Posted by Aleta Miller
Next Wednesday, Human Rights Day, Justice Centre hosts the Hong Kong Human Rights Arts Prize, our annual event to harness the power of the visual arts to promote awareness, provoke dialogue, inspire action and ultimately, bring about change in the area of human rights.
Stefan Irvine, Human Exports, shortlisted for the Human Rights Arts Prize 2014
This year, we invited Hong Kong-based artists to submit works on the theme of modern slavery and human trafficking. Over 40 entries flooded in from artists originating from countries as diverse as the Philippines, UK, Australia, USA, Cameroon, Sri Lanka, Hong Kong, South Africa and India, exploring issues such as the exploitation of domestic workers, the global sex trade, the fashion industry, cocoa production and Japanese ‘Comfort Women’. You can see and pre-bid for the shortlisted artworks here.
So why choose modern slavery and human trafficking as the theme? Because it is on our doorstep and not enough is being done to combat it. As an important regional hub and both a destination and transit territory for human trafficking, Hong Kong is currently failing to comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. Through the Arts Prize, we want to explore this difficult issue, challenge assumptions, elicit emotion and galvanise change. The response from the artists and from the public who have viewed their work so far has confirmed the theme’s significance.
Modern slavery has been high on my agenda these past few weeks. I recently had the privilege of attending the annual Trust Women Conference in London through its scholarship programme. There, I heard stories of trauma, courage, frustration and hope directly from human trafficking survivors. It was inspiring to meet people from all over the world who work to end human trafficking; I certainly learned a lot and came back armed with the understanding of a number of programmes and practices that could be applied in Hong Kong.
That same week, The Walk Free Foundation produced its second annual edition of the Global Slavery Index, where Hong Kong’s human trafficking record was once again put squarely in the spotlight. The Index reports that there are an estimated 35.8 people living in modern slavery worldwide – 13,400 of them purportedly in Hong Kong. Yet, the Hong Kong Government appears to be in denial.
Along with Kuwait, Qatar, Singapore and Brunei, the report shames Hong Kong as one of five governments in the world that should be doing more on human trafficking, given their wealth. Hong Kong is identified as a place where undocumented workers often face different forms of exploitation, and where the government has had a particularly poor response to modern slavery.
Marc Standing, Seeker, shortlisted for the Human Rights Arts Prize 2014
This sentiment has been echoed in the recommendations recently issued by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in its first review of Hong Kong since 2006. The Committee calls on the Hong Kong Government to intensify its efforts to address the root causes of trafficking in women and girls and offer them more assistance. The government is also urged to extend the UN Trafficking Protocol to Hong Kong and to adopt comprehensive anti-trafficking legislation. The report also recognised the need for a comprehensive study to collect data on the extent and forms of human trafficking, which is currently lacking in efforts to address the issue.
Lack of data is at the crux of the problem here. The true situation of human trafficking in Hong Kong is largely unknown, because it is not being adequately monitored, investigated or prosecuted. Data is crucial for evidenced-based advocacy and it is with this in mind that Justice Centre is undertaking a research project to determine the prevalence and nature of human trafficking and modern slavery amongst three vulnerable groups in Hong Kong – migrant sex workers, foreign domestic workers and asylum seekers and refugees.
In the words of the Founder of Walk Free Foundation, Andrew Forrest, “The first step in eradicating slavery is to measure it. And with that critical information, we must all come together — governments, businesses and civil society — to finally bring an end to the most severe form of exploitation.”
The Hong Kong Human Rights Arts Prize will be held on Wednesday, December 10, from 7-10pm at the Sundaram Tagore Gallery, 57-59 Hollywood Road, Central, Hong Kong. For more information, to view the work and place a pre-bid, please click here.