Pope Francis encouraged the work of the Santa Marta Group on February 9, 2018, in an address to its members in the Clementine Hall of the Vatican Apostolic Palace. The group, established by the Holy Father in 2014, was concluding its February 8-9 meeting in the Vatican.
“Experience shows that such modern forms of slavery are far more widespread than previously imagined, even – to our scandal and shame –within the most prosperous of our societies,” the Pope said. “As leaders in law enforcement, research and public policy, and pastoral assistance, you offer an essential contribution to addressing the causes and effects of this modern-day scourge, which continues to cause untold human suffering.”
The Santa Marta Group is an alliance of international police chiefs and bishops from around the world working together with civil society in a process endorsed by Pope Francis, to eradicate human trafficking and modern-day slavery. This week’s gathering was the fifth for the group.
This year’s conference focused on regional realities with tailored solutions to human trafficking in each continent. With input from every continent, each region discussed their experiences, both the successes and challenges they face, with growing collaboration identified as a priority in neighboring countries where the challenges are similar.
Education and economic opportunity is the focus on the supply side from countries of origin and the need for a strong legal framework, accountability and active citizenship on the demand side in countries of destination. While there are significant similarities in approaches to combating human trafficking across regions, the need for local action was emphasized, recognizing the significant levels of internal trafficking taking place.
The conference also featured contributions from international agencies, introducing the role of the private sector and the importance of transparency in supply chains. Practical ways to address difficult to track human trafficking, such as slavery within seafaring, were also discussed. A challenge to the group was to increase their accountability through greater transparency with the media, both on work done and long-term strategy. An example was shared from the UK, where Church and Law Enforcement partnered with a media outlet (the Evening Standard) to raise awareness of human trafficking, investigate cases of modern slavery and propose solutions through a roundtable chaired by Cardinal Vincent Nichols.
Cardinal Nichols, President of the Santa Marta Group, in his address to Pope Francis, drew attention to the need to always remember the victim at the center of this evil crime; the enslaved person who demands our action in combating trafficking. Cardinal Nichols said:
“Our Santa Marta Group meeting has been a hard look at one of the dark faces of globalization: the scourge of human trafficking and modern slavery. In contrast, Holy Father, we thank you for the many ways in which you make visible the truly human face of our world. Constantly in your actions and words, you remind us that the well-being of the human person must always be at the center of every endeavor.”