A two-day Ethics and Action Workshop entitled “Modern Slavery, Human Trafficking and Access to Justice for the Poor and Vulnerable” opened today in the Vatican gardens in the delightful and historical Casina Pio IV, home to the Pontifical Academy of Science and the Academy of Social Sciences.

The following link from the Holy See Press Office provides an idea of the agenda, the guest speakers and the topics to be discussed:

Former Australian ambassador to the Holy See and chair of the Sydney Archdiocesan Anti-Slavery Taskforce, John McCarthy published the talk he gave today to the assembly.

He began by noting that “tomorrow is the fifth anniversary of the election of Pope Francis to the Chair of St Peter. He will receive messages of support and best wishes, especially messages offering prayers and spiritual support, from throughout the Church and around the world.

“For the same reason,” he continued, “tomorrow is also a milestone for the anti-slavery movement in the contemporary world. From Rome during the past five years the Church and the world have heard a constant flow of statements and exhortations by the Holy Father, Pope Francis, in respect of the eradication of modern slavery and human trafficking. He is perhaps the greatest anti-slavery campaigner in our world today. This is a cause dear to his heart and always high in his priorities. He has declared human trafficking to be ‘an open wound on … contemporary society, a scourge upon the body of Christ’ and ‘a crime against humanity’.”

McCarthy said that, “Pope Francis is firm and consistent in his belief that we will be victorious over modern slavery and human trafficking. He exhorts the contemporary world and the contemporary Church to provide the will and the organisation to defeat modern slavery in all its manifestations in this generation.”

Thus, McCarthy said, “a thunderous salute to Francis comes from the peripheries; from far away Australia. The Archdiocese of Sydney and its Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP, present to the Holy Father a framework for a comprehensive anti-slavery strategy that signals that Pope Francis has been heard loud and clear.”

The former ambassador then highlighted some of the chilling statistics about trafficked people: “When we consider the estimated 40 million people who are enslaved in our world today we note that the majority of these men, women and children are held in forced labour conditions. Modern slavery touches every country and every industry sector. …. Moreover, when we appreciate that 80% of trade goes through global supply chains and consider the sheer extent of the supply chains of Catholic institutions (such as schools, hospitals and universities) we can see that our possible exposure to modern slavery is enormous. So, too, is our capacity to effect change.”

McCarthy went on to explain in detail the Anti-Slavery Taskforce set up by the archdiocese of Sydney, and offered two proposals for the Church:

“Our proposal for the global Church is based on the sure fact that Catholic institutions and communities the world over interface with modern slavery each and every day through their supply chains. We therefore propose that Catholic organisations with procurement functions (such as Catholic educational facilities, health systems and financial institutions) adopt effective anti-slavery supply chain strategies which implement human rights due diligence throughout all tiers of their supply chains.

“We also propose that priests, parishes and the wider Catholic community are equipped and empowered about how they can contribute to ending modern slavery through ethical purchasing. And we propose that, in its engagement with governments, the Church worldwide adopt a policy position that prioritises anti-slavery supply chain legislation and ethical public procurement.”

McCarthy concluded: “Like Pope Francis, we truly believe that it is possible to eradicate modern slavery in this generation. Like Pope Francis, we also believe that the Church throughout the world must demonstrate the will and the determination to effect positive change in the lives of the many millions enslaved for the goods and services our world consumes. And we imagine, for example, next year’s anniversary gift to Pope Francis being an international conference on Catholic supply chains held in Rome which would educate and equip the global Church to carry out this work.