Forging partnerships against human trafficking

Human trafficking affects millions of victims worldwide in shadowy networks that relatively few people realize exist.

A daylong conference in Rome hosted by the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See and St. Thomas University School of Law May 18 will bring new light to what authorities call modern-day slavery. Organizers also hope it will lead to long-term partnerships that involve the Catholic Church and the corporate sector.

Ambassador Luis CdeBaca, who runs the U.S. State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons and the conference’s keynote speaker, told Catholic News Service that the church can create broader awareness of the evil of trafficking.

Explaining how people are forced into commercial sex will stress the need to fight demand for it, said CdeBaca, a lifelong Catholic. In addition, he explained, shedding light on the fact that laborers work in slavelike conditions to harvest fresh produce, mine precious minerals or manufacture consumer goods from chocolate candy bars to designer clothing, will inform people so they can ask questions about the products they are buying.

“You can’t (fight trafficking) by catching the bad guys and helping the victims,” he said. “You have to fight modern slavery by getting people to make the right choices.

“It’s how can we look and see what our own slavery footprint is.”

By involving the Catholic Church, CdeBaca said he hopes the conference will lead to stronger connections with businesses so that corporate officials are better aware of the insidious nature of human traffickers.

The conference will feature a series of panel discussions on the role of faith communities, corporations and average people in reducing and perhaps eventually eliminating human trafficking. Archbishop Antonio Veglio, president of the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travelers, will give the invocation.

Among the presenters are Miguel Diaz, U.S. ambassador to the Vatican; Salesian Sister Estrella Castalone of the International Union of Superiors General and its Talitha Kum network that focuses on human trafficking; the Rev. David Schilling of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility; Rabbi Rachel Kahn-Troster of Rabbis for Human Rights-North America; and Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., who has worked on child sex trafficking issues.

They will be joined by corporate representatives from information giant LexisNexis, hotel operator Carlson and Body Shop International, which sells health and beauty products. They will discuss their efforts to expose trafficking networks.

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