Modern slavery is one of the gravest criminal challenges confronting the international community. The scale of the problem is such that now, according to some studies, it ranks as the second most profitable worldwide criminal enterprise after the illegal arms trade.
The International Labour Organisation estimates that 40 million people are victims of modern slavery globally and that annual profits generated from trafficking in human beings are as high as $32 billion. It is a serious crime that includes exploiting people for little or no pay. This exploitation can take many forms including; forced labour, sexual exploitation, domestic servitude, forced criminality and organ harvesting.
There is a constant demand for trafficked people and the major sources remain poorer regions such as Africa, Eastern Europe, Latin America and South East Asia. Trafficking is facilitated increasingly by modern forms of technology, particularly the use of internet.
The eradication of modern slavery and the pastoral care of victims is a priority for the Catholic Church. Both Pope Benedict and Pope Francis continually drew the attention of the Church and wider world to the moral and human crisis evident in this widespread human exploitation.
The Santa Marta Group
Following initiatives by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales (CBCEW), the Santa Marta Group was developed by the CBCEW and first met in Rome during April 2014 when police chiefs and Catholic bishops came together, in the presence of Pope Francis, to sign an historic declaration, committing themselves to a partnership to eliminate human trafficking.
Named after the home of Pope Francis, in which the members stayed, the Group now has members in over 35 countries.
Through a series of conferences, the Bishops’ Conference has brought together the heads of national and international police and law enforcement agencies along with international organisations to look at how they can work with the Church to help victims of modern slavery.