Grace Forrest wins prestigious US award for anti-slavery work

Fri, 9 Feb 2024 Estimated reading times: 3 minutes

Human rights advocate Grace Forrest is the first Australian woman to win the prestigious Roosevelt Foundation Freedom from Fear Award 2024. She founded Walk Free, under the auspices of the Minderoo Foundation, which produces the Global Slavery Index, the world’s most comprehensive dataset on modern slavery.

Grace is the oldest daughter of Andrew and Nicola Forrest and joins the likes of high-profile global advocates who have been honoured with the award previously, including Malala Yousafzai, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Larma and former German chancellor Angela Merkel. Former Foreign Affairs Minister Gareth Evans is the only other Australian to receive the award.

Grace co-founded the international human rights group Walk Free in 2011 with the support of her parents and The Minderoo Foundation Trust as its flagship human rights program. Through Minderoo’s Strategic Impact Fund, it invests in technology and tools to help businesses identify, prevent and address modern slavery risks in supply chains, including risk assessment tools and worker voice and grievance mechanism technologies.

Grace said: “It is an honour to be nominated for an award with such a rich history of human rights and international law behind it. I am deeply humbled to be the first Australian woman ever to receive this award.

“It is mind-blowing to be included in this incredible line-up of recipients, whose work I have admired and studied. It is a privilege to represent a team of women who have built Walk Free to what it is today.”

Walk Free estimates that 50 million people were living in modern slavery on any given day in 2021, an increase of 10 million people since 2016.

The Global Slavery index, now in a fifth edition, is the only dataset of its kind in the world and shows that there are 40,000 people living in modern slavery in Australia. Modern slavery here can include forced marriages, restricted movement and forced labour in agriculture and vegetable picking. The Index also acts as a tool for governments to better understand the problem and improve supply chain risks.

“Freedom from fear, in its earliest form, was about mitigating conflict. With 43 active conflicts in the world today and an ongoing climate crisis, it is important we ask ourselves what freedom from fear truly means. And in its simplest form, it is about the fundamental access to human rights in all contexts. From conflict zones, to supply chains, to global migration – exploitation is happening every day,” said Grace.

Walk Free estimates that Australia imports US$17.4 billion worth of products at risk of being made with forced labour each year.

“I will be in New Zealand later in February to work on modern slavery legislation alongside government and business leaders, which we are hoping will go a lot further than Australia’s current legislation.”

Grace told the ABC after receiving the award: “It’s not every parents’ dream to have your child working in conflict zones and in parts of the world where there are risks, but I’m very grateful that both my parents have been hugely supportive of this. One thing I was raised with is that each of us should do what you can with what you have. Both my parents live and breathe that, and that’s what I’m trying to do.”

Grace recently joined Former UK prime minister Theresa May’s Global Commission on Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking, alongside UN Under-Secretary General Adama Dieng, Former First Vice-President of Costa Rica Epsy Campbell-Barr, and Director of Programs and Development at the Elman Peace Centre, Ilwad Elman. Collectively, they will work towards putting modern slavery on the global political agenda, especially urging action from G20 countries.

The Four Freedoms Awards are presented each year to individuals committed to the four principles championed by US president Franklin D Roosevelt in a historic 1941 speech: Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship, Freedom from Want and Freedom from Fear.