Pope Francis speaking with de mayors of the world in the summit in the Sinodo room. 21 july 2015


Analysis: Exploiting the Vulnerable

Annual Human Trafficking Report

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How to deal with the problem of human trafficking is receiving ample attention both from the Church and civil leaders in recent times.

Last week the Pontifical Academies of Science and Social Sciences held a two-day workshop in the Vatican on “Modern Slavery and Climate Change.”

Attended by mayors of major cities around the world the closing statement called for greater cooperation to end human trafficking and all forms of human slavery.

Addressing the participants on July 21 Pope Francis spoke of the problems related to a lack of care for the environment and the exploitation of people in human trafficking.

Already in April the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences held a plenary session on the subject of human trafficking.

We must raise awareness of this new evil, Pope Francis urged the members of the academy when speaking to them on April 18. Then, we must also denounce it and fight against it, he continued.

“To enslave any person – for their labour value, abuse of their bodies, harvesting of their organs and as babies for sale – nullifies their human dignity by reducing subjects to objects,” wrote Margaret Archer, president of the academy on the occasion of the April meeting.

Last December 2 a group of world leaders, ranging from Pope Francis to other Christian representatives, as well as Jewish and Muslim leaders signed a joint declaration condemning modern slavery.

“Modern slavery, in terms of human trafficking, forced labour and prostitution, organized trafficking, and any relationship that fails to respect the fundamental conviction that all people are equal and have the same freedom and dignity, is a crime against humanity,” it said.

Just the week after the meeting of mayors in the Vatican, the U. S. Department of State issued its annual “Trafficking in Persons Report.”

The scale of the problem dealt with in the report was evident from estimates provided by the International Labour Organization that put at $150bn the profits made from forced labor. About two-thirds of the profits come from sexual exploitation.

Other areas with human trafficking occur in a wide variety of circumstances, including extraction of raw materials, manufacturing and the service industry. It is more common in sectors that rely on unskilled or low-skilled workers.

A variety of practices are used to coerce people into forced labour. The confiscation of identity documents, the imposition of recruitment fees, isolation and violence are some of the methods. Sometimes wages are withheld until the job is finished or employees are driven further into debt.

Even when workers have a signed contract they are not adequately protected as they may be illiterate or the contract may be in a language they do not understand.

Governments have a crucial role in eliminating human trafficking and in recent years many states have pledged to improve their efforts in this area, the report explained. Governments also need to build partnerships with civil society and the public sector.

<p>Companies should do their part by responsibly sourcing goods and services and by implementing anti-trafficking policies, the report recommended.

The report divided nations into various tiers, according to their compliance with international agreements on human trafficking and their efforts to implement them. The worst offenders were contained in the “Tier 3” group.

These countries included offenders in Africa, the Middle East, Asia and South America. Russia was one of only two European nations in this category, along with Belarus.

Russia is a source, transit, and destination country for human trafficking, the report maintained. Estimates of foreign workers in Russia range from five to twelve million and many of these migrant workers are exploited.

Even worse was the situation described in North Korea, where the report accused the government of using forced labour as a method of political repression.

Forced labour exists both in prison camps within North Korea and through government sponsored labor in foreign countries. Moreover, the report accused the government of not making any effort to address the problem of human trafficking.

In Venezuela there were reports of women subjected to forced prostitution and children being exploited in domestic servitude.

There is a lack of reliable data on efforts by the Venezuelan government to deal with human trafficking, but the report added that authorities do not seem to be making significant efforts in this area.

Pope Francis dedicated his message for the World Day of Peace on January 1, titled “No Longer Slaves, but Brothers and Sisters,” to the problem of the exploitation of people.

Helping others requires us to overcome the “globalization of indifference,” towards the plight of others and instead “to forge a new worldwide solidarity and fraternity capable of giving them new hope and helping them to advance with courage amid the problems of our time,” he said.

“We know that God will ask each of us: What did you do for your brother? (cf. Gen 4:9-10),” he commented. A question that all of us will have to answer one day.

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Fr. John Flynn

Australia Bachelor of Arts from the University of New South Wales. Licence in Philosophy from the Pontifical Gregorian University. Bachelor of Arts in Theology from the Queen of the Apostles.

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