Late on a Saturday night about two weeks ago I found myself walking through the backstreets of Shanghai city. Somewhere in along the dark road, I felt a tug on my arm, and when I turned I was met with a tiny child and an outstretched cup, jangling with small change. My friend, who has lived in China much longer than I cleared her throat and pulled me away quickly, hissing ‘you know children are stolen to do that, right?’ I did not. It was another four blocks before this child disappeared silently back into the cold night he had come from, while we continued on into the warmth.
Although it is unclear whether the child I met that night was in fact the victim of bondage, it cannot have been the first time my life has intersected with another that is dominated by slavery. Right now, all across the globe, conservative estimates place the population of men, women, and children who are victims of enslavement at over 30 million. Vulnerability to exploitation, whether it be economic, physical, or sexual, is particularly rife in developing and post conflict nations that lack the institutional structures to prevent human lives from being commodified, abused, and treated with such disrespect.
It is this world that we find ourselves in, and this same world that brought the leaders of a number of major faiths together in Vatican city on the 17th of March to sign into being the ‘Global Freedom Network’. The organisation is the brainchild of Australian Philanthropist Andrew Forrest, and the representatives of a number of high ranking religious leaders, including the Roman Catholic Pope Francis, Sufi Muslim Grand Imam of al-Azhar Ahmed el-Tayeb, and Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby who together seek to eradicate the world of modern slavery within 20 years. The interfaith action and commitment to ending the atrocities of enslavement represent a positive step in the way of relations between the religious institutions, that - whether it be for reasons of gay marriage, women bishops, or interfaith violence in Egypt - have not always seen eye to eye.
This newfound peacefulness between faiths is reflected in the data that demonstrates there is an extremely close relationship between the levels of peace a country experiences, and the prevalence of slavery within its society. For example, seven of the top 10 most peaceful countries ranked by the Global Peace Index in 2013 also appeared in the Global Slavery Index’s top ten countries where slavery is least prevalent. Conversely, many countries such as Cote D’Ivoire that ranked within the bottom 20 for peacefulness in 2013 also harbor the worlds’ highest rates of slavery.
Additionally, many elements of the Pillars of Peace (a framework designed by the Institute for Economics and Peace to explain how society’s attitudes, institutions, and structures underpin peaceful socties) are applicable to global struggle against modern day slavery. Human trafficking impairs the soundness of business environments, levels of human capital, and the equitable distribution of resources within societies, as well as demonstrating a low acceptance of the rights of others – all things that tend to increase instability and conflict within societies.
It is clear then, that the movement started on the 17th of March will not only hopefully create a world in which slavery has been eradicated, but one in which peace within and between societies is greater than ever before.
Our latest research report, the Pillars of Peace, explores the attitudes and institutions that underpin peaceful societies.
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