Welby, Orthodox Patriarch pledge to fight modern slavery

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, left, and His All-Holiness Bartholomew of Constantinople, sign a joint declaration on modern slavery at a forum in Istanbul, Turkey, February 7. Photo: Lambeth Palace
Published February 10, 2017


Rani was sold into slavery when she was just 12. For eight years, until she escaped, she worked without pay or a day off, sleeping on the floor and rarely getting outside.

Rani, now an anti-slavery campaigner, lived her experience with slavery not in some developing world sweatshop, but in private homes in the U.K., attendees at a forum on modern slavery, held February 6-7 in Istanbul, learned.

Alastair Redfern, bishop of the Church of Englands diocese of Derby, told Ranis story to the scholars, policy-makers and others gathered at the forum, which was co-sponsored by the Ecumenical Patriarch-the most prominent patriarch of the worlds Orthodox Christians-and the Church of England. Rani was made a slave, Redfern commented, “to make other people comfortable,” according to an Anglican Communion News Service article.

On the last day of the conference, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and His All-Holiness Bartholomew of Constantinople, the Ecumenical Patriarch, signed a joint declaration on modern slavery. The religious leaders pledged to:

? Condemn human enslavement in all its forms.

? Commend many countriesefforts to fight slavery.

? Pray that todays slaves be freed.

? Repent for not having done “nearly enough swiftly enough” to curb slavery.

? Appeal to governments to put strict anti-slavery laws in place.

? Urge members of both churches and “all people of good will” to become more aware of modern slavery and take action against it.

? Commit to establish a joint taskforce charged with recommending ways for both churches to collaborate against slavery.

Commenting on the conferences title-Sins Before Our Eyes-Welby said, “Slavery is all around us, but we are too blind to see it. The enslaved are next to us in the streets, but we are too ignorant to walk alongside them.”

The forum explored modern slavery and labour exploitation in a variety of forms, including in the “supply chains” that provide people with the goods and services they consume; domestic servitude; prostitution; cyber exploitation; and organ trafficking.

Modern slavery, Redfern told the forum, is “the litmus test of whether the Gospel of Jesus Christ has purchase in our times.”

According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), a UN agency, almost 21 million people work in forced labour-11.4 million women and girls, and 9.5 million men and boys. Of these, about 19 million are enslaved by individuals or companies, and about 2 million by states or rebel groups. Of those in the first category, 4.5 million are sex slaves.

Areas of the economy involving the most forced labour are domestic work, agriculture, construction, manufacturing and entertainment, with the slave economy generating $150 billion U.S. (roughly $200 billion Cdn. as of press time) in profits annually. Most vulnerable to slave labour, according to the ILO, are migrant workers and Indigenous people.

In 2014, Anglican, Roman Catholic and Muslim spiritual leaders gathered at the Vatican to sign an agreement, pledging to end forced labour and sexual exploitation by 2020.

Human trafficking is one of the concerns of the Anglican Church of Canadas public witness for social and ecological justice, and its website contains resources on human trafficking and slavery in Canada.


  • Tali Folkins

    Tali Folkins joined the Anglican Journal in 2015 as staff writer, and has served as editor since October 2021. He has worked as a staff reporter for Law Times and the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal. His freelance writing credits include work for newspapers and magazines including The Globe and Mail and the former United Church Observer (now Broadview). He has a journalism degree from the University of King’s College and a master’s degree in Classics from Dalhousie University.

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