WASHINGTON (BP) — A new effort to help end human trafficking and slavery worldwide has quickly gained momentum in Congress.
The End Modern Slavery Initiative Act received approval from a Senate committee Feb. 26, only two days after it was introduced by Sen. Bob Corker, R.-Tenn. The Foreign Relations Committee, which Corker chairs, forwarded the bill with a unanimous vote.
The legislation, S. 553, would establish a centralized effort to thwart trafficking and slavery at a time when an estimated 27 million people are enslaved globally. It would create a Washington, D.C., non-profit foundation designed to use federal, foreign and private sector funds to reduce slavery by a measurable 50 percent.
Corker believes the bill “is going to have a transformative effect on us dealing with modern slavery,” he said in a CNN interview after the committee vote. “We have outstanding organizations that are using best practices, and yet we haven’t had a central effort to deal with this appropriately.
“People are taking advantage of young people, old people, mothers, daughters, sons and fathers,” Corker said. “And we can do something about it, and we’re getting ready to, and I’m glad that today we’re celebrating the beginning of that effort.”
Southern Baptists applauded the proposal.
“Human slavery and trafficking are wicked to the core, assaulting the dignity of human beings created in the image of God,” said Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC).
“By taking on this issue, Sen. Corker and those who stand with him are in the spirit of the great Christian leader and anti-slavery activist William Wilberforce,” Moore said in a written statement for Baptist Press. “I pray that we will work together to end this scourge of slavery and trafficking in our world.”
William Wilberforce led the ultimately successful legislative campaigns against the slave trade and slavery as a member of the British Parliament from 1780 to 1825.
Raleigh Sadler, a pastor and trafficking awareness advocate in New York City, described the measure’s strength as “its emphasis on collaboration.”
“Through the funding of governmental agencies and non-profit organizations working in the areas of the world most affected, this foundation will seek to resource those who are already at work,” Sadler told BP in written comments.
International Justice Mission (IJM), the world’s largest anti-slavery organization, commended the legislation and called for swift passage.
The bill and the accompanying funds “set a new bar for U.S. leadership to combat slavery,” said Holly Burkhalter, IJM’s vice president of government relations, in a written release.
“[W]e have not been engaging in a fair fight,” since the U.S. government has been spending “a minute fraction” of its foreign aid on anti-trafficking efforts while the traffickers have been making $150 billion in profits a year, Burkhalter said. “That is about to change.”
The legislation would require the End Modern Slavery Initiative Foundation to fund programs that contribute to the rescuing and recovery of slavery victims, the prevention of slavery, and the prosecution and punishment of perpetrators. It also would establish measurable goals and cut slavery by half in seven years among “targeted populations.” Programs that fail to meet their goals will be suspended or ended.
The foundation’s goal is to raise $1.5 billion, which is intended to be broken down this way: $251 million from the federal government in eight years; $500 million from other governments; and $750 million in private funds.
The U.S. State Department categorizes slavery — which exists in the United States and more than 160 other countries — as sex trafficking, child sex trafficking, forced labor, bonded labor, debt bondage, involuntary domestic servitude, forced child labor or child soldiers.
The new proposal is important to the local church, Sadler told BP.
“First, this bill aims to bring justice to the oppressed by holding the powers that be accountable for reducing human trafficking around the world,” he said, adding it “puts feet” to the State Department’s annual report “by resourcing those at work in countries that are meeting the minimal standards” of the report.
“Secondly, we can celebrate that this is a concrete step towards caring for ‘the widow, the orphan and the sojourner,’ who are vulnerable to human trafficking,” Sadler said. “For these reasons, I challenge the church to pray for the implementation of this legislation.”
Sadler, one of the teaching pastors of Gallery Church in New York City, is director of justice ministries for the Metropolitan New York Baptist Association. He trains churches and other faith communities on combating trafficking. He also leads Let My People Go, an initiative to help leaders recognize and address the issue of exploitation in their communities.
In endorsing the new proposal, IJM’s Burkhalter urged Congress not to cut back on anti-slavery and development programs already being conducted by the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons and the U.S. Agency for International Development.
“We don’t want to see the [federal government] robbing Peter to pay Paul,” she said.
The ERLC has been a leading advocate for policies to combat human trafficking since the move to address the domestic and international problem resulted in the first anti-trafficking law in 2000.