A campaign initiated by Australian businessman, Andrew Forrest, has brought together leaders of different faiths – Catholic, Anglican and Muslim – to end modern slavery and human trafficking. The religious leaders have set up an organisation, the Global Freedom Network (www.gfn2020.org), based in the Vatican, to oversee the campaign.
The campaign aims to unite religious organisations, governments and businesses to join together to end the widespread practices of slavery, forced labour and human trafficking by 2020.
The campaign arose after Mr Forrest's daughter travelled to Nepal, where she found children being caught up in human trafficking for prostitution.
As a result, Mr Forrest established the Walk Free Foundation in Australia to campaign against modern slavery. When he looked at his own business, Fortescue Metals Group, he was horrified to find that among the company's suppliers, some used forced labour.
He set about eliminating such practices from Fortescue's supply chain. However, he realised that the problem could not be dealt with unless it had the support of global organisations, including governments and businesses, so he turned to the churches to launch the campaign.
In a ground-breaking agreement, the following religious leaders in Rome signed the Memorandum of Understanding and Joint Statement establishing the Global Freedom Network:
- on behalf of Pope Francis, Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, Chancellor of the Pontifical Academies of Sciences and Social Sciences;
- on behalf of the Grand Imam of Al Azhar, Egypt, Dr Mahmoud Azab;
- on behalf of the Archbishop of Canterbury, The Most Reverend Justin Welby, the Most Reverend Sir David Moxon, his representative to the Holy See; and
- on behalf of the Walk Free Foundation, Mr Andrew Forrest.
The Joint Statement by the Global Freedom Network signatories underscored the searing personal destructiveness of modern slavery and human trafficking and called for urgent action by all other Christian Churches and global faiths.
The Global Freedom Network is an open association and other faith leaders will be invited to join and support this initiative.
In their joint statement, the founders of the Network said, "Modern slavery and human trafficking are crimes against humanity.
"The physical, economic and sexual exploitation of men, women and children condemns 30 million people to dehumanisation and degradation. Every day we let this tragic situation continue is a grievous assault on our common humanity and a shameful affront to the consciences of all peoples.
"Any indifference to those suffering exploitation must cease. We call to action all people of faith and their leaders, all governments and people of goodwill, to join the movement against modern slavery and human trafficking and support the Global Freedom Network.
"Only by activating, all over the world, the ideals of faith and of shared human values can we marshal the spiritual power, the joint effort and the liberating vision to eradicate modern slavery and human trafficking from our world and for all time.
"This evil is man-made and can be overcome by faith-inspired human will and human effort."
The co-signatories said, "We salute all those already engaged in this struggle, and fervently hope that this new project will further encourage their commitment to set free the most oppressed of our brothers and sisters.
"Despite the best endeavours of so many in so many countries, modern slavery and human trafficking continue to expand.
"Victims are hidden away: in places of prostitution, in factories and farms, on fishing boats, and illegal establishments, in private homes behind locked doors and in myriad other places, in cities, villages and slums in the world's richest nations and poorest nations.
"The Global Freedom Network will take up the instruments of faith – prayer, fasting and almsgiving. There will be a world day of prayer for the victims and for their freedom. Everyone of faith and everyone of goodwill will be requested to join in reflection and action. Dedicated prayer networks will be formed in all parts of the world.
"Under the Agreement, all parties commit to pursuing all avenues and pathways to galvanise global action to eradicate modern slavery and human trafficking. Action plans for the first year will be developed to engage:
- All global faiths to modern slavery-proof their supply chains and investments and to take remedial action if necessary.
- All global faiths to mobilise their youth sections to support programmes to eradicate modern slavery and human trafficking.
- Families, schools, universities, congregations and institutions to educate on the nature of modern slavery and human trafficking, how to report it and the destructiveness of harmful social attitudes and prejudices and social systems in relation to modern slavery and human trafficking.
- Government leaders to modern slavery-proof public sector supply chains.
- 50 major multi-national businesses whose CEOs are people of faith or of goodwill to commit to modern slavery-proof their supply chains.
- 162 governments to publicly endorse the establishment of the Global Fund to End Slavery, with 30 heads of state publicly endorsing it by the end of 2014.
- The G20 to condemn modern slavery and human trafficking and adopt an anti-slavery and human trafficking initiative and support the Global Fund.
The Joint Statement concluded: "Our world must be freed of these terrible evils and crimes against humanity. Every hand and heart must be joined to bring this freedom to all those who are trapped and suffering. This agreement is a beginning and a pledge – the victims of modern slavery and human trafficking will not be forgotten or ignored: everyone will know their story. We will walk with them to freedom."