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Human trafficking and the logic of profit Cardinal — Michael Czerny

Human trafficking and the logic of profit Cardinal — Michael Czerny

Human trafficking and the logic of profit
Cardinal Michael Czerny

Note: you can find tis arti­cle in French below.

Human traf­fick­ing is, after arms traf­fick­ing, one of the most prof­itable mar­kets at the inter­na­tion­al lev­el. The devel­op­ment of Inter­net tech­nolo­gies has con­tributed to the growth of its recruit­ment and exploita­tion ter­ri­to­ries. Every coun­try has become a place of ori­gin, tran­sit and des­ti­na­tion for this traf­fic. A com­mod­i­fi­ca­tion of peo­ple that orig­i­nates in our “waste cul­ture” and our eco­nom­ic system.
Car­di­nal Michael Czerny SJ, under­sec­re­tary of the Migrants and Refugees Section,[1] became in Jan­u­ary 2022 pre­fect ad inter­im of the Dicas­t­ery for the Ser­vice of Inte­gral Human Devel­op­ment. He was advi­sor to the Pres­i­dent of the Pon­tif­i­cal Coun­cil for Jus­tice and Peace from 2010 to 2016. He also direct­ed the Sec­re­tari­at for Social Jus­tice of the Jesuit Gen­er­al Curia in Rome and was the found­ing direc­tor of the African Jesuit AIDS Net­work (AJAN).
The impuni­ty rate for crimes relat­ed to human traf­fick­ing is very high. It is esti­mat­ed that for every two thou­sand known vic­tims, only one pros­e­cu­tion is ini­ti­at­ed. In addi­tion, the num­ber of con­vic­tions for traf­fick­ing in human beings is much low­er than the num­ber of sen­tences for oth­er crimes.[2]
The pur­pose of human traf­fick­ing is to enslave the bod­ies and lives of those caught in its net, for sex­u­al and labor exploita­tion, organ har­vest­ing, sur­ro­gate moth­er­hood and ille­gal adop­tion, beg­ging, forced mar­riages and the recruit­ment of child sol­diers. Accord­ing to the Unit­ed Nations Office on Drugs and Crime,[3] the major­i­ty of vic­tims of human traf­fick­ing are women and girls, exploit­ed pri­mar­i­ly for sex­u­al pur­pos­es. They are par­tic­u­lar­ly from South­east and South Asia, although the African con­ti­nent has the high­est rate of traf­fick­ing vic­tims per capi­ta, fol­lowed by East­ern Europe.

Leftovers” requested…

Traf­fick­ing in human beings reduces its vic­tims to the sta­tus of com­modi­ties that can be bought and sold on a mar­ket, and that are exploit­ed as labor or even as “raw mate­r­i­al” in mul­ti­ple and unimag­in­able ways. This com­mod­i­fi­ca­tion and exploita­tion of peo­ple on a glob­al scale has its source in the “cul­ture of waste”[4] repeat­ed­ly con­demned by Pope Fran­cis, which makes mon­ey a god. Thus the accu­mu­la­tion of cap­i­tal grad­u­al­ly trans­forms work into a “means” and mon­ey into an “end.”[5] Enor­mous mass­es of peo­ple find them­selves mar­gin­al­ized, because deprived of decent work, becom­ing “waste, leftovers.”[6]
In addi­tion to unem­ploy­ment and the lack of healthy, safe, dig­ni­fied, and rea­son­ably paid jobs, there are oth­er root caus­es that con­tribute to the spread of the scourge of human traf­fick­ing. These are pover­ty, gen­der inequal­i­ty, lack of social pro­tec­tion (med­ical care, edu­ca­tion, decent liv­ing con­di­tions), forced dis­place­ment, iso­la­tion of rur­al areas, cor­rup­tion, racism and dis­crim­i­na­tion, fam­i­ly dis­rup­tion, com­mu­nal vio­lence and sex­u­al vio­lence against women…
This com­mod­i­fi­ca­tion and exploita­tion of human beings also responds to a “demand” with­in our soci­eties (Pas­toral Ori­en­ta­tions, 20). Pope Fran­cis is explic­it about this: “If there are so many… vic­tims of traf­fick­ing… it is because many,… here, ask for these services.”[7] Yet, appar­ent­ly, most con­sumers are lit­tle aware of this traf­fick­ing and the exploita­tion that is linked to it.

A Kafkaesque spiral

HUMAN TRAFFICKING is also unfold­ing in con­nec­tion with the tech­no­log­i­cal advances of the Inter­net. The web has pro­vid­ed traf­fick­ers with new forms of recruit­ment and vir­tu­al exploita­tion, and the pan­dem­ic has increased their use. Social media attracts vic­tims and makes it dif­fi­cult to detect and pros­e­cute these crimes: “Vic­tims of human traf­fick­ing are often manip­u­lat­ed and trapped in psy­cho­log­i­cal pat­terns that do not allow them to escape, seek help, or even under­stand that they have been-or worse, are still-vic­tims of crim­i­nal activ­i­ty” (Pas­toral Guid­ance, 23). In 2021, the Inter­net has become the pri­ma­ry tool of crim­i­nal groups. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, law enforce­ment author­i­ties are often not ade­quate­ly equipped to respond to the chal­lenge of online trafficking.
“Vic­tims of human traf­fick­ing usu­al­ly remain invis­i­ble… Many peo­ple are inclined to denounce the HUMAN TRAFFICKING that occurs else­where, with­out real­iz­ing that it also unfolds in their neigh­bor­hood” (Pas­toral Guide­lines, 23). The per­pe­tra­tors of human traf­fick­ing are pro­tect­ed by a vast con­spir­a­cy of silence, even where work­ing con­di­tions are bet­ter. Cor­rup­tion is ram­pant, not only in com­pa­nies of all sizes, but also in fam­i­lies that recruit, send or sell young and vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple, who thus become objects of trafficking.
It is also very dif­fi­cult to be rec­og­nized as a vic­tim because of bureau­crat­ic legal pro­ce­dures. The main obsta­cle, a for­mi­da­ble para­dox, is to prove that as a vic­tim of traf­fick­ing, one is not guilty of offens­es under immi­gra­tion, labor or fam­i­ly laws or any oth­er pro­vi­sion of the crim­i­nal code. These vic­tims must there­fore fight to prove that they did not give their con­sent to their own entrap­ment and exploitation.
How­ev­er, even when vic­tims are rec­og­nized as such, their sit­u­a­tion may remain dif­fi­cult. Most of them need long-term assis­tance due to the con­se­quences of trau­ma on their men­tal health or because of their sta­tus as for­eign­ers. In this case, the recog­ni­tion of their right to stay in the host coun­try is linked to the legal recog­ni­tion of their sta­tus as vic­tims. How­ev­er, the two pro­ce­dures often do not take place in a coor­di­nat­ed man­ner, which can increase the vic­tim­iza­tion of the per­son. As a result, vic­tims of traf­fick­ing fall through the cracks of the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tems and do not ben­e­fit from the assis­tance offered by gov­ern­ments and civ­il soci­ety organizations.

A commercial dynamic

Lit­tle is known about the com­mer­cial dynam­ics of this traf­fic. The Pas­toral Guide­lines defined by the Migrants and Refugees Sec­tion of the Dicas­t­ery for the Ser­vice of Inte­gral Human Devel­op­ment help to shed light on the sub­ject. “The mod­ern world of finance, com­merce, trans­porta­tion and com­mu­ni­ca­tions offers unscrupu­lous peo­ple the oppor­tu­ni­ty to enter the sys­tem of entrap­ment and exploita­tion of human beings. [This is the case] in indus­tries such as agri­cul­ture, fish­eries, con­struc­tion, and min­ing… When well-inten­tioned efforts are made to counter human traf­fick­ing, unscrupu­lous entre­pre­neurs sim­ply change their tac­tics to avoid coun­ter­mea­sures” (Pas­toral Ori­en­ta­tions, 29).
Thus “the traf­fick­ing of human beings is often hid­den in the labyrinth of sup­ply chains. Increas­ing­ly com­pet­i­tive mar­kets force com­pa­nies to reduce labor costs and pro­cure raw mate­ri­als at the low­est pos­si­ble prices” (Pas­toral Ori­en­ta­tions, 32). Peo­ple should be able to rely on goods sup­plied in accor­dance with pub­lic pro­cure­ment pro­ce­dures and whose sup­ply chains are free of labor exploita­tion. “The demand for cheap goods, pro­vid­ed through low-cost labor, should [there­fore] be prompt­ly and ade­quate­ly addressed through both pub­lic aware­ness and ‑leg­is­la­tion… [and] require all com­pa­nies, espe­cial­ly those oper­at­ing transna­tion­al­ly and sourc­ing from devel­op­ing coun­tries, to invest in trans­paren­cy and account­abil­i­ty [of] their sup­ply chains” (Pas­toral Ori­en­ta­tions, 33).
An econ­o­my that kills
In a dereg­u­lat­ed mar­ket where only the cal­cu­la­tion of prof­its and loss­es counts, peo­ple are just num­bers to be exploit­ed. 8 “Such an econ­o­my kills,”[9] Pope Fran­cis has stat­ed blunt­ly and provoca­tive­ly. And we must trans­form it.
The goal is to build a soci­ety that puts the human per­son at the cen­ter. 10] The Holy Father has out­lined a path to pro­mote jus­tice and a new econ­o­my of care. An econ­o­my that cares for peo­ple and nature, that pro­vides prod­ucts and ser­vices for the com­mon good, and that enables all peo­ple, men, women and chil­dren, to live in secu­ri­ty and in healthy com­mu­ni­ties. An econ­o­my in which we are all “broth­ers” — fratel­li tutti.
To erad­i­cate the scourge of human traf­fick­ing, we must end gen­der dis­crim­i­na­tion and pro­mote inte­gral human devel­op­ment and care for nature as par­a­digms for a new econ­o­my. 12] This means invest­ing in peo­ple rather than in mon­e­tary prof­its, and lim­it­ing the con­cen­tra­tion of pow­er and wealth in the hands of a few. 13]

Developing collaboration

Inter­na­tion­al coop­er­a­tion at all lev­els is also essen­tial to dis­man­tle struc­tures of oppres­sion and exploita­tion, to respond ade­quate­ly and inclu­sive­ly to traf­fick­ing in per­sons and the demand that fos­ters it, and to fos­ter sus­tain­able devel­op­ment. Just as inter­na­tion­al crime can only be com­bat­ed through a shared com­mit­ment, so too must we work more close­ly with a range of orga­ni­za­tions from the pri­vate sec­tor, gov­ern­ments and aca­d­e­m­ic insti­tu­tions, civ­il soci­ety, and religions.
Trans­for­ma­tion at a deep­er lev­el is also need­ed to elim­i­nate the demand for traf­ficked “bod­ies.” Pope Fran­cis invites us to pray that “God will free all those who have been threat­ened, injured or abused by human traf­fick­ing and con­sole those who have sur­vived such inhu­mane treat­ment.” He calls on each of   us to “open our eyes, to see the mis­ery of those who have been stripped of their dig­ni­ty and free­dom and to hear their cry for help.”[14]

[1] The Migrants and Refugees Sec­tion is part of the Dicas­t­ery for the Ser­vice of Inte­gral Human Development.
[2] OSCE, 20th Con­fer­ence of the Alliance against Traf­fick­ing in Per­sons. “Putting an end to impuni­ty. Bring­ing jus­tice by pros­e­cut­ing human traf­fick­ers,” Vien­na, July 20–22, 2020.
[3] Unit­ed Nations, Office on Drugs and Crime and the 2020 Glob­al Report on Traf­fick­ing in Persons.
[4] Pope Fran­cis, Evan­gelii Gaudi­um, Novem­ber 24, 2013, § 53, pp. 46–47.
[5] Migrants and Refugees Sec­tion, Inte­gral Human Devel­op­ment Ser­vice, Pas­toral Guide­lines on Traf­fick­ing in Per­sons, Vat­i­can City 2019, § 19, p. 11. Sub­se­quent ref­er­ences to this work in my text indi­cate the para­graph num­bers cit­ed. To be read in full at
[6] Con­gre­ga­tion for the Doc­trine of the Faith and Dicas­t­ery for the Ser­vice of Inte­gral Human Devel­op­ment, Œco­nom­i­cae et pecu­niari­ae quaes­tiones. Con­sid­er­a­tions for an Eth­i­cal Dis­cern­ment on Some Aspects of the Cur­rent Eco­nom­ic and Finan­cial Sys­tem, Vat­i­can City, 6 Jan­u­ary 2018, §15.
[7] Pope Fran­cis, Address to the Par­tic­i­pants in IVe World Day of Prayer and Reflec­tion against Traf­fick­ing in Human Beings, Vat­i­can City, 12 Feb­ru­ary 2018.
[8] Pope Fran­cis, Video Mes­sage on the Occa­sion of 7e World Day of Prayer and Reflec­tion against Traf­fick­ing in Human Beings, Vat­i­can City, 8 Feb­ru­ary 2021.
[9] Pope Fran­cis, Evan­gelii gaudi­um, op. cit. [
10] Pope Fran­cis, video mes­sage on the occa­sion of the 7e World Day of Prayer and Reflec­tion against Traf­fick­ing in Human Beings, op. cit. [
11] Named after Pope Francis
’ encycli­cal let­ter, Fratel­li tut­ti. On Fra­ter­ni­ty and Social Friend­ship, of Octo­ber 3, 2020. (n.d.l.r. )
[12] Pope Fran­cis, video mes­sage on the occa­sion of the inter­na­tion­al online event The Econ­o­my of Fran­cis­co. Young Peo­ple, a Pact, the Future, Vat­i­can City, Novem­ber 21, 2020.
[13] Idem.
[14] Pope Fran­cis, mes­sage to the Catholic Bish­ops’ Con­fer­ence of Eng­land and Wales for the Day for Life, June 17, 2018 (unof­fi­cial trans­la­tion by the author).

Pastoral Orientations

The Vat­i­can’s Migrants and Refugees Sec­tion has issued Pas­toral Guid­ance on Traf­fick­ing in Per­sons (2019) with guid­ance on how to com­bat human traf­fick­ing and assist its victims.

Devel­op­ing partnership

“The imple­men­ta­tion of the Paler­mo Pro­to­col has been broad­ly pre­sent­ed in terms of three nouns begin­ning with a P: pre­ven­tion, pro­tec­tion and pros­e­cu­tion… There is also anoth­er P: part­ner­ship, which is no less impor­tant… The lack of col­lab­o­ra­tion-or even com­pe­ti­tion-between var­i­ous gov­ern­men­tal actors often ren­ders well-inten­tioned poli­cies and pro­grams inef­fec­tive” (Pas­toral Ori­en­ta­tions, 38). “Greater coop­er­a­tion is need­ed” through the shar­ing among States of “rel­e­vant infor­ma­tion on HUMAN TRAFFICKING…and devel­op­ing joint pre­ven­tion, pro­tec­tion and pros­e­cu­tion inter­ven­tions” (Pas­toral Ori­en­ta­tions, 39). “To be effec­tive, coop­er­a­tion and coor­di­na­tion must also involve civ­il soci­ety, faith-based orga­ni­za­tions and reli­gious lead­ers as well as the busi­ness com­mu­ni­ty and the media” (Pas­toral Ori­en­ta­tions, 39).
Tech­nol­o­gy offers oppor­tu­ni­ties to com­bat traf­fick­ing in per­sons, includ­ing stream­lin­ing bureau­crat­ic pro­ce­dures, estab­lish­ing direct con­tact with NGOs and law enforce­ment author­i­ties, and launch­ing aware­ness and edu­ca­tion cam­paigns. Like­wise, inter­na­tion­al coop­er­a­tion has become eas­i­er: the coor­di­na­tion and imple­men­ta­tion of joint oper­a­tions in real time and to the end is one of the great suc­cess­es achieved through tech­nol­o­gy. This has made it pos­si­ble to dis­man­tle major crim­i­nal networks.

Putting vic­tims back at the center

“Rein­te­grat­ing sur­vivors of human traf­fick­ing into soci­ety is not a sim­ple issue, giv­en the trau­ma they have expe­ri­enced. Their many needs are first phys­i­cal, then psy­cho­log­i­cal and spir­i­tu­al; they need to heal from the trau­ma, stig­ma and social iso­la­tion they have expe­ri­enced” (Pas­toral Ori­en­ta­tions, 41). Vic­tims become empow­ered when they achieve auton­o­my, per­son­al growth and accep­tance by soci­ety. For this to hap­pen, pub­lic poli­cies at all lev­els must take into account the gen­der differences[1] that exist in the main con­texts of dai­ly life (fam­i­ly, com­mu­ni­ty, edu­ca­tion, work). In India, for exam­ple, male own­er­ship of land is the source of a series of eco­nom­ic, social, cul­tur­al and legal obsta­cles to wom­en’s empowerment.

A net­work of care

A good exam­ple of a response to HUMAN TRAFFICKING is Tal­itha Kum, an inter­na­tion­al net­work set up by the Inter­na­tion­al Union of Supe­ri­ors (UISG) on five con­ti­nents. These sis­ters take care, first of all, of the vic­tims, their fam­i­lies and the peo­ple in dan­ger. They help them to heal their phys­i­cal and psy­cho­log­i­cal wounds. They also empow­er vic­tims, sur­vivors and peo­ple at risk to make their voic­es heard. Final­ly, they con­tribute to restor­ing the human dig­ni­ty of vic­tims by pro­mot­ing their access to jus­tice from a vic­tim-cen­tered perspective.

[1] UN Women, Turn­ing promis­es into action: gen­der equal­i­ty in the 2030 Agen­da for Sus­tain­able Devel­op­ment, 2018.


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