The head of the Catholic Church in the UK has called for an international effort to eliminate human trafficking and modern slavery by 2030, describing it as "an evil crying out to heaven".
Speaking at a side event at the UN's New York headquarters on behalf of the Santa Marta Group, Cardinal Vincent Nichols said the new sustainable development goals "cannot be achieved without effective, international cooperation at many levels".
The Santa Marta Group was founded by Pope Francis in 2014 to strengthen and coordinate the global response to combating human trafficking and modern slavery.
International partnership requires clear aims, which Nichols outlined as: "The well-being of every victim of human trafficking, for it is the victim who must always be central to our efforts; the enhancement of the work of law enforcement: the breaking up of criminal networks, the arrest and prosecution of the perpetrators; and thirdly the strengthening of the legal frameworks within which this work is carried out."
The event was jointly organised by the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the UN and the Santa Marta Group.
Nichols said the Church has a "radical commitment to the dignity of every human person, a dignity which has to be protected and promoted in every circumstance and time; a dignity which does not depend on the abilities or status of a person but which is rooted entirely in the inner depth of the person's existence, in the gift of human life which always comes from the Divine Creator who has shown himself to be our loving Father."
"Human trafficking and slavery radically strips a person of this fundamental dignity, reducing them to the status of a commodity," he said.
"It is an evil crying out to heaven" that there are over 20 million people living in modern slavery today, and "a mark of deep shame on the face of our human family that no words can alone remove."
Nichols quoted Pope Francis, who spoke at the UN last September urging members "to remember always that we are responding to 'real men and women, sons and duaghters of our one Eternal Father'.
"In their plight we are complicit. In their freedom we will rejoice with a joy no other satisfaction can give," he said.