Governments must act on promises to end human trafficking - Cardinal Vincent Nichols

Over 40 million people are held in forced labour, sexual slavery or unpaid work around the world.Reuters

The head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales has called on world governments to step up their commitment to stamping out human trafficking and supporting victims.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols told a conference of bishops and police chiefs in Latin America this week that world governments are failing to live up to their obligations under the UN Palermo Protocol which calls on them to catch and prosecute traffickers while providing help to victims in the form of jobs, education and rehabilitation. 

'Most countries in the world have signed this protocol and ratified the measures to assist victims. However, they have turned their backs on this responsibility and are not acting upon this agreed commitment,' he said.

Cardinal Nichols singled out the UK for particular criticism, saying that it had broken its promise to support victims. 

'In the UK a hostile environment towards migrants has been created and victims of trafficking have been criminalised, despite promises to support victims of this horrendous crime which sees so many kept in slavery.' he said.

He was speaking at the Santa Marta Group Conference held in Buenos Aires this week and attended by church leaders from across Latin America as well as members of the Argentinian federal police force, which has made tackling human trafficking one of its priorities. 

In addition to the conference, Cardinal Nichols met with ministers of the Argentinian government, who he praised for showing global leadership on human trafficking by getting the issue onto the agenda of the G20 group of leading nations. 

He said that he would be raising the issue with Pope Francis when he meets him next week in a bid to increase cooperation between the Church, police and civil society 'to end this scourge'. 

'This is an international crime, which is one of the most lucrative crimes in the world, and it requires an international response as well as the local care of the victim,' he said.

Cardinal Nichols is the president of the Santa Marta Group, which was instituted by Pope Francis in 2014 to fight human trafficking and modern day slavery. 

According to the International Labour Organisation, there are 40 million people trapped in modern day slavery at any one time, including many women and girls forced to work in the commercial sex industry. 

Last month, the UN warned that human trafficking has risen steadily since 2010 and increased in brutality as a result of armed conflict and terrorism. 

Yury Fedotov, Executive Director of UNODC, said: 'Human trafficking has taken on horrific dimensions as armed groups and terrorists use it to spread fear and gain victims to offer as incentives to recruit new fighters.'  

The UN said that sexual exploitation was the main driver of trafficking, with children now accounting for 30 per cent of those being trafficked.  Within that group, the UN said girls accounted for 'far more' of the victims than boys.