Slavery yesterday and today
Past reflections and future perspectives
Every year on 10 of May, the national commemoration of the memory of the slave trade, slavery and their abolition takes place in Paris. This year, the event was organised on Thursday 10 May 2018 by the Association of the Friends of General Dumas, with the support of the City of Paris, the Centre des Musées Nationaux, and under the high patronage of the President of the French Republic.
The desire to remember the slaves of the past should be applauded, without falling into triumphalism and complacency. There is indeed an urgent need to make a concrete commitment to the liberation of modern slaves and to the abolition of all contemporary forms of trafficking.
Slavery has not disappeared. Although it is prohibited by a series of national and international legal instruments, slavery is on the rise throughout the world, including in Europe, even if it is often invisible.
Poverty, economic and political instability, conflicts, the demographic explosion of certain countries, climate change, the movement of refugees and migrants, ethnic and religious persecution make millions of women and children, but also men, vulnerable to criminal networks which, by coercion or false promises, reduce these people to servitude even in our countries.
Conditions favouring contemporary slavery have multiplied throughout the world: demographic and economic imbalances, increased vulnerability of millions of people mainly in developing countries. That vulnerability is linked to armed conflicts, dictatorships, climate change, environmental degradation, natural and technological disasters, lack of education and access to the labour market.
And often, these factors combine with competition exasperated by globalisation and the use of forced labour in agriculture, deforestation, fishing, construction, hotels and restaurants, mining, the clothing industry, not to mention sexual exploitation, child trafficking and the illegal trade in embryos and human organs. The lack of rule of law and corruption guaranteeing impunity to criminal networks and depriving victims of protection. Mass movements of vulnerable populations expose refugees and migrants but also internally displaced persons to false promises by these criminals.
Most contemporary slaves become slaves, not because they are kidnapped, but because they respond positively to a false job offer, a trap towards forced labour, towards forced prostitution.
Medical progress allowing organ transplants creates a considerable demand for donors, voluntary or not, and an international market for organ trafficking. There are also new forms of slavery linked to surrogacy, the purchase and sale of children internationally, not to mention servitudes and traditional cultural slavery practices that have not disappeared.
Slavery is developing today at levels that go beyond what we have known in previous centuries: in 2010, there were an estimated 27 million slaves in the world. This figure represents double the number of all African slaves who were forced to emigrate from Africa to the Americas. In 2018, the latest estimates produced by international organizations put the number of people deprived of freedoms at over 45 million worldwide, with strong growth between 2010 and 2018. The profits of modern slavery in the world, according to the same sources, exceed 150 billion dollars.
According to the Global Slavery Index (www.globalslaveryindex.org/findings), 58% of victims are in 5 countries: India, China, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Uzbekistan. Women and girls account for 71% of slaves, or nearly 29 million people. One in four victims of modern slavery is a child, or about 10 million. In Europe, estimates are estimated at more than one million, most of them from Romania, Bulgaria and Slovakia, and from Nigeria, China and Brazil. Forced labour and sexual exploitation are the most widespread forms of slavery in Europe. In Italy, there are about 130,000 slaves today according to the "Walk Free" Foundation (www.walkfreefoundation.org).
There is a general need for awareness, information and training. A comprehensive effort at national, regional and international levels is needed to address this massive global denial of fundamental human rights.
This year, as we commemorate the abolition of slavery in the 19th century, we should draw inspiration from the abolitionists of past centuries, their struggles and their values, which are close to ours: 2018 is also the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the 20th anniversary of the adoption of the Statute of the International Criminal Court (which qualifies certain slavery practices respectively as war crimes and crimes against humanity). It is a good time for the international community to mobilise and make a renewed call for the abolition of contemporary slavery, directed at Governments, religious and spiritual authorities, international organizations, civil society, not to mention the business community and opinion-leaders.
On 2 December 2014, at Casina Pio IV, the headquarters of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and Social Sciences, Catholic, Anglican, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish and Orthodox religious leaders signed a Joint Declaration against Modern Slavery as a public declaration of their commitment to work together in spiritual and practical action to eradicate this crime against humanity and restore the dignity and freedom of its victims.
The text of the declaration signed by Pope Francis and other religious leaders states:
"We, the undersigned, are gathered here today for an historic initiative to inspire the spiritual and practical action of all world religions and people of good will throughout the world to eradicate modern slavery in the world by 2020 and forever.
In the eyes of God, every human being is a free person, girl, boy, woman or man, and is destined to exist for the good of all in equality and brotherhood. Modern slavery, in terms of human trafficking, forced labour and prostitution, organ trafficking, and any relationship that does not respect the fundamental belief that all human beings are equal and have the same freedom and dignity, is a crime against humanity.
We pledge here today to do everything 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, the conscience, the wisdom, the innovation and the technology to realize this human and moral imperative."
In everyday reality, the victims of slavery living alongside us need reception, protection and reintegration structures. The victims are invisible, unlike other periods in the history of slavery. This real invisibility contributes to an inadequate awareness of our authorities and our aid structures, whether public or private.
The most urgent and necessary action is to promote knowledge of the facts and development processes of modern slavery. Governments and civil society must also take measures to help and rehabilitate the victims of modern slavery. Finally, prevention through education and other economic, social and political measures that restore the rule of law, ensure the protection and rehabilitation of survivors and the prosecution of criminals are needed.
On the occasion of the Forum held in Buenos Aires from 5 to 8 May 2018 on modern slavery, "Old Problems of the New World", Pope Francis expressed his support and concern for the victims of modern slavery:
"No one can wash their hands of this tragic reality, if they do not want to be complicit in this crime against humanity”
Ambassador of the Sovereign Order of Malta to monitor and combat trafficking in persons
Deputy Permanent Observer of the Order of Malta at the U.N. in Geneva