World Religious Leaders Sign Declaration Against Modern Slavery

A note Pope Francis hand-wrote shortly after entering the papacy to Chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, said, “it would be good to examine human trafficking.” This sparked the series of recent events that led to the Declaration. Along with Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and Founder of the Walk Free Foundation, Andrew Forrest, Pope Francis spearheaded the Global Freedom Network (GFN) initiative, which then organized the Joint Declaration of Religious Leaders Against Modern Slavery.


The Declaration takes a distinctly faith-based perspective, stating that “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” and that “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.”


The Declaration did not set any concrete action steps to execute their plan, but rather declared a formal commitment on the part of the world’s religious people to take action on slavery. In doing such, the signatories promised to “do all in [their] power, within [their] 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.”


In his speech at the event, Pope Francis said that “each human being–man, woman, boy, or girl, is the image of God, [thus] all people are equal and should be granted the same freedom and the same dignity,” and that “any discriminatory relationship that does not respect the fundamental conviction that others are equal is a crime, and frequently an aberrant crime.”


Mata Amritanandamayi, a Hindu spiritual leader often called “Amma” (“mother”) echoed the Pope’s sentiment, saying, “We need to develop empathy, allowing the divinity within each person to be realized.”


Following the signing of the declaration, the White House spoke out in support of the GFN, as the US holds an estimated 61,000 of the world’s slaves. Even before noting his support of the Joint Declaration, President Obama stated the importance of eradicating slavery, “we know that every life saved — in the words of [our] great [Emancipation] Proclamation — is ‘an act of justice,’ worthy of ‘the considerate judgment of mankind, and the gracious favor of Almighty God.’”


The anti-human trafficking movement has also taken off on Twitter using the hashtag #EndSlavery. Pope Francis himself tweeted at the event: “No more slavery. We are all brothers and sisters. #EndSlavery.”

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