The Leadership of Faith Communities and Human Trafficking

Last December, religious leaders from Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu and other faiths came together at the Vatican to call for an end to slavery by 2020. The leaders said it was a “human and moral imperative” to wipe out human trafficking, forced, labor, prostitution and organ trafficking. They committed to do all they could to free the millions of people enslaved across the world. 

“Modern slavery…fails to respect the fundamental conviction that all people are equal and have the same freedom and dignity. We pledge ourselves here today to do all in our power, within our faith communities and beyond, to work together for the freedom of all those who are enslaved and trafficked so that their future may be restored.”

While leaders proclaimed the rootedness of human dignity and justice from their traditions of faith with their calls for a moral response from all the faithful, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Webley suggested some tactics that we could employ:

“We can end slavery by creating “slave-free” supply chains, and not investing in companies that enslave. We have the will, we have the common purpose, this can be done; may God bless our action together.”

Pope Francis in his 7 page message on the Celebration of the World Day of Peace (1/1/15) also addressed human trafficking.  In his statement, which he directs to all women and men of the world as well as to heads of states and other religious leaders, he describes human trafficking as a “growing scourge of man’s exploitation by man (which) gravely damages (our call to) respect, justice and love.” The document explores the Biblical/cultural reality of slavery, the current reality and its causes, and a shared commitment to end slavery.

Why is it important to us that the Pope and other Faith Leaders care? Why is it important that they speak in a harsh and commanding language with an expectation that we are listening and will respond?  One of the great “scandals” of many faith traditions is that our justice teachings are “our best kept secrets.” Certainly, in the realm of human “depravity” we have been quick to be condemning, blaming, and ostracizing persons caught in the throes of addition, abuse and exploitation.  We have been known to tell them “Just say no!”, “Pull yourselves up by your bootstraps!”, and “There will be pie in the sky when you die!”

It is fortunate that among our leaders and at our grassroots, we are moving beyond such distortions to realize that social sin impacts the personal lives of victims and they they often have little power or control.  Yet, too many institutions – religious, political, civil – do not hear either “the cries of the poor,” or the Call to faith and justice.

Why is it important for our Faith Leaders challenge and console us?  One reason (among many) is that combining the vision and understanding of faith leaders with the day-to-day experience with suffering victims that direct service providers have, can help us collectively to build a bridge of hope, authority and community and to impact and change the institutions to recognize their compassionate responsibility. 

Words of leaders may be forceful and effective or they may be symbolic and supporting. They may simply be declarations of love like those we hear in Fiddler on the Roof: 

Tevye: Then you love me?
Golde: I suppose I do.
Tevye: And i suppose I love you too.
Both: It doesn’t change a thing but even so, after twenty-five years, it’s nice to know.

Take Action:  Study and learn more about faith traditions and their views on human trafficking by searching “church statements on human trafficking” through google or another search engine.  Learn more about slave free supply chains and how your purchases can either contribute or fight against human trafficking by taking the Slavery Footprint Survey and by visiting Fair Trade USA, an organization that audits and certifies transactions between US companies and their international suppliers to make sure that the workers who create the products you purchase are justly compensated.

Sister Mary Brigid Clingman, O.P., M.S.W. is a promoter of Justice and a member of the the Dominican Sisters, Grand Rapids.