A forthcoming speech by Pope Francis tackles the growing issue of modern-day slavery, outlining a sweeping vision for how to address the global problem and asking governments, businesses, and ordinary citizens to step up.
On Wednesday, the Vatican unveiled a speech entitled “No Longer Slaves, But Brothers and Sisters,” which is scheduled to be delivered by Pope Francis on January 1, 2015 as part of the World Day of Peace. The remarks are framed around the biblical book of Philemon, a short letter in which the apostle Paul asks Philemon to welcome home Onesimus, a man who was “formerly Philemon’s slave, now a Christian and, therefore, according to Paul, worthy of being considered a brother.” Francis uses the story’s theme of slavery and reconciliation as a way to discuss various forms modern-day slavery — including sex slaves, exploited children, and millions of people who are forced to work in horrid conditions for meager pay.
“I think of the many men and women labourers, including minors, subjugated in different sectors, whether formally or informally, in domestic or agricultural workplaces, or in the manufacturing or mining industry; whether in countries where labour regulations fail to comply with international norms and minimum standards, or, equally illegally, in countries which lack legal protection for workers’ rights,” the speech reads.
The message outlines a number of different factors that contribute to the creation of modern slavery, and laments the “growing scourge of man’s exploitation by man” that occurs when societies create child soldiers, force women into sex slavery, coerce people into working in horrific conditions, and exploit immigrants. After discussing the work of religious institutions to try to respond to these issues, the pope lays out an expansive agenda for how to combat modern day slavery, calling on states, intergovernmental organizations, businesses, and “organizations in civil society” to each do their part to help address the issue.
“States must ensure that their own legislation truly respects the dignity of the human person in the areas of migration, employment, adoption, the movement of businesses offshore and the sale of items produced by slave labour,” Francis insists. He later adds that businesses also “have a duty to ensure dignified working conditions and adequate salaries for their employees, but they must also be vigilant that forms of subjugation or human trafficking do not find their way into the distribution chain.”
Francis also repeatedly urges all parties to recognize the “role of women in society,” and issues a challenge to everyday people to think twice before purchasing “items which may well have been produced by exploiting others.”
If the pope’s definition of slavery seems broad, that’s because experts see modern-day slavery as a complicated issue with many interconnecting parts. This year’s Global Survey Index, which tracks the issues Francis mentions, found that 35.8 million men, women and children are currently trapped in modern slavery, which it defines as a combination of “human trafficking, forced labour, debt bondage, forced or servile marriage, and the sale and exploitation of children.” These issues are present in some form in virtually every country on earth — including the United States, where undocumented immigrants are regularly abused for cheap labor and almost 85 percent of “unauthorized workers” report overtime violations. In addition, an estimated 100,000 children are forced into prostitution in America each year.
The speech’s direct engagement with immigration, economics, and human trafficking reflects a series of bold statements made by the pope over the past year. Francis has repeatedly spoken up on behalf of immigrants, and has made headlines for his deep critique of economic inequality and trickle-down economics. More recently, Francis joined a group of prominent faith leaders from several different religious traditions in signing a declaration outlining the “human and moral imperative” to end human trafficking.