ROME — Famed economist Jeffrey Sachs, who is now a special advisor to the secretary general of the United Nations, has called on Pope Francis to press the global body to include the fight against human trafficking among its 17 new sustainable development goals.
The goals, a universal set of targets that nations are supposed to use to set their policies for the next 15 years, will be signed by more than 193 heads of state in September during a session of the UN General Assembly. Predicted to be the largest meeting of its kind for the number of presidents and prime ministers in attendance, the assembly will open with an address by Pope Francis.
Sachs rose to fame in the 1990s as an advisor to countries in Eastern Europe navigating the post-Soviet transition to market economies, and is today considered one of the world’s leading authorities on the alleviation of poverty and sustainable economic development.
During a Vatican event on Saturday, Sachs suggested that Pope Francis raise the trafficking issue with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon when the two men meet in Rome on April 28. Ki-moon will be in town to deliver opening remarks at a Vatican-sponsored conference on the moral dimensions of climate change and sustainable development.
Although a private audience between Francis and Ki-moon hasn’t been officially announced, Sachs said he considers it a given, adding that he hopes the Holy See, through Pope Francis, suggests specific wording changes to the development goals.
At the moment, Goal 16 is worded:
Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.
16.1 Significantly reduce all forms of violence and related death rates everywhere
16.2 End abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence and torture against children
16.3 Promote the rule of law at the national and international levels, and ensure equal access to justice for all
16.4 By 2030 significantly reduce illicit financial and arms flows, strengthen recovery and return of stolen assets, and combat all forms of organized crime
16.5 Substantially reduce corruption and bribery in all its forms
16.6 Develop effective, accountable and transparent institutions at all levels
16.7 Ensure responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels
16.8 Broaden and strengthen the participation of developing countries in the institutions of global governance
16.9 By 2030 provide legal identity for all including birth registration
16.10 Ensure public access to information and protect fundamental freedoms, in accordance with national legislation and international agreements
16.a Strengthen relevant national institutions, including through international cooperation, for building capacities at all levels, in particular in developing countries, for preventing violence and combating terrorism and crime
16.b Promote and enforce non-discriminatory laws and policies for sustainable development
Sachs suggested that the term “slavery” be added to the language, but said it’s been difficult to amend the text because of political complications. Countries such as the United States and organizations such as the European Union, he said, “have been of little help when trying to change even a comma.”
Human trafficking has been a central aspect of Pope Francis’ social agenda. He has repeatedly described modern-day slavery, meaning any reduction of human beings to an object or merchandise to be sold or bought, as “a crime against humanity.”
Speaking to members of the Academy for Social Sciences on Saturday, Francis said that modern-day slavery is a “plague,” and that society needs to be aware of “this new evil that, in a global world, is hidden because it’s scandalous and ‘politically incorrect.’”
Margaret Archer, president of the Vatican’s Academy for Social Sciences, lost no time in following Sachs’ advice.
In her address, she told the pope that academy members were praying that he will be able to convince the UN secretary-general to designate the elimination of human trafficking as a new sustainable development goal.
Speaking to Crux, Sachs said Francis’ impact in the fight against extreme poverty and sustainability has been “phenomenal.”
“He’s drawing the whole world’s attention to the moral underpinnings of our challenges, our capacity to end extreme poverty, modern slavery, to protect the environment,” he said.
Sachs said the sustainable development goals are “absolutely achievable” as long as the world overcomes inertia and indifference. He said the current crisis the world faces is not fundamentally the result of lack of financial resources or the high cost of change, but a moral deficit.
“We haven’t taken seriously the things we should be taking seriously,” he said. “What Pope Francis calls the ‘globalization of indifference’ in my mind truly crystalizes this problem.”
“The most important challenges we face are never in the front cover of the papers, if they’re covered at all,” Sachs pointed out.
Sachs said the pontiff’s address to the UN is potentially a pivotal moment.
“He won’t go there to talk about theology or particular doctrines,” he said. “He’s going there to talk about the moral challenges of the world. I really admire his ability to engage everyone: The whole world, across all faiths, is watching, listening, and taking inspiration in Francis.”
The booming illegal industry of modern slavery — in the form of human trafficking, forced labor, forced marriages, children soldiers, and prostitution, as well as organ mutilation and trafficking — is estimated to involve more than 30 million people around the world and to generate $150 billion in annual profits.
The April 17-22 Assembly in Rome comes as part of a wider mobilization from the Vatican that began shortly after Francis’ election, when he tapped Argentinian Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, chancellor of the Pontifical Academy for Sciences and the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, to put the Church at the forefront of the fight against human trafficking.
Last December, the pope signed an interreligious joint declaration to eradicate modern slavery by 2020.
“In the eyes of God, each human being is a free person, whether girl, boy, woman, or man, and is destined to exist for the good of all in equality and fraternity,” said the declaration signed by Anglican, Orthodox, Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, and Muslim leaders during a ceremony at the Vatican.