Walk Free Journey starts at home

Article in WA Business News. 22 November 2012.

AS careers go, the journey from corporate lawyer and political staffer to heading a new
foundation focused on ending what is called ‘modern slavery’ is clearly an uncommon one.
But for Nick Grono, the experience of his past works neatly into the three-pronged strategy
he plans to implement as the CEO of Andrew Forrest’s latest ambitious philanthropic venture
– Walk Free.

Sitting among the nation’s richest people, iron ore magnate Mr Forrest has not
waited for retirement from business to get involved in big non-profit projects. Still a major
driving force behind listed mining company Fortescue Metals Group, he has also established
a private charity, the Australian Children’s Trust, which in turn has spawned GenerationOne
and its sister organisation, the Australian Employment Covenant, which work together to end
the disparity between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians, through employment.
More than a year ago, AEC claimed to reach its goal of having Australian employers
committed to creating 50,000 indigenous jobs. However that challenge appears not to have
been enough for Mr Forrest and his wife, Nicola, who jointly won Ernst & Young’s western
region social entrepreneur of the year award last year. Earlier this year, the Forrests
committed to a new campaign with an international agenda – Walk Free – a project to end
modern slavery; a move that was cast as a joint initiative with Perth-based charity Australian
Hope for Children.

Working from the Australian Children’s Trust base in freshly renovated
premises at the old Sunset Hospital in Dalkeith, Walk Free already has 10 staff focused on
delivering on the strategy that Mr Grono outlined to WA Business News: campaigning;
building an index; and creating a global fund. The first element of that strategy – campaigning
– is already under way and has claimed its first win with international fashion chain Zara
swearing off the use of cotton produced in Uzbekistan where, allegedly, children are
removed from school for months to bring in the annual harvest. The campaign against Zara
and others using Uzbek cotton has been waged for years by various groups that work in this
field. Mr Grono said one of Walk Free’s objectives was to help unite the many small
nongovernment organisations that typically focus on one particular element of the modem
slavery issue and are often under-resourced.

In order to highlight its message. Walk Free
has also partnered with anti-slavery organisation MTV Exit, a group directly associated with
MTV music channel, to organise rock concerts in Asia to spruik the message in the region, it
has already had one concert in Hanoi and recently announced another one to be held in
Burma. Mr Grono said the modem slavery issue was coming to the fore after being largely
ignored, or seen from the point of view of one particular group of people, such as young
women forced to become sex workers, often after being moved across international borders.”
It has gone from being an issue that didn’t get the attention it deserved and focused on sex
trafficking,” he said. “Now it is the whole gamut.”

Apart from the Uzbek situation, Mr Grono highlights other areas such as coffee production
in West Africa, child soldiers in East Africa, the plight of Filipino domestic staff in parts of
Asia and the Middle East, and bonded labour in India. He encountered some of these
problems during his work as deputy president and chief operating officer at the
International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based NGO headed until recently by former
Australian foreign minister Gareth Evans. Prior to working with ICG, which works through
field-based analysis and high-level advocacy to prevent and resolve deadly conflict, Mr
Grono had been chief of staff and national security adviser to former Australian attorney-
general Daryl Williams.

Such credentials are evident in another key appointment to Walk
Free prior to Mr Grono’s arrival. In June, Ranya Alkadamani, press secretary to former
prime minister Kevin Rudd, was appointed as strategic communications director for the
Australian Children’s Trust, a role that will heavily involve her in Walk Free. Other more
recent appointments were: Fergus Hanson, a former diplomat who was most recently with
The Lowy Institute for International Policy; US political campaigner Debra Rosen; and
Fiona David, a lawyer and criminologist with a specialisation in evidence-based responses
to migrant smuggling and human trafficking. In addition, former Get Up! national director
Simon Sheikh has been conducting training for Walk Free staff. Having spent most of the
past decade and a half out of Western Australia, Mr Grono believes both his recent
background and more distant past as a lawyer and, at one stage, a researcher for

investment bank Goldman Sachs in London, make him a good fit for the job.” They are
looking to lead this effort out of Perth,” he said.” They wanted an Australian, ideally, who
had an understanding of international policy.” It probably was not irrelevant that I had a
commercial background as well.” Mr Grono believes Walk Free is building capacity to be a
very strong campaigning organisation. He hopes to use social media such as Facebook as
part of that strategy; an area he believes has not been exploited significantly to date. While
reluctant to put words in the mouth of the Forrests in terms of the reasons for their decision
to create Walk Free, the new CEO believes some personal experiences, combined with the
ability to make a big difference, were the major catalysts. Taking aim at a global problem is
not original – some might suggest it is straight from the play book of other billionaires such
as Microsoft founder Bill Gates – but it is unusual to see it occur from an isolated outpost
such as Perth, and driven by a magnate who has yet to cash in on the empire he is still
building. The focus on ending modern slavery has prompted Mr Forrest to ensure his own
backyard is clean. For instance, FMG has asked its suppliers and contractors to certify
that they have in place necessary processes, procedures, investigations and compliance
systems to ensure their organisation and their direct supply chains do not include,
condone, or allow for slavery or forced labour. Suppliers and contractors were requested
to sign a statutory declaration to this effect, a requirement that most had never previously
encountered.

An electronic copy of this document is available at http://www.law.uq.edu.au/humantrafficking.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: