April 18, 2016

Human trafficking is a $150-billion annual business that affects every country on earth, speakers at an April 7 United Nations conference said.

Human trafficking encompasses slavery and includes recruitment and transportation of vulnerable people using force, deception or coercion for the purposes of sexual exploitation, forced labour or service, servitude or the removal of organs.

Santa Marta Logo

The Holy See mission to the United Nations and the Santa Marta Group co-sponsored the forum on Ending Human Trafficking by 2030.

Currently, more than 21 million people are held in human slavery, said Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster, England.

The number compares to 10 million to 12 million people enslaved during the trans-Atlantic slave trade of the 19th century, according to Kevin Hyland, the United Kingdom's Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner.

Nichols said human slavery and trafficking strips people of their dignity and reduces them to the level of a commodity.

The scope of the problem is "an evil crying out to heaven," he said.

People of goodwill must "rescue, protect, assist and serve the poorest of the Father's children who have been sold into slavery, even as Joseph was sold into slavery in the beginning," he said.

Pope Francis appointed Nichols in 2014 to lead the Santa Marta Group, an alliance of international police chiefs and bishops from 36 countries working with civil society to eradicate human trafficking and modern-day slavery.

Nichols said initially women religious in London worked with Scotland Yard in an "unlikely partnership" aimed at rescuing trafficked individuals and prosecuting their traffickers.

Holy See Mission to the UN Log

Early concerns that police would prosecute the victims faded over time as trust grew between the two groups, he said.

In many places, the Catholic Church has the "biggest reach" in a community and provides the opportunity for trafficked people to seek help and safety, Nichols said.


The Church also has a role in raising awareness. The extent and complexity of the situation should encourage people to tell their stories, check supply routes for the goods and services they buy and keep their eyes and ears open, he said.

James Cockayne of the United Nations University said the actual cost of trafficking extends beyond the action of enslavement and trafficking. It causes depression, anxiety, vulnerability to re-trafficking for the victims and long-lasting poverty and exclusion from education for their children.


He said the "intergenerational" effects extend to the entire community, drive down productivity and impose a cost that is borne by everyone.

Cockayne said fighting against slavery is morally and economically a smart human development policy.

Nonetheless, inspiring speeches and piecemeal collaboration implemented without a clear strategic plan "is sound and fury signifying nothing but costing a great deal," he said.