By Lauren Ivory and Madeline Gelagin
How do you make people care about an issue they don’t even know exists?
The answer, according to Emma Burn from Anti-Slavery Australia (ASA), lies in some subversive thinking and a bold marketing strategy.
When ASA found their traditional awareness techniques were not proving as effective as they would like in bringing to light the seriousness of modern slavery in Australia, they decided they needed to try something new. An art pop-up called Human Mart, designed to look like a supermarket from afar, turned out to be just that.
Victims are being bought and sold as if they were just a can of tuna or a bottle of olive oil
The exhibition contains the stories of over 61 people, carefully printed onto bottles of olive oil, cans of tuna, and boxes of muesli. It is only when shoppers get up close that they realise it is not a shop at all.
Designed to draw people in to examine the bright, colourful products, it is “the store where absolutely nothing is for sale,” said Human Mart volunteer Elsey-Anne Dadson.
“Victims are being bought and sold as if they were just a can of tuna or a bottle of olive oil,” she added.
Ms Burn knew taking an ambitious approach would be necessary to bypass people’s general indifference to the issue.
“We wanted to make it look like a supermarket. People will be drawn in by the beauty and the attractive colours and design and they’ll be very disarmed, and even confronted, when they realise what’s actually going on,” she said.
“Understandably, it is such a depressing and serious issue that people will tend to detach from it, or feel helpless about it, or think ‘what can I do?’ and they won’t really want to hear anything more about it.”
Ms Burn said the exhibition is an innovative way to “raise awareness of modern slavery, because it comes as a huge surprise to many, if not most people that slavery still happens, let alone that it happens here in Australia”.
“It’s an invisible problem hidden in plain sight,” she added.
Passersby are drawn to the exhibition through its bright colours and presence currently at the entrance of Building 1, at UTS on Broadway in Sydney. Once inside, they are encouraged to interact with the products and stories of victims of modern slavery in Australia.
It’s a way of… giving the survivors of modern slavery a face and showing their humanity, and not just presenting people with facts and figures that they can’t really relate to on a gut level
The products used in the exhibition are hard hitting, utilising emotion and telling individual stories of abuse.
“It’s a way (too) of… giving the survivors of modern slavery a face and showing their humanity, and not just presenting people with facts and figures that they can’t really relate to on a gut level,” said Ms Burn.
Over 15,000 people are enslaved in Australia, with over 58 per ent of cases in major cities.
Robyn Pettit, Volunteer Coordinator for ASA, believes awareness is one of the most effective ways to encourage legislative and social changes to prevent slavery.
Benefits of awareness are wide-reaching, said Ms Pettit. Most of the stories in Human Mart were bought to light by the public.
“If you read these stories a lot of the time, it’s that person who was jogging by, or that person who just decided to ask that question ‘are you ok, do you need help?’ and that’s how these victims are able to get out,” said Ms Dodson.
With a focus on education, ASA believes Human Mart is a bold step in raising awareness of slavery in Australia.
“We encourage people to visit if they get a chance,” Ms Dodson added. “We hope people get a strong sense of what modern slavery looks like in Australia but also a sense of the humanity of the people that experience it and the fact that they can go on and rebuild their lives afterwards.”
Main photo of volunteer Elsey-Anne Dadson by Central News