On April 7, more than 500 attendees and 20 speakers gathered at United Nations Headquarters in New York for a major conference the Holy See Mission convened on the theme of “Ending Human Trafficking by 2030: The Role of Global Partnerships in Eradicating Modern Slavery."
Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the UN Archbishop Bernardito Auza moderated the Conference and read a special letter Pope Francis wrote for the event, in which he urged speakers and attendees to focus on the most vulnerable victims of the scourge of modern slavery and human trafficking.
"As you reflect on the multifaceted issues which contribute to modern slavery and human trafficking, I encourage you to strengthen the bonds of cooperation and communication which are essential to ending the suffering of the many men, women and children who today are enslaved and sold as if they were a mere commodity," he wrote. "In your discussions, I hope also that you will keep before you the dignity of every person, and recognize in all your endeavors a true service to the poorest and most marginalized of society, who too often are forgotten and have no voice."
The event was co-sponsored by the Santa Marta Group, a collaboration of senior law enforcement chiefs from over 30 countries with senior representative of the Roman Catholic Church and civil society organizations, founded in 2014 by Pope Francis in order to strengthen and coordinate the global response to human trafficking and all forms of modern slavery. The Group is named after the residence in the Vatican where Pope Francis resides.
In addition to Archbishop Auza, the keynote panel featured the President of the UN General Assembly Mogens Lykketoft, Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster, Independent UK Anti-Slavery Commissioner Kevin Hyland and Academy-Award Winning Actress Mira Sorvino.
President Lykketoft said that slavery and human trafficking affect a large portion of the globe, citing reports that show victims of trafficking with 152 citizenships between the years 2010 and 2012. He also said although human trafficking is most likely to affect the poorest and most vulnerable, people from all regions and socio-economic can be exploited.
Cardinal Nichols, the leader of the Santa Marta group, said it is crucial to focus on the well-being of the victim and penalize the perpetrators of the crimes, as well as to strengthen the legal frameworks in place to end modern slavery in all its forms.
The UK’s first Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, Kevin Hyland, shed light on the vast negative implications of human trafficking and slavery such as health risks, social decay of families, gender inequality, and economic issues.
“Many are young, so modern slavery robs communities of those that could economically contribute most to local development,” he said. “In spite of all of this, to date modern slavery and development have been largely treated as separate policy areas.”
Mira Sorvino has been a Good Will Ambassador for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime in the fight against human trafficking for the past seven years, said she was glad the issue of modern slavery is receiving more public exposure, but urged policy makers and participants to give a greater focus and financial backing to end trafficking in persons.
“How is it that our response has not been more robust and effective?” she asked. “What kind of beast are we as humans that we allow slavery to grow in thrive in our midst?”
The second panel discussed the scope of the problem of human trafficking and modern slavery.
Ambassador Lourdes Ortiz Yparraguire, Permanent Representative of the Philippines to the United Nations, said that one of her country’s largest priorities is to protect the rights of the estimated 350,000 Filipinos who work abroad, and that the Philippines have set up policies to protect and support its citizens working abroad from exploitation.
Donna Hubbard, who survived seven years of being trafficked on the streets of Los Angeles human trafficking and now works as with Airline Ambassadors to train airline workers to recognize trafficking, said human trafficking occurs in cities all over the world and affects people from all walks of life.
“I didn’t fit this mold people think of when they think of a trafficked woman,” she said. “We can no longer ignore this as something that only happens to someone else in some other country.”
Sister Imelda Poole, president of Religious in Europe Networking Against Human Trafficking and Exploitation (RENATE) who works with victims and survivors in Albania, said the majority of victims come from developing countries, noting that 40 percent of sex trafficking victims are black, while most of the dirty profit occurs in developed countries.
James Cockayne, from United Nations University and an expert in Modern Day Slavery, urged all states, businesses, civil society, and religious institutions to strategize together, pool resources and scale the plan rapidly to properly address the urgent need to end modern slavery.
The third panel was dedicated to what UN, international and civil society organizations are doing to combat the problem in a coordinated way.
Simone Monasebian, the Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, said the indicators of the 2030 Agenda, especially indicator 16.2.2, will gauge and improve countries’ implementation and ability to end of human trafficking.
Beate Andrees, Head of the Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work Branch of the International Labor Office in Geneva, said she supported legislation that improves victim protection while strengthening due diligence on private and public sectors to mitigate the risk of forced labor.
Ashraf El-Nour, Permanent Observer of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to the United Nations, said Pope Francis’ call to the UN to end human trafficking is a strong foundation for building a global alliance with the holistic approach needed to provide effective responses to help those vulnerable to or victimed by human trafficking.
Kate Kennedy, the Managing Director of the Freedom Fund in North America, the world’s first private donor fund dedicated to identifying and investing in front-line efforts to end slavery, said faith organizations play a large role in the fight against modern slavery, but said lack of coordinated action, insufficient funds and poor data, and need for increased government and corporate focus provide major challenges for slavery eradication.
Monique Villa, CEO of the Thomson Reuters Foundation, described the role of the Media in helping in the fight against all forms of modern slavery. Human trafficking has been historically an uncovered story and the journalistic profession can and must bring it more to the attention of policy makers and the general public. Through the Thomas Reuters Foundation, she has since helped victims of sex trafficking receive an education.
In the fourth panel, Member States shared their insights regarding the problems of human trafficking and modern slavery.
Minister Karen Bradley, the UK’s Minister for Preventing Abuse, Exploitation and Crime, praised the businesses that are taking extra efforts to ensure their supply chains do not include slavery.
Ambassador Mary Elizabeth Flores Flake, the Permanent Representative of Honduras to the UN, said legislation and conventions that protect human rights are important, but need a holistic approach that strengthens the family.
“More must be done for children to grow up with their parents in families no matter how poor or deprived of resources a home may be,” she said. “There is no greater nourishment for a child’s mind and soul than having a close bond with family.”
Ambassador Juan José Gómez Camacho, the Permanent Representative of Mexico to the UN, said Mexico launched laws and research to get a larger picture of the issue of human trafficking in the country. He said their findings show indigenous women and unaccompanied child migrants are especially vulnerable to be trafficking.
Ambassador Macharia Kamau, the Permanent Representative of Kenya to the UN and one of the chief protagonists in getting Target 87 against human trafficking, modern slavery and forced labor into the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, said human trafficking and modern slavery are symptoms of a larger issue in the global society, which is a lack of respect of one another. He said other issues like unemployment, inequality, gender, climate change, all help force forcing people into slavery.
Ambassador Sarah Mendelson, the U.S. Representative on the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations, said partnership is key to ending human trafficking, and noted that individuals play an important role to leverage their consumer power to move markets away from forced labor.
The conference ended with an intervention from Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, Chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Science and the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences in the Vatican. At Pope Francis’ behest, he has been heavily involved in the Vatican’s efforts against human trafficking, notably by holding several international conferences on various aspects of the human trafficking crisis within Vatican walls, including one with inter-religious leaders from around the world.
“Even if religious leaders do not pray at the same altar,” Bishop Sorondo said, they can and should act together to defend human dignity.”.
Watch the event in its entirety here.