Human trafficking and slavery

Confronting the evils of human trafficking and slavery in today’s world.

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Among the gravest violations of human dignity are trafficking and slavery. Today some 50 million people are held in slavery, with migrants and refugees particularly vulnerable to such exploitation.46

The Catechism explicitly condemns the enslavement of human beings, stating: “It is a sin against the dignity of persons and their fundamental rights to reduce them by violence to their productive value or to a source of profit.”47 This was reiterated by the Second Vatican Council, which set out the Church’s opposition to: “slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children; as well as disgraceful working conditions, where men are treated as mere tools for profit, rather than as free and responsible persons”.48

Pope Francis has consistently highlighted the Church’s responsibility to combat trafficking and slavery in today’s context. Addressing the Santa Marta Group, the Holy Father encouraged its work towards “fostering an ever-greater understanding of the scope and nature of human trafficking and to strengthening cooperation on the international, national and local levels so that effective ways to end this scourge may be found and that its victims may receive needed care, both physically and spiritually.”49

The Church in England and Wales has responded to Pope Francis’s lead, with many charities and research groups working to overcome human trafficking and slavery. It is essential that this work continues. Businesses and consumers in our country can also help address these issues. Businesses must ensure that their supply chains are free from slavery and consumers should be alert to situations where they might be buying services provided by people who are held in slavery.

The Church and many charities working in this field, are actively engaged with churches, governments, and relief organisations in countries from which trafficking is most common. This work is vital in helping to promote, in a variety of different ways, better prospects for those who might be trafficked, and it is important that dioceses and parishes support it where they can.

To help reflection on these questions, the Vatican Migrants and Refugees Section has produced Pastoral Orientations on Human Trafficking. This document recognises how restrictive immigration policies force people into the hands of traffickers. It highlights the importance of tackling trafficking and slavery not only through prosecution of organised crime but also upholding people’s right to flourish in their homeland, providing safe channels for migration, and addressing the consumer demand that makes trafficking a profitable endeavour.50

Our principles

  • Reaffirming the Church’s responsibility to help eliminate the evils of trafficking and slavery, we support the work of Catholic organisations such as the Santa Marta Group
  • We recognise that trafficking and slavery are exacerbated by a lack of accessible alternatives for migration or seeking sanctuary – efforts to tackle trafficking and slavery must therefore go beyond more active law enforcement; we also need to support people to flourish in their homelands, establish more safe routes for migrants and refugees, and work to eliminate the demand for those services that slave labour continues to meet


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46. International Labour Organisation, International Organisation for Migration and Walk Free, Global Estimates of Modern Slavery: Forced Labour and Forced Marriage (2022).

47. Catechism of the Catholic Church 2414.

48. Second Vatican Council, Gaudium et Spes (1965) 27.

49. Pope Francis, Audience with members of the Santa Marta Group (2022).

50. Vatican Migrants and Refugees Section, Pastoral Orientations on Human Trafficking (2019).