Child slavery victim Sophea Touch with actor Rachel Griffiths.

As a nation, we need to be better educated about the illegal trade happening in our own backyard, award-winning actor Rachel Griffiths says.

The star of iconic Australian film Muriel’s Wedding, as well as hit TV series Six Feet Under and Brothers & Sisters, has thrown her support behind a push to bring in new laws stopping slavery.

Actor’s advocacy past:

  • In 1997 Griffiths flashed her breasts at the opening of Crown casino, reportedly saying the venue was “raping our state of dignity”
  • Griffiths joins women and children’s rights group Hagar Australia as its patron in 2012
  • She was credited with being an early supporter in a move to cancel passports of convicted sex offenders
  • In 2015, Griffiths spoke out about the history of abuse at a Melbourne church which was destroyed by fire

She appeared in Melbourne on Wednesday as part of an inquiry looking at whether UK laws to stop modern slavery could be put in place in Australia.

The laws would include requirements for businesses to report on how they have stamped out modern slavery from their global supply chains.

Griffiths, who appeared as a patron of child protection organisation Hagar Australia, said an estimated 45 million people were trapped in slavery around the world.

“Human beings should never be treated as commodities,” she said.

“It’s astounding that so many still believe that slavery is a horror of the past, that it’s been nobly all but eradicated by an enlightened and globalised world.

“The truth is that there are more people in slavery today than any other time in history.

“It’s the second biggest illicit trade behind drugs on our planet. It’s happening mostly in our region. It’s happening via international criminal networks, it permeates labour from sex work to fishing to construction to domestic services.”

Child exploitation fears drive push to outlaw ‘orphanage tourism’

It could become a crime to organise trips for Australians to visit orphanages in countries like Cambodia.

Griffiths, who has spoken out in the past against child sex abuse and gambling, said change needed come from all quarters.

“We as a nation need to fully understand who these players are, how they operate and what mechanisms we have to thwart their operations,” she said.

“I feel very positively that we can make, as Australians and individual consumers, a considerable impact.

“It’s closer to home than many of us ever believed. It’s a shocking truth that slavery-like practices are being employed by suspect operators here in Australia.

“Not every business can see the edge transparency gives them in an ethically competitive market.

“We do believe in order to make such practices the norm, government, business civil society and media must join forces to enact and support a modern slavery act.”

Media player: “Space” to play, “M” to mute, “left” and “right” to seek.

VIDEO: Modern slavery in Australia “hidden in plain sight” (7.30)

Orphanage tourism must stop, Griffiths says

Sophea Touch, a victim of child slavery from Cambodia, told the hearing she was forced into work after she was removed from her family at the age of four.

Ms Touch broke down as she recounted how she was forced to sell cakes as a child at villages and was beaten or starved if she did not sell enough.

“I wanted to be like other children that they could go to school, have friends, [be] loved,” she said.

“Every day I lived with fear because I had to sell all the cakes.”

She said she moved from family to family and continually faced violence.

Ms Touch said she tried to end her own life twice before she found Hagar. She said her life turned around when she was placed with a new family and given a support counsellor.

“I felt so hopeless because I thought there was not any other better ways for me,” she said.

“[Now] I have mum and I have dad.

“They loved and cared for me. That, I have never received before.”

Griffiths said Australian organisations needed to understand how orphanage tourism impacts countries like Cambodia.

“Australian organisations such as schools, universities, communities, sport and faith-based groups need to become better educated about the orphanage economy, the negative outcomes for children that our engagement is causing,” she said.

“Vulnerable children should not be visited by Australians who lack protection, training and skills to engage appropriately with children who have experienced trauma.

“Parents living in poverty should not be incentivised to break