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World Economic Forum – Eradicating Human Trafficking

30 Sep, 2017

Keeping the Promise of Eradicating Human Trafficking

  • Monday 18 September
  • 10:30 – 12:00 World Economic Forum Office New York
  • Moderator: Brian Grim, President, Religious Freedom & Business Foundation
  • Opening Remarks: Shaykh Abdallah Bin Bayyah, President, Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies

Every year, thousands of people around the world are victims of human trafficking. Women and children are particularly affected, representing 70% of those whose most basic human rights are violated through this modern form of slavery.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (Goals 5, 8 and 16) demands that “immediate and effective” measures be taken to eradicate human trafficking, forced labour and modern slavery. Religious leaders and institutions have engaged in a global, coordinated effort to reach such goals, aiming to restore freedom and a hopeful future for all those enslaved and trafficked.

How can the vital work of faith communities be leveraged, and innovation and technology contribute, to achieving the human and moral imperative of eradicating the trafficking in human beings?

Dimensions addressed: Creating space and building trust for collaboration; Improving efficiency of supportive social efforts; and Leveraging technology and the media in the fight against human trafficking.


Overview by Brian Grim

Religious dynamics themselves – including how free religious groups are to engage in the public life of a society – offer promising possibilities for eradicating human trafficking. For example, a study we conducted at the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation finds that governments with low respect for religious freedom are more than twice as likely to be complicit in human trafficking as governments with high respect for religious freedom.

There are at least two reasons that governments that respect religious freedom are less likely to turn a blind eye to human trafficking. First, religious freedom is part of a bundled commodity of human rights and freedoms, such as freedom of speech, press, assembly, conscience and petition.

Second, governments that respect religious freedom reap the great practical benefit of religious freedom, that is, religious freedom sets people and communities of faith free to do good. Where this freedom is restricted, this force for good is stifled and civil society is much weaker and less resourceful and resilient as a result.

Let me describe how this second factor – setting faith communities free to do good – works using the example of Bakhita House, a Catholic ministry in London providing women escaping human trafficking with the safety and support to allow them to begin the recovery process.

Bakhita House is named after St. Josephine Bakhita, born around 1869 in the Darfur region of Sudan. She was sold into slavery but after a tortuous and lengthy journey found freedom in Italy, eventually taking religious vows as a sister with the Canossian Daughters of Charity. Her life continues to inspire Catholics to get involved with eradicating modern slavery.

Bakhita House offers women a range of services including emergency support, psychosexual therapy, legal and financial assistance, mentoring, and help with accessing accommodation. Guests of Caritas Bakhita House benefit from their values and principles of action:

  • 1. Love – expressed in compassionate support and long term commitment
  • 2. Respect – for the gift and dignity of each individual
  • 3. Community – a welcome which creates friendship and belonging, including allowing women to stay twice as long in the house as women can in government schemes
  • 4. Spirituality – nurtured by that Joy in creative activity which lifts the spirit

It’s important to understand that these values and principles come from a world view that begins with the proposition that all people – no matter how common or exceptional or how saintly or evil – are created in the image of God. This world view is also one that demands not just love of God and neighbor, but also love of enemy. Thus, when religious communities look for solutions to problems like slavery and human trafficking, they have a wider view. To demonstrate this, a prayer for the end of human trafficking promoted by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops has a rather surprising petition. In addition to praying “that those who are trafficked might know healing and justice,” the prayer petitions “that traffickers will come to repentance and conversion.”

I might even be so bold as to suggest that this petition represents an insight, a dot, so to speak, that needs to be better connected to the whole. Might a focus on better understanding what leads traffickers to abuse and enslave others lead to new strategies not only to rescue those enslaved, but also convert traffickers from their wicked ways by repenting of the evil they do? At the very least, the religious sentiments point out that the task is not just to rescue those enslaved, but also the audacious idea of helping the thief on the cross also repent and be saved.

This admittedly Catholic way of looking at the problem, however, is one that engages multiple actors and not just the victims. In particular, the Bakhita House is part of a multi-pronged strategy that has not only the typical multi-stakeholders, but also some unique partners, including the police who are a technology partner for the House: not for eavesdropping, but for interviewing facilities that can be used by law enforcement in the relaxed atmosphere of the House to investigate the crimes and apprehend perpetrators where possible.

Additionally, the Centre for the Study of Modern Slavery (CSMS) at St Mary’s (Catholic) University is engaged with Bakhita House in independent research to provide evidence that informs policy responses to modern slavery and human trafficking both in the UK and internationally. Indeed, government responses continue to be hampered by key knowledge gaps.

Bakhita House also partners with Penningtons Manches LLP, a leading UK law firm. The firm supports Bakhita House with charitable donations and allows their staff to undertake pro bono work on behalf of Bakhita House and the women the House serves.

Bakhita House also attracts dozens of community volunteers to help with everything from facilities upkeep to building friendships with the guests.

And finally, for the long term, the Bakhita House initiative recognizes that the problem will only be solved through education and public awareness – impacting children, employers, consumers, hiring practices, etc. Therefore, their ongoing campaigns and programmes are being designed with social media, events, and advocacy efforts direct to decision-makers.

Bakhita House is an example of multi-stakeholder action. From my brief description of Bakhita House, think of the following three questions which will guide all our conversations this morning:

  1. 1. How is the initiative unlocking additional resources, innovation or increasing scale through a multi-stakeholder approach?
  2. 2. What other actors (civil society, governments, business, investors, experts) must be engaged to further boost impact and take the initiatives to the next level?
  3. 3. As you look across the issue of human trafficking, what dots need to be better connected among the various players? Is there a game changer missing?

Keep these three questions in mind as you listen to opening remarks by Shaykh Abdallah bin Bayyah, President, Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies. Shaykh bin Bayyah is assisted with translation by Shaykh Hamsa Yusuf, President, Zaytuna College.

Following Shaykh bin Bayyah we’ll have the opportunity to hear briefly from four distinguish panelists, after which we’ll break into discussion groups and finish by coming back together to give input on main ideas for advancing work on eradicating human trafficking. Our four panelists are:

  • — Agnes R. M. ABUOM is the Moderator-President of the World Council of Churches Central Committee. She also represents the Anglican Church of Kenya.
  • — Jeanne Bourgault, President, Internews, responsible for overall strategic management of the organization and its programmes in 49 countries around the world.
  • — Rob Leslie, CEO and founder of Sedicii, which allows the secure authentication of individuals, using a novel technology called zero knowledge proof, where identity can be proven without exposing or sharing private data.
  • — Robert Wilson-Black, Chief Executive Officer, Sojourners, with many years experience in higher education as well as in developing next-generation socially responsible investing.