Vatican Experts: Change of Heart Toward Money Crucial in Human-Trafficking Fight

Just 44,000 survivors out of 20 million trafficking victims were identified last year — a sign the political will to eradicate modern slavery is still lacking.

Red light district
Red light district (photo: Petr Kratochvil)

VATICAN CITY — At a Vatican conference held July 29 to mark the World Day Against Trafficking, a U.S. diplomat said that the scourge of modern slavery will not end until the economic attitudes that lead to human trafficking are changed.

“One cannot simply protect the victims, and bring the victims into a place of safety, if one doesn’t do anything to change the underlying cultural assumptions that help create and foster this slavery, this exploitation; if one does not change the underlying economic assumptions that treat people as commodities,” Luis CdeBaca, the U.S. ambassador-at-large for trafficking in persons, said July 29 via video conference.

CdeBaca added, “Governments will always try to reclassify things, so they are not defined as human trafficking, to protect their fishing industry, to protect their palm oil industry, to protect their charcoal industry, to protect their ability to bring in nannies or people to come and build their stadiums for upcoming sporting events.”

He was speaking to a conference hosted by the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See and the Global Freedom Network about the U.S. State Department’s 2014 "Trafficking in Persons" (TIP) report.

The event, which has an interreligious basis — the Global Freedom Network is an alliance of Catholic, Anglican and Muslim leaders — marked the first World Day Against Trafficking, observed July 30.

Joining CdeBaca in the discussion were Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, chancellor of the Pontifical Academy for Social Sciences, and Ken Hackett, U.S. ambassador to the Holy See.

The academy has become in the last year a key player in the fight against human trafficking at the direction of Pope Francis.

“After a meeting we had with the members of the academy, I sent a letter to Pope Francis in which I asked him if he had suggestions for issues to be developed,” Bishop Sanchez told CNA.

“He responded with a personal letter, saying that he deemed it important that the pontifical academy should focus on human trafficking.”

The U.S. State Department issued the human-trafficking report June 20. It details the state of this blight in 188 nations. It is focused on “three Ps” CdeBaca said: prevention, protection and prosecution.

He said that “one can’t prevent trafficking or protect its victims without holding traffickers responsible for the acts they have committed,” and added that, while progress has been made in anti-trafficking laws, the political will to eradicate the trafficking of persons is often still lacking.

“My biggest concern is that as a global community we tend to chase the last tragedy … so last year we were suddenly all concerned about fire safety in Bangladeshi garment factories,” he noted.

“Instead of dealing with the labor recruiters who are feeding people into these factories, or the retailers, asking why they let this slavery happen … we’re concerned about getting fire extinguishers in the factories. … So a little bit of change happens, but not enough systemic change to bring us closer to our goal.”

Bishop Sanchez noted that, while 44,000 survivors of human trafficking were identified in the past year, “more than 20 million victims of trafficking were not.”

He added that organized crime’s annual profits are estimated at $150 billion and that 80% of this sum is from prostitution.

“Some observers speculate that, within 10 years, human trafficking will surpass drugs and weapons trafficking to become the most profitable activity in the world,” Bishop Sanchez said.

Hackett said that human trafficking is “an issue that transcends cultures, nationalities, societies and economical or political structures … touching virtually every part of our global community.

“It leaves no corner of our world unaffected.”

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