Archbishop of Canterbury and Ecumenical Patriarch Commit to Tackle Modern Slavery

8 February 2017

From left: Bishop of Derby, Archbishop of Canterbury and Anglican Alliance Co-Executive Director at the Forum on Modern Slavery held this week in Istanbul

A Forum on Modern Slavery was held this week in Istanbul under the auspices of the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch and the Archbishop of Canterbury. The two church leaders signed a declaration committing to the establishment of a joint taskforce for active collaboration on tackling modern slavery.

The Anglican Alliance was invited to participate in the forum given its on-going work connecting and supporting the capacity of the Anglican Provinces to respond to modern slavery and human trafficking in their own contexts.

A child’s story

The forum heard accounts of real life slavery. One story was about Rani, sold aged just 12, who worked in private homes in the UK. Her situation was horrific: a child working seven days a week, sleeping on the floor, with no pay, rarely leaving the house, out of sight. Aged 20, Rani managed to escape and has now become a campaigner for victims of modern slavery.

Recounting Rani’s story, the Bishop of Derby Alastair Redfern said that the child was enslaved and exploited simply “to make other people comfortable.”

Reflections from the Forum

Reflecting on the title of the forum, “Sins Before our Eyes”, Archbishop Justin Welby said: “Slavery is all around us, but we are too blind to see it… The enslaved are next to us in the streets, but we are too ignorant to walk alongside them… It is still a living reality in all of our communities … our sin lies in blindness and ignorance.

“The tragedy of slavery is that it is a human condition of our own making,” the Archbishop added. “It is driven by human greed and those that would make a profit from excessively cheap labour… Slavery is one of the most profitable international criminal industries. It feeds on human vulnerability. The majority of those who find themselves enslaved come from marginalised and impoverished communities.”

Archbishop Justin highlighted the work of the Church of England, which has set up the Clewer Initiative against Modern Day Slavery. “Drawing on the excellent work and leadership of the Bishop of Derby, this initiative aims to help dioceses detect instances of modern day slavery and to provide care to its victims.”

Archbishop Justin also spoke of the work of the Anglican Alliance. “The Anglican Alliance for Development, Relief and Advocacy is doing some much needed work around the Anglican Communion hosting workshops and training sessions for clergy [and others]. This is important and necessary work if we are to challenge the specific context within which slavery is embedded and perpetuated.”

Bishop Alastair Redfern, also Vice-Chair of the Anglican Alliance, told the forum: “Modern slavery is the litmus test of whether the Gospel of Jesus Christ has purchase in our times.”

Bishop Alastair argued that the commodification of the human person in slavery points to the modern consumerist notion that “you are free to do what want with whom you want if you can afford it”.

The forum reflected on different dimensions of modern slavery – including in labour exploitation, in supply chains, domestic servitude, prostitution, cyber exploitation, and organ trafficking – targeting the most vulnerable: children and young people, migrants and refugees, those impacted by conflict, inequalities and climate change. All these factors intersect to render people more vulnerable to the deceptions and brutality of traffickers.

Echoing the theme of the forum – “Sins before our eyes” – participants discussed the need to place . “a mirror before our eyes”. We need to perceive our personal complicity in our blindness to slavery in our midst and in our role as consumers of goods made by slaves. Slavery was understood to reflect both personal and structural sin.

“Our inaction perpetuates slavery,” was the key message from Mr Juwang Zhu, Director for the Division of Sustainable Development at the United Nations’ Department for Economic Affairs. Mr Juwang said that faith communities can raise the voices of victims and serve as “the conscience of society against slavery.” He also called for greater collaboration, highlighting the value of partnerships with faith communities.

A framework for church responses

Revd Rachel Carnegie, Co-Executive Director of the Anglican Alliance, welcomed the forum’s steps towards greater ecumenical collaboration on ending modern slavery. She explained how the Anglican Alliance already works with the Salvation Army and with the Roman Catholic Caritas to connect and equip church leaders and activists for a holistic and effective response. In 2016, regional consultations were held in Africa and South Asia. The Alliance plans to hold similar consultations in other parts of the Communion in the coming year.

Each context needs to consider different dimensions, churches working together with other faith groups, governments and civil society, to make an impact. Rachel outlined the strategic framework which has been developed through the Anglican Alliance’s initiative, known as the 6+1 Ps.

  • Prevention at community level, through awareness raising, addressing root causes, etc
  • Policy & advocacy on government legislation and action, investment, commercial supply chains
  • Protection, care and support and empowerment for survivors, preventing re-trafficking
  • Prosecution of perpetrators to end impunity, including work with police and judiciary
  • Partnership with other ecumenical, interfaith, government and secular partners
  • Participation of local churches in a global movement, including marking Freedom Sunday + Prayer to ask for God’s grace on this work.

The point is not that the Church should respond in all dimensions; rather that the Church can find out which government or civil society agencies are working in each dimension and discern where the Church can contribute, building on its own specific gifts and opportunities for moral leadership and practical action – an asset-based approach.

The forum agreed that a victim-centred approach was crucial – listening to the experiences of victims and survivors and involving them in the solutions. Rachel described the most powerful moment in a recent Alliance consultation, when the group met young people who had been rescued from slavery as child circus performers. No longer describing themselves as ‘victims’ or even ‘survivors’, these young people now called themselves ‘activists’, working to raise awareness in communities in Nepal to prevent human trafficking.

The commitment to joint action

In his opening address, His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew spoke of the need for “a culture of solidarity”. The Ecumenical Patriarch and the Archbishop of Canterbury called for common action and made a commitment to collaboration between their churches.

Their Joint Declaration said: “For religious communities worldwide and for the global human rights community, the protection of human dignity and fundamental human rights is of the utmost importance. The role of the Church in the world is “to preach good news to the poor, to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim release to the captives and to set at liberty the oppressed” (Isaiah 61.1; Luke 4:18)”.


Click here to read the Archbishop of Canterbury’s address in full and the Joint Declaration on Modern Slavery.

Click here for the Freedom Sunday materials. This resource includes facts about modern slavery, Bible reflections, prayers and ideas for action. It can be adapted to the local context.

Please let the Anglican Alliance know about your work so that we can share it with others in the Communion, to learn from and encourage each other in our work towards ending the crime against humanity that is modern slavery. Write to