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Cardinal Vincent Nichols and the Home Secretary have urged business leaders to ensure their supply chains do not rely on human trafficking.
The Cardinal-Archbishop of Westminster and Theresa May issued their joint call in an article in The Telegraph today at the start of an anti-slavery conference in the Vatican that brings together police, politicians, religious figures and victims from across the globe.
“Modern slavery is all around us … Men, women and children; British and foreign nationals. Trafficked for cheap labour, into prostitution, domestic servitude or forced into a life of crime.”
They added: “Businesses must take responsibility for ensuring their suppliers are not involved in trafficking and exploitation.”
Mrs May is speaking at the two-day conference, “Combating Human Trafficking: Church and law enforcement in partnership”, which has been organised by the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales and is chaired by Cardinal Nichols.
The Vatican explained in a statement: “The conference aims to bring police chiefs together so they can build an effective network to combat trafficking and work collaboratively with the Church. Closer collaboration will also enable joint investigations between law enforcement agencies, enabling a more co-ordinated international approach to rid the world of the scourge of its second most profitable crime.”
In their article Cardinal Nichols and Mrs May said that representatives of at least 20 police forces – from India, Nigeria, Australia, Romania and other countries – would be attending, along with the heads of Interpol, Europol and the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe.
“The UK will be well represented in Rome. The Church, law enforcement and Government are working closely in this country – and we are held up as an example of how to improve the way criminals are targeted and their victims supported.
They pointed to the Met’s “ground-breaking” Human Trafficking Unit and the Government’s Modern Slavery Bill, “the first of its kind in Europe”, which they said would strengthen the punishment of offenders and the protection of victims.
They announced the creation of a “Santa Marta Group” of police chiefs from around the world, led by Sir Bernard, to enable better international collaboration, and added that the best way to protect and reduce the number of victims “is to disrupt, convict and imprison the criminal gangs behind much of the modern slave trade”.
At the end of the conference victims and police chiefs will have an audience with Pope Francis, who has spoken out forcefully against human trafficking.
Watch the conference live from noon BST.