Sunday the Bishops of Australia have pledged their support for young people's commitment to social justice, reasserting last year's World Youth Day central theme of witnessing through the power of the Holy Spirit.

The statement notes that ”Jesus was vitally concerned with what divided society and caused human impoverishment. He challenged many of the norms and social structures that oppressed, alienated or undermined the dignity of people. His ministry to establish the Kingdom of God was certainly concerned with personal conversion but also with liberating people from unjust structures” and points out that ”We share in the ministry of Jesus because we too have been anointed with the power of the Holy Spirit and are called to be his witnesses. We are all really responsible for each other and must work for social conditions that allow individuals and families to meet their needs and realise their full potential.”

The challenge presented by the Pope to young people during World Youth Day is repeated. ”What will you leave to the next generation? What difference will you make? “ although it also notes that this challenge is directed not just to young people but to all people of faith and to all Australians.

The statement addresses several particular issues, including the plight of Indigenous youth, those excluded from employment, the issue of mental health and the prevention of abuse; concerns for the environment, global justice and development.

It is available for download at the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council website.


The measures introduced by the Australian government in 2007 to combat alleged sexual abuse and neglect of children in remote aboriginal communities were condemned as discriminatory by the UN Special Rapporteur Professor James Anaya following his recent visit to Australia.

According to Professor Anaya the intervention "undermines the right of indigenous peoples to control their own destinies, their right to self-determination" and "overtly discriminates against Aboriginal peoples, infringing their right of self-determination and stigmatizes already stigmatized communities"

In welcoming the report ANTaR (Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation) agreed that indigenous disadvantage must be addressed but in ways that allow for government to work in "partnership with Indigenous peoples' own institutions and decision making bodies, which are most familiar with local situations."

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