How sex-trafficked Nepalese girl transformed Aussie billionaire Andrew Forrest’s life

By Ram Khatry, Sydney
1 June 2016

Some eight years ago, an Australian teenager had the rare opportunity of embarking on a philanthropic journey to Nepal. Until then, Grace Forrest had the world at her feet, innocently unbeknown to the sufferings that Third World children of her age faced on a daily basis. After all, the 15-year-old was the daughter of the world’s fourth largest iron ore producer – billionaire Andrew Forrest.

During her two weeks long Mother Teresa Pilgrimage of Hope stint in Nepal, Ms Forrest came face to face with the scourge of human trafficking as she volunteered for a children’s home which sheltered victims of the monstrous crime. She put her heart and soul into the care of young girls who were recovering from the trauma of this ultimate abuse. She grew fond of them. She spent time with them. She took pictures of them.

Andrew Forrest
Billionaire Andrew Forrest: A father who’s vowed to end trafficking of the world’s daughters

Once back in the world of “milk and honey” created by her billionaire father whose net worth hit $12.7 billion in 2008, Grace Forrest could not take the images of the helpless Nepalese children out of her mind. She fondly talked about them and showed their pictures to her compassionate parents. She ‘wanted to do something for them’, she told her mum and dad. Her mother, Nicola Forrest, was concerned that her daughter was entering a murky, disturbing world. Ms Forrest’s resolution to work for the enslaved children of the world ended up ‘dragging’ the Fortescue boss into her private fight against the monster which would eventually lead to the birth of the Walk Free Foundation. The Foundation published the 2016 Global Slavery Index on Tuesday putting the total number of enslaved people at a staggering 45.8 million.

Grace Forrest
Grace Forrest with her dad and Labor leader Tanya Plibersek (Source: Facebook)

“That experience changed the course of my life,” she said in 2014 as she spoke to Fairfax media in the Vatican City, “To see something and walk away, that’s unacceptable to me. Seeing the physical, emotional and mental trauma of children as young as three who have been rescued from slavery is unbelievable. And to watch children who have had not just their innocence stolen from them, but also their childhood, left to live with trauma for the rest of their lives … I came back from this experience and I really wanted to do something.”

That pledge to do something took her back to Nepal two years later. Accompanying her were Mr Forrest and her mother Nicola Forrest. Needless to say, she wanted to take her famous parents to the orphanage she worked at during her first visit and introduce them to her parents.

But the girls were gone from the orphanage – without a trace, most probably shoved back into the hell of forced sex trade. The name of the Nepalese orphanage does not seem to appear in any media reports dating back even to 2011-12. It is likely that their supposed protectors themselves sold the children to traffickers. A media report quoting the Forrest family’s driver during their Nepal visit corroborates that theory, ”this is a bad place, this is a very bad place,” he had told the shocked Australian family.

Ms Forrest apparently showed the orphanage operators the pictures of the children she had taken but she was told ‘we have never seen these children’ and when she asked for records, she was told there were no records.

The philanthropist tycoon realised that his daughter was devastated to see what had become of the girls she so much cared for.

The family then visited another orphanage in Nepal which sealed Mr Forrest’s fate as the corporate knight who would later co-found the Walk Free Foundation with his beloved daughter. He has given emotional account of his first-hand encounter with the horror of human trafficking in that second orphanage. As he went around looking at the inmates, he reportedly saw and heard the moan of a victim, a sound born out of the terrified helplessness of a trafficked girl, that would change the way he would do business for the rest of his life (his organisation Fortescue Metals Group does not deal with any entities that do not commit to a slavery-free business practice). It also made him a lifelong follower of his ‘little daughter’.

That ‘young girl’ was apparently trafficked to “somewhere where men wore long white robes” and she was apparently so distressed that she would sit in the corner speechless, ‘quietly moaning and wailing to herself‘.

“Being a father you consider you are an empathetic person,” Mr Forrest told The Australian in December 2015, adding, “I was moved by the story and I walked up quietly to the girl to speak to her. She heard me coming and looked at me. She stopped moaning and let out this soft scream. It was a scream of revulsion and despair, of hideous anticipation of what would happen to her with the approach of a male. It was completely shocking and it resolved in our family’s heart to pursue the trafficking of children.”

As the mining magnate put resources into investigating what happened to these Nepalese girls, the Forrest family saw the monster rising from the murky waters of the evil of human trafficking. They could also see that trafficking in women was only part of the problem and that slavery in modern times was the mother of all rights violations.

From that point on, the anti-trafficking chatter took a serious form at the Forrest household eventually founding the Walk Free Foundation in 2012. Today, the organisation is at the forefront of the war on modern slavery as well as on the $150 billion industry of human trafficking which each year lays waste to hundreds of thousands of young lives –  somewhere someone’s daughter, someone’s sister!

Towards the end of 2014, the father-daughter team even secured a pledge from world religious leaders including Pope Frances to eradicate slavery by 2020.

Over the last few years, Mr Forrest has grown so fanatically opposed to modern day slavery that he gave one of his British suppliers (whose own supplier confiscated people’s passports) just half an hour to choose between two equally difficult options – either sever relationship with his own suppliers who used slavery or risk being exposed to the media. The CEO of the British company got back to him within the stipulated time with a promise to oblige and so he did not expose him to the media.

Writer can be reached at [email protected]

7 thoughts on “How sex-trafficked Nepalese girl transformed Aussie billionaire Andrew Forrest’s life

  1. It is very inspiring story Ms Grace Forrest and we are very proud of you on Australia as well as in Nepal. Thank you Mr and Mrs Andrew Forest for your contribution to anti-slavery work!

  2. David Donnellan

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    This problem is of such a magnitude that there is perhaps a tendency for people to think that nothing can be done.This superbly written article repudiates that view;illustrating that there are people prepared to attempt to make inroads into this evil trade,and case by case,make those complicit in it aware that they’re not safe from scrutiny.

  3. As a Nepali myself, I was really touched by this act of generosity from people who didn’t need to get themselves into this mess and could have just spent their life without any kind of a worry with the vast wealth they’ve accumulated. Humanity isn’t dead yet, and it will continue to exist as long as people like these are alive.A heartfelt thank you on behalf of all Nepalese.

  4. There are few people like Forrest family among millions and millions in the world to have a deep thought for these poor girls. A big salute! What else can I mention than that? I am speechless and feel pity of myself for doing nothing…

  5. Jagadish C Baral

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    Seeds of humanity are yet to fully die. Can we expect all such individuals with exceptional sense of humanity sit together and work out how to deal with such inhuman world? Thank you Grace and Mr and Mrs. Forest for your Daring act. Thank you Mr. Khatry to elucidate this case to the world.

  6. Human trafficking is the biggest crime to humanity. We truly admire the efforts of the Grace family in dealing with such heinous crime. Working together, we can bring a change.

  7. Govinda Prasad Kandel

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    Shame on the political leaders of those countries where such heinous crimes like human trafficking is taking place right under their nose and they don’t even speak about it
    Thanks to ms Mr and Mrs Forrest to not only be concerned but to start doing some concrete thing to fight against human trafficking

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