As we commemorate our nation’s independence and its values of liberty and justice for all, it is a shocking fact that slavery and human trafficking have been experiencing a dramatic resurgence in recent years.
Trafficking in persons is the coerced use of people as a form of commerce, in slave labor and extreme forms of sexual exploitation. It is a multibillion-dollar-a-year growth industry.
Just last month, the U.S. State Department released its 2010 Report on Human Trafficking. Its authors estimate that 12.3 million adults and children are currently held in modern-day slavery, including forced labor and prostitution. And for the first time, the report included the United States in its rankings, based on the same standards on which we judge other countries. This is a reminder that trafficking is not just a foreign enterprise, but occurs in many American cities as well.In fact, human trafficking is the third-largest criminal enterprise worldwide, behind trafficking in drugs and weapons. Yet there were only 4,166 successful prosecutions of human traffickers in 2009.
The mission of Catholic Relief Services is rooted in protecting and promoting the sacredness and dignity of human life, a principle that is at the heart of Catholic social teaching. This principle grounds our commitment to preventing and combating human trafficking, which disproportionately impacts the poor and marginalized, particularly women and children.
CRS has programs around the world aimed at stopping trafficking before it happens. We fight the root causes that lead people to become ensnared by traffickers, namely the social, political and economic disparities that increase the suffering of the poor and vulnerable and lead them to be considered commodities to be bought and sold.
Recently, one of our CRS partners, Brother Xavier Plassat, a French Dominican friar who works in Brazil, was honored by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as one of nine heroes—people from around the world who are combating human trafficking. Brother Xavier is coordinator of the Pastoral Land Commission’s (CPT) National Campaign Against Slave Labor, an agency of the Brazilian bishops’ conference comprising an extensive network of volunteers dedicated to eradicating slavery in Brazil.
The campaign helps workers in the northeastern part of the country who live in a state of virtual indentured servitude. They are lured to jobs on ranches, in charcoal production, or on sugar and soybean plantations. They are paid little, live in deplorable conditions and are charged exorbitant fees for their housing and transportation, which keeps them in perpetual debt to their employers.
Brother Xavier’s organization informs workers about their rights and helps them to demand respect. The Pastoral Land Commission is a leader in the national campaign to change exploitative labor practices. It advocates creating or strengthening laws and demands they be enforced. It also works with the government to sanction landowners and ensure compensation is made to victims and to broader society. Additionally, the commission promotes a national pact that is essentially a code of conduct for corporations, including multinationals, aimed at eliminating forced labor in their supply chains.
It is through the work of people like Brother Xavier, and the many other partners CRS has around the world, that we can hope that the evil of human trafficking may one day be a sad artifact from to our past.
Thank you for your continued support and your prayers.
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