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New interfaith body will tackle slavery

21 March 2014


Agreed: Bishop Sanchez Sorondo (seated left) and Dr Mahmoud Azab sign the founding document of the Global Freedom Network in the Vatican on Monday. Behind them are Archbishop David Moxon and Andrew Forrest

Agreed: Bishop Sanchez Sorondo (seated left) and Dr Mahmoud Azab sign the founding document of the Global Freedom Network in the Vatican on Monday. ...

THE launch of a new interfaith anti-slavery movement, the Global Freedom Network (GFN), by the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church on Monday has been hailed as a historic moment.

The GFN aims to combat slavery and human trafficking, which are thought to affect between 12 and 27 million people worldwide.

The agreement was signed on Monday at the Vatican by representatives of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Pope Francis, and the Grand Imam of al-Azhar, Mohamed Ahmed el-Tayeb, who is considered by many to be the leading cleric in Sunni Islam.

The Walk Free Foundation, which was founded by an Australian Anglican mining magnate and billionaire, Andrew Forrest, in 2012, is in partnership with the GFN. Mr Forrest said on Tuesday that the joint effort by the two Churches was making history. "This has not happened since before the Reformation. We are living in a time of great history and great leaders."

The joint statement issued by the signatories to the GFN urged people of faith and goodwill across the world to join their movement. "This evil is man-made, and can be overcome by faith-inspired human will and human effort," it said.

Among the Network's initiatives to combat slavery is a world day of prayer for its victims. The statement said that the "instruments of faith - prayer, fasting, and almsgiving" - would be primary weapons in the struggle.

Archbishop Welby's representa-tive to the Holy See, the Most Revd David Moxon, said on Tuesday at Lambeth Palace that the GFN had been born in a conversation between the Archbishop and Pope Francis during their first meeting last year (News, 14 June).

He said: "During lunch, I heard Archbishop Justin say: 'I think we should do something on human trafficking.' He knew that Pope Francis had already been thinking about human trafficking and modern slavery long before that, and deliberately brought it up with a view to seeing if they could collaborate in some way."

Archbishop Moxon said that, now that Anglicans, Roman Catholics, and Sunni Muslims were already on board, it was intended to invite other faiths to join the project. This would remove any putative religious justifications for slavery, Mr Forrest said. The faiths were also uniquely capable of mobilising millions of supporters to put pressure on governments to act.

The Revd Rachel Carnegie, who is co-director of Anglican Alliance, a development agency, will sit on the council of the GFN. On Tuesday, she said that the movement would seek to learn from those fighting slavery on the ground. "For example, in the Eastern Himalayas the Anglican churches are working on raising awareness in their communities about the risk of trafficking, and the interception of young women.

"We also want to work with businesspeople of faith and goodwill, to find a common ground in examining supply chains, and seeking to ensure that they are slave-free. From the C of E side, we are working on theological materials for parishes, and on training."

In a statement, Archbishop Welby said: "The new Global Freedom Network is being created to join the struggle against modern slavery and human trafficking from a faith base, so that we might witness to God's compassion, and act for the benefit of those who are abducted, enslaved, and abused in this terrible crime."

No to reparations. Several Caribbean nations announced last week that they may seek reparations from Western countries involved in the slave trade to compensate them for the effects of slavery.

A Church of England spokesman said, however, that the Church remained committed to a 2006 General Synod motion which acknowledged the Church's complicity in the slave trade, and apologised for it, but had decided against paying reparations.

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