Setting the captives free - Human trafficking, exploitation and modern slavery

Overcoming human trafficking, modern day slavery and labour exploitation are among issues that Wellington Catholic Archbishop John Dew discussed with other Catholic and Police leaders at a meeting in London last week.

"The purpose of the meeting was to bring together strategies that will utilise resources regionally, nationally and internationally to improve the care and support provided to victims and promote better relationships between law enforcement and the NGOS sectors. One of the main objectives of increased partnerships will be the sharing of intelligence resulting in the identification of more victims and a significant increase in prosecutions."

The meeting, of 104 participants from about 25 countries, occurred at the same time that Pope Francis, along with leaders of the world's major religions gathered together in the Vatican with the aim of eliminating modern slavery.

The Conference was hosted by Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster and Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. Present were Commissioners of a number of other Police Forces, the Director of Europol, representatives of Interpol from around the world, bishops and many others who have been working for a long time to overcome what is now a huge problem, with an estimated 40 million people trafficked around the world.

Archbishop John says the recent release of the Global slavery index 2014 estimating that 600 people are in modern slavery in New Zealand is a wake-up call.

“This is not just an issue affecting people far away,” says Archbishop John. “We need to get used to the idea that people in New Zealand are trapped working and living in situations against their will, and we need to find ways to ‘set the captives free’.”

Exploitation of migrant workers in the agriculture and hospitality industries, debt bondage on fishing vessels in New Zealand waters, and the risk of young or migrant workers being forced into prostitution are areas of concern in this country.

“Many of us are becoming aware of the need to be informed consumers when it comes to buying goods manufactured overseas. But we also need to be informed consumers about the working conditions in the local restaurants we eat at, and in the local orchards and fields our food comes from.”

Archbishop John says while the New Zealand government must ensure that there are sufficient labour inspectors to monitor working conditions, we also need to ensure that the most vulnerable workers are enabled to organise themselves and to speak up about their own working conditions.

Pope Francis and the Archbishop of Canterbury, the head of the Anglican Church, have agreed to work closely together on issues of human trafficking and modern day slavery.