Pope Francis recently released his annual peace message for 2015 exhorting listeners to take deliberate action to end human trafficking. He reminded people of the brotherhood and commonality of all humankind and called for individuals, churches, businesses and government to ward off the apathy and complacency that drives unwitting complicity with those that commit such atrocities. Mustering international support and action against the sad reality of widespread modern-day slavery are necessary to match forces with the size of the predicament faced by the victims and the heinous criminal network that supports its continuance.
The pope charged “general indifference” with creating a climate that allows such tragedies to continue unchecked, in spite of international law making slavery illegal most anywhere in the world. One practical action people can take to help end human trafficking is by heeding Pope Francis’ call to boycott products that are produced in countries that exploit their workers. He exhorted consumers and business owners to pay attention to the sources of the products they buy and to reject buying and selling those created using slave labor no matter how big the savings might be.
Long critical of big bank, disparity of income and the fundamentals of capitalism, Pope Francis makes no bones about his opinion that the finance industry has lost any ethical grounding and needs to find them again. He characterizes the kidnapping and maltreatment of the trafficked slaves as “crimes against humanity” and exhorted governments to step up their laws and policies to protect potential victims of trafficking against kidnapping and to rescue and rehabilitate those already trapped in the cycle of tragedy.
In addition, Pope Francis charges businesses with the responsibility to know their supply chain and not contribute to slave labor by utilizing supply chains that depend on the exploited workers. They should ensure adequate working conditions and salaries for their own employees but not allow subjugated labor and human trafficking to be part of the chain.
Social justice for migrants and workers has been a key tenet of Pope Francis’ papacy, so the call to individual social responsibility was just an extension of the ongoing theme of his leadership. He insists that the decision to buy or sell the slaves and the goods they produce is not just a financial decision but carries serious moral and ethical ramifications, as well. Consequently, he urges others to challenge their impulses to buy items created with the blood, sweat, tears and degradation of their fellow human beings.
The Australian human rights group, the Walk Free Foundation and activist organizations such as slaveryfootprint.org have made similar consumer recommendations. Trafficking victims often end up in brothels as sex slaves or doing forced labor. Others fall into debt bondage or are born into slavery. By buying products made at the cost of such forced labor and exploitation, consumers can unwittingly drive the demand which keeps the cycle of servitude and violence going in order to supply that demand.
Pope Francis decried the ongoing scourge of inhumanity inflicted on the vulnerable that is mushrooming into an increasingly larger dilemma of global proportions. The Roman Catholic pontiff joins his voice to Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim and Hindu leaders who have promised to martial their churches’ resources toward positive action to end human trafficking and slavery before the third decade of the 21st century begins. Pope Francis firmly maintains the position that anyone and everyone can make a difference in the fight against human trafficking and exploitation, exhorting men and women of compassion and character not to aid and abet the evil that carries away their dignity and freedom.
By Tamara Christine Van Hooser
Lead and top image courtesy of Imagens Evangélicas – Flickr License
Inside image courtesy of Angela White, Colorado Springs, CO