09 December 2022, The Tablet

Call for banks to 'wake up' over human trafficking

Missionary experience and lessons from Albania and the recent war in Ukraine.

Call for banks to 'wake up' over human trafficking

Anti-trafficking awareness campaigns carried out in remote areas of Albania by Mary Ward Loreto Foundation, Community Development Activities.
Photo: MWL Foundation

Banks and corporates must “wake up to their responsibilities” and mustn’t “collude” in the crime of trafficking, Sr Imelda Poole MBE, of the Religious in Europe Networking Against Trafficking and Exploitation (Renate), has said.

Speaking to The Tablet after her keynote address to the Misean Cara seminar, “Protecting Dignity and Human Rights in the face of Human Trafficking” in Dublin this week, the Loreto Sister said banks and corporates “need to be made responsible” but “they also need to want to be responsible”.

Sr Poole’s presentation to religious and NGOs working in trafficking in Ireland and beyond highlighted the breakdown in human rights, human dignity and respect when people are trafficked and sold “as commodities in the marketplace”.

“I think there is a most central role for banking and the corporates in combatting human trafficking. Our aim at the moment is to bring them to the frontline of the work because billions of dollars are being stashed away by traffickers in legal banking systems and through money laundering,” she said. This was being made easier by cloud and internet banking.

Sr Poole’s address to the Misean Cara seminar was titled: “Keeping Human Dignity and Human Rights Central in Initiative to tackle Human Trafficking: missionary experience and lessons from Albania and the recent war in Ukraine.”

Misean Cara is an Irish-based NGO supporting the international development work of missionaries. It funds a number of projects by religious congregations that focus on prevention of human trafficking and the rescue and rehabilitation of survivors of trafficking.

It functions as a bridge between Irish Aid (state) and religious congregations and their mission endeavours. The money the state gives to projects run by religious congregations is disbursed via Misean Cara.



The English Sister founded the NGO Mary Ward Loreto in Albania ten years ago. It now operates centres working in prevention, awareness, counselling and the rescuing of women from traffickers. The Foundation has worked with over 3,000 women and has set up businesses to empower them as well as young adults with skills that will assist them in finding livelihoods. They also have a men’s project aimed at changing patriarchal culture and promoting gender equality.

“The corporates themselves are the ones responsible for the supply chain – millions of people are being trafficked for work. While 60% are trafficked into the sex trade, 40% are trafficked into labour. That is massive.”

Corporates, she explained, have admitted to her that most of them don’t know their supply chains and what is going on in terms of human trafficking within the supply chains.

“The EU is about to implement a new law, the Supply Chain Act, and this is going to wake up and shake up corporates across the world,” according to the Loreto Sister, who has been described by one British Ambassador to the Holy See as “a key ally in Her Majesty’s Government’s campaign to eradicate modern slavery”.

She added: “Human trafficking breaks any understanding of justice because it is actually selling human beings, as if they were flesh in the marketplace.

“The human being’s freedom is totally taken away from them in human trafficking; they lose their identity and often disassociate because their trauma is so huge. They can’t live with themselves, so they disassociate to cope with the pain.”

The work against human trafficking involves walking step by step with an abused victim, and little by little enabling them to find their own identity again, to find their dignity and respect, to find work and to live a full life. “This is the freedom intended by God.”

She said lies were at the heart of trafficking as trafficked people are duped with the promise of marriage or the promise of getting a job or the promise of a better life and hope for the future. “The whole journey is based on a lie. It is just a degradation.”

“That is probably the lowest degradation that society can reach – when it actually sells off human beings and when governments collude with each other to allow this crime.”

However, she underlined that it was not just governments, banks and corporations who “know but don’t want to know” about trafficking. Even within the Church, not everybody is as committed to combatting this issue as they should be.

“The Santa Marta group was meant to be the trigger for the Church becoming heavily engaged in working to combat human trafficking. It is a wonderful organisation but sadly, many countries have not really become proactive on their commitment to work with the police to combat this.

“From what I have seen going around Europe, the Church in Lithuania is a model of best practice in working with all the stakeholders. The police, the justice system, the Church, Church structures such as Sisters, the laity and priests were all present. They were dynamic and obviously close to each other; they knew what each other was about. They weren’t trying to overrule or disempower each other – they were one, working against human trafficking. But in other countries we have been to, when we invite the Church to our gatherings, they never present themselves.”

While one recently retired bishop in Albania was very supportive of the work on trafficking, she said there would be some in the Church who question if trafficking is still a problem. “What we were talking about is who is really awake, who wants to have their heart opened to the misery and the suffering of millions of people who are being trafficked.”

Globally, she said one of the challenges is the lack of good will to bring about change and a joined-up approach. “If there was goodwill in terms of justice and human rights, then there would be a concerted effort to get the Universal Declaration of Rights into law in each country but there isn’t the good will because if you do make a law that is totally human rights based, somebody is going to lose out financially.”

On the need for a new male sexuality to stem sex trafficking, she acknowledged that many countries where girls are being trafficked are often “patriarchal”, where the woman is “just a chattel of the man – a commodity even within marriage. How easy is it to sell off a girl in such a situation where the girl has no dignity because of the culture. I think half the world is patriarchal.” 

Mary Ward Loreto Foundation, which Sr Imelda Poole founded ten years ago in Albania has, she explained, a three-pronged approach.

Sr Imelda Poole IBVM who gave the keynote address to the Misean Cara seminar, ‘Protecting Dignity and Human Rights in the face of Human Trafficking’ in Dublin. (Sarah Mac Donald)

One is direct action through service centres around Albania. It is part of the national referral mechanism in the country. The Foundation’s centres help victims of domestic violence and work to prevent human trafficking. They make psychologists, social workers, lawyers and other specialists available to victims of trafficking or domestic violence or those who are exploited. 

She laments that much of the social, medical, employment infrastructures in Albania for helping vulnerable groups are “very weak”.  The Foundation’s aim is to get justice to victims and when they become strong, to bring them in as trained survivors.

Mary Ward Loreto also provides youth employment programmes and has given vocational training to hundreds of young people and women to provide them with skills for the employment market.

“Sixty per cent of all our young people are now gainfully employed in Albania. It is an alternative to having to flee. Sadly, at the moment, we haven’t got enough money for this work, but we will continue it once the funding is there.”

The third prong is civic education and training in ethics because a country must be empowered to be able to break down “its culture of deceit, (Communism), its culture of corruption, and its culture of nepotism” in order to offer its people justice and dignity. The Foundation offers this training in civic education and ethics to the police and in schools. “Education is our future, so we focus on this too.”

Another contributor to the seminar was George Tetteh who works for the Salesians of Don Bosco in Ghana. In his address, “Missionary experience and lessons from rehabilitation and reintegration of survivors”, which was given online, he said that there were 331 victims of trafficking in Ghana in 2018, a drop from 558 in 2017.

Of the 331 victims in 2018, 75 per cent or 251 were minors. This contrasted with 2017, when 362 of the 558 victims (65 per cent) were adults. His recommendations included a call for significant prisons terms for traffickers prescribed by the law and increased effort to investigate, prosecute and convict traffickers.

Jody Clarke, Senior External Relations Associate of UNHCR Ireland, spoke to the seminar about “Challenges and opportunities in reducing vulnerabilities to human trafficking, and in putting dignity and rights to the fore in anti-trafficking efforts”.

He explained how when people are forced to flee because of war, conflict and persecution, they often have to take very precarious journeys to find safety and they often have to pay smugglers and that opens them to the risk of trafficking.

While refugees and asylum seekers are very vulnerable to trafficking, he highlighted that people can be the victim of trafficking in their own community at the hands of friends and family. 

Mr Clarke expressed disappointment over recent commentary in Ireland about the number of single men seeking asylum.

“After listening to Sr Imelda and George talking about some of the risks that people face when they are on the move – you get a very good idea as to why single men are here in such numbers. Men move because it is too dangerous for women and children to flee, pay smugglers, and move over borders.”

Recalling the life of St Patrick, who was kidnapped and trafficked to Ireland from Britain, he said the story was as relevant today as it was then. “Arguably he was trafficked at a time when law and order had broken down in the Roman world. We see the same thing today – when there is war, conflict, persecution and the breakdown of law and order – it really opens it up to criminal organisations.”

In 2020, there were 56 conflicts in the world; the highest number since 1946. “People are on the move because war and conflict is on the rise. As the number of conflicts rises, the number of people forced to flee also rises.”



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