Australian Mining Magnate Announces Deal to End Slavery, Forced Labor in Pakistan

Fortescue Metals Group founder and chair Andrew Forrest has announced an agreement to provide coal conversion technology to the Pakistani province of Punjab in exchange for the introduction of laws to end forced labor and debt slavery, the Australian reports.

Under the agreement announced at this year's World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland, Australian mining experts will investigate the feasibility of using technology to convert the Punjab's large deposits of lignite coal, which is low-grade and not commercially viable, into diesel fuel at low cost. In a linked agreement with the Walk Free Foundation, which was founded by Forrest in 2012 with the mission to end modern-day slavery, the government of Pakistan has agreed to introduce laws to combat the practice of slavery as a result of indenture, debt, or inheritance. The foundation's Global Slavery Index estimates that more than two million people in Pakistan are held in slave-like bondage.

''The goal is energy independence for the Punjab and the eradication of slavery in all of the Punjab, a province of one hundred million,'' said Forrest. "They have literally hundreds of billions of tons of equivalent barrel of oil energy in their lignite [in Punjab]....That technology we will make available — pro bono, without charge — and [link] that informally, but absolutely, to their total commitment to free their people from slavery."

A Giving Pledge signatory, Forrest has led a national initiative to expand employment opportunities for Indigenous Australians and donated $65 million (US$61.6 million) to fund research fellowships at five universities in Western Australia, including Curtin University, where the coal conversion technology was developed.

"The issue with slavery is that it is everywhere," Forrest told the Huffington Post in an interview. "You cannot afford a world with slavery, which literally takes someone and turns them into a machine."