An Interview with Archbishop David Moxon: The Ecumenical Fight Against Modern Slavery

Archbishop Sir David Moxon, KNZM, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Personal Representative to the Holy See, was formerly the Bishop of Waikato, Senior Bishop of the New Zealand Diocese, and the Anglican Archbishop and Primate of the Church in Aotearna, New Zealand and Polynesia. A native of New Zealand, Archbishop Moxon is the Anglican Chair of the Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission; a fellow of St. Margaret’s College in the University of Otago; an honorary fellow of St. Peter’s Colleges in the University of Oxford; and was awarded the Knighthood of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the 2014 New Year’s Honors.  He is also the current Governor of the Anglican Centre in Rome.

Since March, 2014, Archbishop Moxon has sat on the Inaugural Executive Board of the Global Freedom Network, an ecumenical, anti-trafficking organization established by Pope Francis, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, the Walk Free Foundation, and the Grand Imam of al-Azar al-Sharif Ahmed El-Tayeb.


Did you have any prior experience in anti-trafficking efforts before becoming involved with the Global Freedom Network?

No, I hadn’t. I had been an Anglian Archbishop in New Zealand, where I was heavily involved in justice projects, and working on behalf of people who were unemployed or who were dispossessed in some way, but I hadn’t come across trafficking because there’s very small numbers of trafficking in New Zealand… So I was educated about this crucial crime against humanity here in Rome. I got involved because the Archbishop of Canterbury, whom I represent, has been deeply concerned about it. Being his representative here, I naturally became involved per my position.

What would you characterize as the most immediate goals of the Global Freedom Network within the upcoming year?

The Global Freedom Network needs to get a Universal Declaration Against Trafficking recognized by global faith leaders accomplished this year, hopefully no later then Christmas. We need major global faiths to support this measure because, through their leaders, signing a common statement and adding faith-positions of their own, we can point to their moral leadership all over the world, with faiths all over the world. That’s the big goal for this year. After that, looking into the first few months of next year, we need to be beginning our work with governments, and with businesses, on the tracking of supply chains. Until you track supply chains, you can’t turn the tap off of the veritable flood of trafficking. Faiths for a long time have been engaged in rescue; there are many catholic nuns out there who, for decades have been risking their lives, have been helping women out of prostitution, where trafficking has placed them. There are Catholic religious orders who are devoted to the saving of these women, and have been for a long time; but of course, they say it themselves: they are an ambulance at the bottom a cliff, and what somebody has to do is put a fence at the cliff’s edge. That’s what hasn’t happened as of yet, and we seek to accomplish this through the tracking of the supply chains.

The Network was founded with a strong mandate for ecumenical cooperation; however, the original signatories only represented two of the world’s major religious communities, being Christianity and Islam. Has there been an active recruitment on the part of the Network to get other major religions to support its’ initiatives?

That’s exactly what we’re doing now: reaching out to Jewish, Buddhist, and Hindu leaders, amongst others, for that expressed purpose. And so far the response has been very good, we’ve been very gratified. It is hard to imagine that the response would not be good as this is a global evil, one that affects the countries that these faiths are set in. Morally it’s hard to imagine that there would be indifference. I’ve been to a number of these visits and it’s quite moving to see the response of the faith leader(s). We don’t have a list of formal names yet, but we are getting close to that point.

Is the Global Freedom Network looking into initiatives that would directly attack trafficking?

Yes, the Global Freedom Network has a partner within it called The Walk Free Foundation, and that’s based on an Australian philanthropic trust headed up by Andrew Forrest, who’s an Anglican laymen. He’s now a partner in the Network and he is encouraging the world to look at two funds: a Global Freedom Fund and a Global Fund. They are firstly designed to research what stops trafficking most effectively and most quickly, and secondly to fund that most effective strategy. And we think that part of the process will involve the micro-financing of alternatives to slavery. Slavery is driven by poverty, and you need to microfinance an alternative. It’s no good deconstructing slavery and then finding people who had shelter and food but no money who now no longer have shelter, food, or money because of the deconstruction. So you have to be very careful about the effects of well-meaning strategies. You have to research what would be truly restorative, truly rehabilitative. Giving to those funds is very important, and we believe that Hilary Clinton has actually shown some interest in supporting this process and contributing to funds. That’s what the Walk Free Foundation has helped us accomplish.

Is the Global Freedom Network planning on branching out or remaining as a coordinating body?

It’s the latter: fulfilling a coordinating function. We don’t want to grow a big empire; we don’t want a vast staff being funded, because there are enough anti-trafficking organizations around the world including the UN and government departments in many countries as well as other NGO’s working in this area. What hasn’t been around, which the Global Freedom Network is offering, is a coordinating, networking, nerve-center for the whole world from a faith base, initiated and organized by the global faiths. That is what has been missing. So, only through joint thinking, strategizing, the comparing of notes, looking at mutual resources, cooperation, can we then have a global view at last from a faith base. We want a from faith, with faith, by faith, for faith approach, and the Global Freedom Network is offering an opportunity for all of those resources to be effectively coordinated and put to use for that end.

Many consider the goal of the Global Freedom Network, to eradicate Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery by 2020, to be ambitious. What are your thoughts?

We decided that, when we looked around the world, we could never spot a particular deadline; we couldn’t find a goal to achieve, like the Millennium goals which have a precise deadline, which are often much bigger and complicated than even trafficking. So we thought that it would be helpful to have something to aim for and it was ambitious because we wanted to drive ourselves and we wanted to challenge ourselves, and mobilize ourselves dramatically and urgently, because it is dramatic and urgent crime against humanity, as the Pope has repeatedly called it. It is the road to perdition for so many people: to despair, to early death, and to darkness. So, we thought we would give ourselves an ambitious goal and drive ourselves all the harder to achieve it.

How does the network expect so many different organizations and institutions and businesses to make the shift necessary to end trafficking within six years?

We think that faith leaders and government officials in every country in which trafficking is rife ought to meet with business leaders and challenge them to track their own supply chains for slavery. That tracking, in our experience, doesn’t take more than about a year. There are some examples of firms that have found out much earlier than a year’s time by researching into their suppliers and their suppliers’ supplier. So, if you imagine over the next two to three years, businesses all over the world tracking supply chains, trafficking could well come to end. The only reason trafficking works is because it is supplying somebody who gets paid. It’s a business. So, businesses tracking supply chains would make a huge difference in two to three years, but only if they were rigorous, the law backed them up, and there were prosecutions to follow. All of those components would need to come into place around the world.

This would require collaboration and cooperation across the board. We tend to use a naïve example, but there’s some truth in it: How do you stop an opium grower from harvesting that drug? Particularly if he can’t be caught, or if he doesn’t listen to his faith leaders or the UN cannot get to him or perhaps his government isn’t strong enough to deal with him. How do you stop an opium grower? You make it more lucrative to grow orchids. Now that is slightly naïve and overly simplistic, but there’s enough truth in it to look at what the micro-financing alternatives would mean. Slavery is driven by a profit motive, like most everything else. And the profits are huge.

Many of these approaches deal with the economic factors that lead to trafficking and slavery. However, when we come to the issue of sexual exploitation, which provides over half the profits of trafficking worldwide, how do we change the societal mindset that leads to individuals buying into this exploitation?

Forced prostitution and sexual exploitation supplied by traffickers and slavers is one of the most horrific aspects of this dilemma. The Boko Harem grab of Nigerian School girls, for example, has most likely led to the scenario in which those girls are now probably dispersed over Africa, probably in brothels, is unspeakably tragic and wicked. Given that prostitution is being increasingly supplied by trafficked and enslaved activity, you have an interesting strategic dilemma because you could take a simple approach and make prostitution illegal, or you could do what the nuns are doing: provide the means of escape, provide the means for rehabilitation for people caught in prostitution on the ground locally, neighborhood by neighborhood and that’s what is going on with some of the religious orders.

The advantage of a faith-based approach is that, wherever there is a brothel, not too far away there may be a Church, or a Temple, or a Mosque, or a Synagogue that knows the neighborhood. And there’s evidence that, if you know your neighborhood well, you will know to some extent what is going on if you just keep your eyes open and are well informed. And it’s that neighborhood reach of the faith-based approach that might be able to make a difference in this area.

How do we support/encourage religious groups and NGO’s to help trafficked people in country’s where government’s lack the structure to handle these issues?

That’s exactly why trafficking is predominant in those countries for precisely that reason, and that’s where a faith-based approach may be particularly relevant. Whereas the civic or national government structures are corroded or were never particularly strong in the first place, the faith-based network is sometime stronger and certainly can touch more people. So a faith based initiative may be all the more necessary in countries with these issues. We need to do a lot more homework, within each country. We are going to be creating Leadership Councils on behalf of anti-slavery and anti-trafficking activities in each of the major countries and we will work with those leadership councils to see what the best role a faith-based approach is where there isn’t a strong enough government infrastructure.

What would you consider, if any, the primary causation of trafficking in the world today?

Putting it simply and in principle, it would be greed. And it would be the profit motive associated with greed. It is a business: it’s designed to get a lot of money quickly. Without the harder alternatives of business options around them and in countries where they’re poor and in countries where it’s easy to exploit, it in fact becomes big, easy money. As a strategy, it looks more lucrative than anything else, and it is. That’s why we have to take a socio-economic, fiscal approach as much as a legal and moral approach. Most of the traffickers are not interested in the moral argument and, I think, they believe they will escape prosecution, and it’s most likely that they will.

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