For the first time in history, Anglican, Roman Catholic and Muslim leaders have agreed to work together to combat modern slavery and human trafficking, calling them “crimes against humanity.”
On March 17, high-level representatives from each faith community gathered at the Vatican to sign a groundbreaking agreement launching the Global Freedom Network to eradicate forced labour and sexual exploitation by 2020.
“The physical, economic and sexual exploitation of men, women and children condemns 30 million people to dehumanization and degradation,” said a joint statement issued by faith leaders. “Every day we let this tragic situation continue is a grievous assault on our common humanity and a shameful affront to the consciences of people.”
Each year, about two million people fall victim to sexual trafficking, 60 per cent of them girls; about 20,000 others are forced or deceived into giving up their liver, kidney, pancreas, cornea, lung or heart for human organ trafficking, said Archbishop David Moxon, director of the Anglican Centre in Rome and the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Representative to the Holy See, who co-signed the agreement on behalf of the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby.
The joint statement noted that victims are often hidden in places of prostitution, factories, farms, fishing boats, private homes, cities, villages and slums, in both the poorest and richest nations of the world.
Faith leaders urged their communities and governments, and people around the world, to join the movement to end modern slavery and human trafficking, including the Global Freedom Network. “This evil is manmade and can be overcome by faith-inspired human will and human effort.”
The network will “take up the instruments of faith-prayer, fasting and almsgiving,” and will declare a world day of prayer for victims and their freedom, they added. Other actions include ensuring that faith communities “modern slavery-proof their supply chains and investments” and urging governments, educational institutions and multinational businesses to do the same.
Human slavery is “a plague on a vast scale in many countries across the world today. The situation is not improving but deteriorating,” said Archbishop David Moxon. “To quote Pope Francis, ‘We must unite our efforts to free the victims and stop this increasingly aggressive crime which threatens not only individuals but the basic values of society.’ ” Moxon said that with the agreement, faith communities are committed to “act together: one church for one world-God’s world-where everyone can walk free.”
The initiative for the Global Freedom Network arose from common concerns about modern slavery expressed during a meeting between Archbishop Welby and Pope Francis in June 2013, said the statement.
Other signatories to the agreement include Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, chancellor of the Pontifical Academies of Science and Social Science (who co-signed on behalf of Pope Francis), Dr. Mahmoud Azab (who co-signed on behalf of the Grand Imam of Al Azhar, Mohamed Ahmed el-Tayeb) and Andrew Forrest (founder of the Australian anti-slavery organization, Walk Free).