Archbishop of Canterbury and Pope Francis unite to combat slavery

Archbishop Justin Welby and Pope Francis enjoy a close relationship, and have been key figures in fostering greater unity between the Anglican and Catholic Churches.AP

The Archbishop of Canterbury and Pope Francis have backed a landmark initiative that will see the Anglican and Catholic Churches unite to combat modern slavery.

Statistics suggest that up to 27 million people are living in conditions of slavery across the globe, facing sexual exploitation or forced labour. An estimated two million fall victim to sexual trafficking each year, and a further 20,000 are forced to give up an organ.

Though it is often assumed that such exploitation is limited to developing nations, recent figures indicate that there could be as many as 10,000 slaves in the UK alone.

As the British parliament examines a Modern Slavery Bill, Justin Welby and Pope Francis have demonstrated their commitment to joining the fight and have given their support to the Global Freedom Network - a "groundbreaking ecumenical initiative to combat modern slavery and human trafficking".

An agreement was signed on 17 March by the Archbishop of Canterbury's Representative to the Holy See, Archbishop Sir David Moxon, the Chancellor of the Pontifical Academies of Science and Social Science Bishop Sanchez Sorondo and Mr Andrew Forrest, the founder of international philanthropic anti-slavery organisation 'Walk Free'.

In a statement from Lambeth Palace, the Archbishop expresses the importance of Christian unity, and how vital it is that those of different traditions come together to eradicate injustice and restore freedom across the globe.

"We are now being find more profound ways of putting our ministry and mission where our faith is; and being called into a deeper unity on the side of the poor and in the cause of the justice and righteousness of God," the statement reads.

Both Archbishop Welby and his Catholic counterpart have been instrumental in raising issues of injustice, with the Pope repeatedly calling human trafficking "a crime against humanity" and the Archbishop noting that global poverty and its consequences must be tackled "with extraordinary Christ-liberated courage".

The two also enjoy a closer relationship than is usually expected of the Church leaders.

The Global Freedom network has been established in order 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", the Archbishop's statement adds.

"All are called to join common cause to end this crime and suffering...No one of us is strong enough, but together we are ready for the challenge God is placing before us today, and we know that we will strengthen us so that all people may live in freedom and dignity."

Archbishop Moxon, Director of the Anglican Centre in Rome, commented that the agreement signifies an extraordinary act of unity: "One Church, one world – God's world – where everyone can walk free.

"We will find that as we walk together on the pathway of Justice, that our talking together will improve, and on this Emmaus journey we will meet the risen Christ who falls in step between us.

"This Christ is not divided, so neither will we be," he concludes.

The Global Freedom network has future plans to include other faiths in its council, which already contains a Muslim representative.