Trafficking in human beings – for forced labour, for sex, for their organs – has been with us as long as one human has exploited another. That is no reason why we should resign ourselves to its existence in the 21st century. The British government sees tackling modern slavery as an important global priority. And yet, as Sister Eugenia Bonetti explained in her guest blog on this site last November, human trafficking in its modern manifestation is a huge business in human misery, worth over $30bn to the criminals who engage in it.The networks that manage this business are complex, organized and international. To tackle it requires a similarly joined up response. Governments need to work with international organizations and civil society, including global faith networks, if we are to have any chance of success.
So when Pope Francis in May called human trafficking “a despicable activity, a disgrace for our societies, which describe themselves as civilised”, those battling against the trade took heart. His visit to refugees on Lampedusa on 8 July will keep the global spotlight on the business. And it seems that thanks in part to this high profile given by the Pope to the issue, a sense of momentum is starting to develop behind the work and campaigns against modern slavery. For example, it was top of the agenda of the meeting between the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury when they met on 8 June. The same month, the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People published new guidelines for the Catholic Church on refugees and forcibly displaced persons, including recommendations on how to support trafficked persons. Here in Rome, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) is looking in a concrete way at how to mobilize faith networks in strengthening the international response to trafficking.
There is so much to do. Great work is being done at the OSCE, the UN, the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales, and many other organizations. But we need a more coordinated and effective response from secular and faith-based agencies. More intensive education and awareness-raising. Greater focus from governments on the root causes of what is the second most profitable worldwide criminal enterprise after the illegal arms trade. And a clear understanding that people who are trafficked are victims needing support, not criminals to be punished.
Pope Francis’ appeal will generate the headlines. Our intention is that, working with a Holy See galvanized in this area by the Pope, we can help to make a concrete difference.