2018 Sir Paul Reeves Memorial Lecture presented by Sir David Moxon KNZM

Aspects of the interfaith struggle against human trafficking and modern slavery


Human Trafficking and modern slavery is a widespread crime against humanity in many parts of the world today. As the Perth based antislavery NGO “Walk Free” , founded by businessman and philanthropist Andrew Forrest makes clear in the Global Slavery Index, it is estimated that approximately 40.3 million people are victims of modern slavery across the world. Those highest at risk include those who are physically or linguistically isolated, culturally disoriented, subjected to crushing debts and have little to no knowledge of their rights.

Human trafficking and modern slavery can be defined as existing where any individual has been deprived of their freedom, has had their passport removed, and is not paid. This oppression is found in factories, brothels, agriculture, horticulture, domestic houses, the fishing industry and in many hidden venues across the globe. Its perpetrators function internationally and secretly, often evading detection because trafficking and slavery by its nature seeks to disguise itself. The United Nations, the police, the unions and governments in most parts of the world seek to eradicate it, but it is often elusive and successful, avoiding detection and prosecution.

This crisis attracted the attention of Pope Francis, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby and other faith leaders of the world’s major religious traditions. They felt that faith based communities had a role to play in supporting strategies to combat this evil.

Pope Francis said, “Its victims are from all walks of life, but are most frequently among the poorest and most vulnerable of our brothers and sisters. On behalf of all of them, our communities of faith are called to reject, without exception, any systematic deprivation of individual freedom for the purposes of personal or commercial exploitation.”


This concern lead to a Joint Declaration of Religious Leaders against Modern Slavery on 2 December 2014, written in Rome by the Global Freedom Network (GFN), and hosted by the Pontifical Academy of Science and Social Sciences, care of Monsignor Sanchez Sorondo.


"We, the undersigned, are gathered here today for a historic initiative to inspire spiritual and practical action by all global faiths and people of good will everywhere to eradicate modern slavery across the world by 2020 and for all time.

In the eyes of God*, each human being is a free person, whether girl, boy, woman or man, and is destined to exist for the good of all in equality and fraternity. Modern slavery, in terms of human trafficking, forced labour and prostitution, organ trafficking, and any relationship that fails to respect the fundamental conviction that all people are equal and have the same freedom and dignity, is a crime against humanity.

We pledge ourselves here today to do all in our power, within our faith communities and beyond, to work together for the freedom of all those who are enslaved and trafficked so that their future may be restored. Today we have the opportunity, awareness, wisdom, innovation and technology to achieve this human and moral imperative."

This declaration has gone all over the world and been acted on one way or another by the following religions, represented at the time of the signing by the following signatories:

  • Catholic: Pope Francis
  • Hindu: Her Holiness Mata Amritanandamayi (Amma) 
  • Buddhist: Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh (Thay) (represented by Venerable Bhikkhuni Thich Nu Chan Khong) 
  • Buddhist: The Most Ven. Datuk K Sri Dhammaratana, Chief High Priest of Malaysia 
  • Jewish: Rabbi Dr. Abraham Skorka
  • Jewish: Rabbi Dr. David Rosen
  • Orthodox: His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew (represented by His Eminence Metropolitan Emmanuel of France)
  • Muslim: Mohamed Ahmed El-Tayeb, Grand Imam of Al-Azhar (represented by Dr. Abbas Abdalla Abbas Soliman, Undersecretary of State of Al Azhar Alsharif)
  • Muslim: Grand Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi al-Modarresi 
  • Muslim: Grand Ayatollah Sheikh Basheer Hussain al Najafi (represented by Sheikh Naziyah Razzaq Jaafar, Special advisor of Grand Ayatollah)
  • Muslim: Sheikh Omar Abboud
  • Anglican: Most Revd and Right Hon Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury

This declaration is beginning to be used as a challenge and guide to the interfaith struggle against modern slavery and human trafficking .

To take one example, this declaration was responsible for the convening of a similar local Global Freedom Network hosted event and signed agreement by multi faith representatives in early December 2015 in New Delhi to combat slavery in India. Reuters news agency noted:

“In Thursday’s declaration, 11 spiritual and religious leaders in India pledged to do all within their power to work “for the freedom of all who are enslaved and trafficked so that their future may be restored.” 

As well as Shankar, the signatories included Hindu leaders Morari Bapu and Purjya Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji, Muslim Mufti M. Mukarram Ahmed, Christian leader Alwan Masih and Jewish leader Rabbi Ezekiel Isaac Malekar..

The then GFN CEO Antonia Stampalija said of this cause:

“Modern slavery and human trafficking is happening all over the world. We need to open our eyes to this violent crime and stand united against it. I urge all faiths, all governments, all NGOs, and all people of good will to fight this crime against humanity. We all need to think about our actions, our desires, what we buy, what we consume and how we can make a difference.

We can also look to Archbishop Justin Welby, who is totally committed to supporting the vision of the Global Freedom Network. He has said: “Trafficking in human beings is one of the greatest scandals and tragedies of our age. This outrage should concern each one of us, because what affects one part of humanity affects us all.”


Whereas it might be assumed that the world’s great faiths may have fundamentally different views of a theology of the human person, or of human dignity, or of oppression and the will of God, the opposite has proved to be the case.

Karen Armstrong outlined in her multi faith research work, A History of God (1993), after very careful analysis and participant observer reporting, that it can be shown quite convincingly that, “underlying the seminal values of the world’s great faiths, is a recognisable theme of compassion and the golden rule. This is the celebration and sharing of the human capacity to feel with the other, to have empathy for those who suffer and to seek to minister to those who are oppressed. This essential compassion at the heart of the faith experience addresses the human experience of pain, anxiety and guilt, of identity, purpose and vision. In a great faith this compassion is seen as the ultimate good and gift from the sacred realms, from God, and is of the very nature of God. The word compassion literally means to “feel with”; com meaning “with”; passion meaning “feeling deeply” as God does, as God is. Compassion for those who suffer from the oppression of modern slavery and human trafficking is the ontological reality of a multi -faith approach.”

This high common ground is remarkable given the tendency in some faiths in previous centuries to view slavery as ordained by God, or supported by scripture, or the result of human sin in the victim. Slavery has been endorsed at times by religious leaders. Today, in the common declaration against slavery and trafficking we are seeing the higher spiritual insight and the shared enlightenment of the injustice and the patent evil that slavery and trafficking represent, through the eyes of mature, open faith.

Multi faith approaches to slavery and trafficking include at least five strategies.

Firstly, reforming the law to require businesses to research and cleanse their supply chains of any sign of trafficking. This will improve anti -slavery legislation, enforcement of laws and increased prosecution rates. The legal definition of slavery as a crime against humanity is crucial from an anthropological point of view in terms of human identity, dignity and freedom. It is important to recognise that whereas serious crimes are often subject to statutes of limitation, in most nations, crimes against humanity have no such limits. This means that human traffickers can be prosecuted whatever period of time has elapsed from the time that the crime was committed.

Action in this area also means that governments and authorities are challenged to ensure that businesses are sufficiently regulated and that the assets of the slavers and traffickers are redistributed for the microfinancing of survivor rehabilitation. This is crucial because it might be possible to eliminate slavery as a business in a certain area, but leave those who have survived without food shelter, or clothing, in greater physical poverty than they were before the trafficker/slaver trapped, fed and housed them for hard labour.

Secondly, educating the general population of the need to look for the signs of trafficking and slavery. Focus needs to be on awareness raising campaigns that educate for prevention, the different forms that trafficking and slavery take, and those communities and groupings that are most at risk of predatory trafficking. Educational engagement also needs to occur with key stakeholders like businesses, governments, NGOs, unions and the police, to concentrate their efforts on the most effective strategies that lead to eradication in each country or context.

Thirdly, supporting victims and survivors, undergirding existing services and communities of interest to provide more comprehensive and stronger survivor support networks. This will include emergency accommodation, counselling, friendship, medical support and job seeking advocacy. New networks need to be formed to give survivors a way into accommodation and longer term housing, as well as local resource pools.

Fourthly, supply chain proofing. Ethical purchasing behaviour needs to be promoted, including advocacy and to support the implementation of challenging of suppliers, supplier audits and on site audits, risk assessments, and corrective action to reduce non- compliance, and supply chain policy networks. These activities are difficult to trace, measure and enact, but shared experience and moral support, together with improvements in legislative capacities, like the relatively new Anti- Slavery bill in the British parliament, will help lead the way.

If the world’s major business communities researched all their known supply chains and refused to  trade with any slavers they found there, slavery and trafficking would be seriously compromised as a financial activity and could well be brought to its knees commercially. This would need to be followed, or paralleled by the creation of businesses that might microfinance alterative employment for people who are or who have been, trapped as slaves, as mentioned before.

Fifthly, faith communities have a definite role to play in the care of survivors and also the challenging of business and governments. There is so much to be done. Faith based communities represent 80 per cent of the worlds’ population, and are found embedded in most countries and communities. The possible difference they could make is immense. For example, a relatively new network to emerge, amongst others like the Jewish group (supported by American Muslims) - “Free the Slaves”,   “Stop Slavery Now”, the “Global Freedom Network” and its allied network “Walk Free” - is the “Global Sustainability Network” spearheaded particularly by Catholics, Anglicans and Muslims, seeking to tackle the contexts in which slavery thrives, linking to the United Nations millennium goals. The millennium goals seek to eradicate  poverty, famine, destitution, civil war and unrest, climate change disasters, and hugely disadvantaged economies. These all feed the conditions that make slavery a thriving business.

From an multi faith perspective there is a unique opportunity to collaborate and to put smaller differences aside, in the name of human dignity and human rights, to work from the values and spiritual heart of the faith experience to rid the world of this evil, and to actively seek justice and freedom for those who suffer so much from this crime. Together faith communities in collaboration can provide networks that develop financial, physical and human resources, education and training opportunities, personal friendship and personal prayer for survivors, fasting reflection and a world day of prayer. This is one of the unique gifts a faith based approach can make from any mosque, stupa, synagogue, church, ashram or temple, to offer respectful, unconditional love in the form of long term friendship. This is to be without strings and agendas, but is a gift from one human being to another, alongside the work of agencies and the police.

This cause is one of the first times that the world’s great faiths have agreed to work in this way for a global cause, in such a practical and down to earth way for a specific reason. This was and is neither simple nor easy. The declaration above took over six months to draft and to gain agreement. It was demanding and very nuanced, but it stands today as an agreement we can rely on in the future. This declaration upholds the shared values of compassion, justice seeking and freedom. These have been identified as common cause by many religious leaders, and this emerging high common ground can mobilise people of good faith all over the globe.

Herein lies a great form of inter faith hope  that can make all the difference in the world.

Sir David Moxon KNZM

27 September 2018