Dai'namic Woman: Grace Forrest

Grace Forrest

Human Rights Activist, Founding Director of Walk Free, UN Goodwill Ambassador for Australia for Anti-Slavery

10 minute read

Photos by Helene Sandberg

In today's Dai'namic Woman series, the Dai team speaks to Grace Forrest, the co-founder and director of Walk Free, an international human rights organisation focused on the eradication of modern slavery. Since 2011, Walk Free has become one of the world's leading anti-slavery organisations, responsible for publishing the Global Slavery Index (GSI).

Grace is the youngest ever United Nations Association of Australia Goodwill Ambassador for Anti-Slavery. She is also a founding member of AVPN’s Asia Gender Network and sits on the board of the Freedom Fund. Grace and her advocacy has been featured on BBC World News, Al Jazeera, The Economist, CNN, Vogue, Marie Claire, and Bloomberg.

Despite her busy schedule, Grace was kind enough to spend a few hours with the Dai team to share her most meaningful achievement, her biggest focus with Walk Free, and how she switches off to relax and have fun.

Photo: Grace Forrest delivering a keynote for UN Women Australia's annual International Women's Day event Source: Grace Forrest's Instagram

What is the best part of your job? 

The best part of my job is the people I get to work with. I work with a 90% female team, all of whom are a complete inspiration to me. I learn from them, am challenged by them, get to grow with them every single day, so the best part of my job is working with countless amazing people, and a lot of women from around the world.

You’ve done some incredible work over the last ten years raising awareness on modern slavery. What has been your most meaningful moment or achievement so far? 

I think a lot of things over the years that people have said would be impossible. 

We as a coalition have been able to see change and that's really encouraging when we are living in a time of compounding crises and it feels like there are just so many things going wrong. Through the Global Slavery Index (GSI), we're able to identify how many people are living in modern slavery globally. I feel really proud of the fact that an issue that was once invisible is now something that is taken seriously by businesses and governments around the world because we need legislation to protect people. There is not nearly enough of it in the world today so it's still a starting point. We have very long way to go but I feel really proud of the fact that by raising awareness through Walk Free, this issue is something that people can no longer ignore.

Photo: Penny Wong, Australia's Minister for Foreign Affairs, and Grace Forrest wearing Dai. Source: Grace Forrest's Instagram

What's next for Grace Forrest and Walk Free? What's your biggest focus for the next 12 months and where do you hope to be in  five years time? 

Something we do at Walk Free is look at the impact risk of the G20 — so the world's most powerful nations — and I think for the first time we're really able to see that the role of the world's most powerful nations is a really horrific one in the prevalence of modern slavery in the world today. 

So, half the world's humans living in modern slavery actually reside in G20 countries, and collectively they have half a trillion dollar import risk. While this might feel far away from you, it is quite literally as close as the shirt on your back, the technology we're recording on now, as close as your groceries in your supermarket. We have a really keen focus on the G20 countries having real laws that don’t just look at transparency but have genuine accountability such as the human rights due diligence laws that we're going to see across the EU. We need the UK to have stronger laws. We need my country, Australia, to have stronger laws. We need every country with economic might to ensure that we're not consuming things that are made using modern slavery, which right now we absolutely are. 

The other key focus for us is to ensure that modern slavery is seen as the intersectional issue, that modern slavery and climate change have a cyclical compounding relationship, and equally modern slavery is a deeply gendered problem. So where we see a focus on the rights of women and girls, refugees and migrant workers, and a green transition, we need to be thinking of modern slavery because in all of these areas, the problems are being compounded and we cannot keep treating these issues in silos.

What is your relationship like with fashion? What does dressing certainly mean to you? 

I think my relationship with fashion is very up and down. Fashion is the second dirtiest industry on Earth and the second most exploitative for forced and child labour. It is something that by default is exploitative and that's why we have to look and support brands like Dai that are actually prioritising doing the right thing because the reality is you are the exception rather than the rule. 

But equally I love fashion, I love art, I love creativity, I love the fact that women can show up in the world, be absolutely boss at what they're doing, change laws and policy but also look great while doing it. I think it's really problematic in modern feminism when women can't have both. So, my relationship with fashion in a positive way is largely secondhand. Most of my wardrobe and jewellery are secondhand, which I built over a number of years. When I invest in new pieces, I invest in companies that are prioritising people and the planet, and I especially love businesses and organisations that are run by women.

Tell us your must-haves and travel hacks when it comes to packing for a work trip vacation. What are the pieces that you can't leave home without? 

Well, I always pack a suit, and my mother is constantly telling me that I should probably expand out of that, but I always have a suit with me. You never know when you're gonna need one, and also I think it's so versatile you can wear a blazer with a cute pair of shorts or suit pants with a cute top. I think it's great for a holiday and for work. 

I also never leave without swimmers because I love to swim. If I can ever get near the ocean, it doesn't matter what temperature it is — I'll get into it! So yes, I always have a suit, I always have swimmers, they're my main things.

We love your style and how you put outfits together. What is your best piece of starting advice for a young woman coming up in her career? 

I think the best piece of advice that I got from my mother and actually something that I see in so many of the women who I work with and whose style I love is to invest in iconic pieces that they wear over and over and over. This makes building a sustainable wardrobe far more appealing because the truth is you do pay more for things that are made fairly and without harming people or planet and animals. If you buy one thing that you can love for a really long time and can wear and style so many different ways, it makes us more creative. These staple pieces are what we need to build a foundation of a capsule wardrobe but also a wardrobe that lasts the test of time. 

I think it's really about investing in quality pieces that will last the test of time. Honestly when you invest in them, it debunks the myth about what is expensive and what is the true cost, because nothing should come at the cost of somebody else's basic human rights. Buying one thing that lasts is far more affordable long-term than buying multiple things that last one season and fall apart when they put it in the washing machine. I would definitely say investing in stable pieces and then finding joy in secondhand pieces that only can belong to you.

What are you listening to or reading or watching right now? 

Well, I watch The Office every night before I go to bed. Apparently it's a trauma response, who knows, but I watch that every night when I go to bed because it's funny.

I am reading a series that a friend put me onto called A Court of Mist and Fury, and before that I read the Testaments by Margaret Atwood which I absolutely loved but now I'm in fantasy land and I'm enjoying that. I spend a lot of time in the news and it's pretty heavy at the moment, so a bit of escapism is good. 

I'm listening to the Barbie soundtrack. I find it quite iconic. I also love the Gang of Youths. 

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