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Archbishop of Canterbury and Ecumenical Patriarch commit to tackling modern slavery

Posted on: February 8, 2017 3:18 PM
Archbishop Justin and Patriarch Bartholomew sign a joint declaration on modern slavery, Istanbul, Turkey, 7 February 2017.
Photo Credit: Lambeth Palace

The Archbishop of Canterbury and His All-Holiness Bartholomew of Constantinople have pledged to fight modern slavery in its various forms. Signing a joint declaration condemning modern slavery at a forum in Istanbul, they vowed to :

  • Condemn all forms of human enslavement
  • Commend the efforts of the international community
  • Pray for all victims
  • Repent for not doing enough to curb modern day slavery
  • Appeal to governments to implement strict modern day slavery laws
  • Urge members of the Orthodox Church and Church of England to become educated, raise awareness and take action
  • Commit to establish a joint taskforce for modern day slavery, looking at ways for how the Orthodox Church and the Church of England can work together

Reflecting on the title of the forum, “Sins Before our Eyes” Archbishop Justin said: “Slavery is all around us, but we are too blind to see it. The enslaved are next to us in the streets, but we are too ignorant to walk alongside them. It is still a living reality in all of our communities;  our sin lies in blindness and ignorance”  he said.

“The tragedy of slavery is that it is a human condition of our own making,” the Archbishop added. “It is driven by human greed and those that would make a profit from excessively cheap labour.  Slavery is one of the most profitable international criminal industries. It feeds on human vulnerability. The majority of those who find themselves enslaved come from marginalised and impoverished communities.”

The forum reflected on different dimensions of modern slavery, including in labour exploitation, in supply chains, domestic servitude, prostitution, cyber exploitation, and organ trafficking – targeting the most vulnerable: children and young people, migrants and refugees, those impacted by conflict, inequalities and climate change.  All these factors intersect to render people more vulnerable to the deceptions and brutality of traffickers.

Archbishop Justin highlighted the work of the Church of England, which has set up the Clewer Initiative against Modern Day Slavery, to help dioceses detect instances of modern day slavery and to provide care to its victims.  He also spoke of the work of the Anglican Alliance. “The Anglican Alliance for Development, Relief and Advocacy is doing some much needed work around the Anglican Communion hosting workshops and training sessions for clergy [and others]. This is important and necessary work if we are to challenge the specific context within which slavery is embedded and perpetuated.”

The Bishop of Derby, Alastair Redfern, also Vice-Chair of the Anglican Alliance, told the forum: “Modern slavery is the litmus test of whether the Gospel of Jesus Christ has purchase in our times.” Bishop Alastair argued that the commodification of the human person in slavery points to the modern consumerist notion that “you are free to do what want with whom you want if you can afford it”. 

The forum heard accounts of real life slavery. One story was about Rani, sold aged just 12, who worked in private homes in the UK. Her situation was horrific: a child working seven days a week, sleeping on the floor, with no pay, rarely leaving the house, out of sight. Aged 20, Rani managed to escape and has now become a campaigner for victims of modern slavery.

Recounting Rani’s story, Bishop Redfern said that the child was enslaved and exploited simply “to make other people comfortable.”

Revd Rachel Carnegie, Co-Executive Director of the Anglican Alliance, welcomed the forum’s steps towards greater ecumenical collaboration on ending modern slavery; the Anglican Alliance already works with the Salvation Army and with the Roman Catholic Caritas to connect and equip church leaders and activists for a holistic and effective response. In 2016, regional consultations were held in Africa and South Asia. The Alliance plans to hold similar consultations in other parts of the Communion in the coming year.