GFN2020, producing real change in the world



By Michael M. Canaris

The Global Freedom Network is an inter-faith organization working with the Vatican to eradicate modern slavery, human trafficking, and personal or commercial exploitation of those without a voice. New Zealand native Rev. Sir David Moxon, the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby’s representative to the Holy See, and GFN CEO Antonia Stampalija, an Australian lay woman specializing in strategic planning and leadership effectiveness, both based here in Rome, had dinner with a group of us from various pontifical universities recently to discuss their work with Archbishop Marcel Sánchez Sorondo, Chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of the Sciences and of the Pontifical Academy of the Social Sciences.

In addition to upcoming conferences, publications, and awareness-raising efforts, the GFN has produced a guide in collaboration with the Walk Free Foundation to direct businesses how best to audit their supply chains in the effort to eliminate participatory links with the over 30 million enslaved people across the globe. I was stunned to learn that more people are enslaved today than in all of earlier human history combined.

Human trafficking is often intertwined with related disreputable “industries:” illegal drug and arms trading, forced pornography and prostitution, child labor, and political corruption. The boundaries between these areas, like those between nations, are often completely ignored by the traffickers. All of this makes it increasingly difficult to combat with traditional means of law enforcement and prosecution. Moxon made clear that legitimate businesses should be respected for uncovering and rectifying links with any of these channels of modern slavery in their networks, means of production, and investment portfolios, not vilified for having them — provided they move toward full transparency and push their associates and financial backers to do the same. The goal is to work to eliminate such a scourge on human dignity and self-determination by the end of the decade, hence their website’s name:

The pope is supportive of their efforts, as he has made the issue a priority dating back to his time in Argentina. It seems likely that he will ask that Feb. 8, the feast of the former Sudanese kidnap victim and slave St. Josephine Bakhita, be recognized as a worldwide day of prayer and fasting to end human trafficking, particularly focused on victims in the illegal sex trade.

Stampalija told me: “Modern slavery and human trafficking are hidden crimes that need to be exposed and eradicated from our society. This is a global issue that requires a global response. Together, we hope to join with leaders in faith, government, and business, along with all people of goodwill, to prove we can stop the exploitation of women and men, girls and boys. But we must not hesitate; we must take action now.”

Their website makes clear that this work cuts across denominational, religious and ideological lines and can result in action producing real change in the world. In the Gospel of Luke, Christ’s programmatic introduction to his own mission read through the lens of Isaiah 61, says very clearly that he came: “to bring good news to the poor,” “to proclaim the release of captives” and “to liberate the oppressed.” We who hope to be counted among his collaborators in the coming of the Kingdom of God cannot shirk our responsibility to be “full, active, and conscious” participants in this work.

Collingswood native Michael M. Canaris, Ph.D., Pontifical University of St. Thomas (Angelicum), Rome.