CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico — On the closing day of his trip to Mexico, Pope Francis met with the “world of labor,” managing to bring trade unions, workers’ organizations, Chambers of Commerce and business associations into the same room in order to tell them they aren’t adversaries.
“[You] are united by the same responsibility: seeking to create employment opportunities which are dignified and truly beneficial for society and especially for the young of this land,” Francis told 3,000 men and women gathered in Bachilleres College of the State of Chihuahua.
Speaking in Ciudad Juarez, on Mexico’s northern border with the United States, Francis said there’s a paradigm of “economic utility” in the world today that puts profit ahead of individuals and families.
“The best investment is creating opportunities,” Francis said.
“[But] the prevailing mentality puts the flow of people at the service of the flow of capital, resulting in many cases in the exploitation of employees as if they were objects to be used and discarded.”
“God will hold the slave-drivers of our days accountable, and we must do everything to make sure that these situations do not happen again,” Francis said.
Although no longer Mexico’s capital of crime after years of tough policies and citizen efforts, Ciudad Juarez still represents a personal dream for many Mexicans and Central Americans trying to reach the United States.
For many, arriving in Juarez soon becomes a nightmare instead, as thousands end up in the hands of human traffickers who roam the 2,000 miles of border to seduce those desperate enough to do anything.
What victims get instead is a life of forced labor, locked in clandestine sewing shops where they’re forced to work in slave-like conditions. Many women end up in brothels, forced to prostitute themselves, sometimes at ages as young as 12.
In the first decade of 2000, 450 women were killed and 3,000 went missing in Ciudad Juarez alone, most of them believed to have been forced into prostitution.
The US State Department estimated in 2010 that more than 20,000 people are trafficked into the country each year, exploited as forced labor in agriculture, domestic service, food processing, construction, and more.
The pope, who’s sometimes accused of opposing capitalism, also delivered a strong defense of the Church’s social doctrine, saying that it’s not aimed to transform businesses into philanthropic institutions, but to “guard over the integrity of people and social structures.”
“Every time that, for whatever reason, this integrity is threatened or reduced to a consumer good, the Church’s social doctrine will be a prophetic voice to protect us all from being lost in the seductive sea of ambition,” Francis said, adding that “this is against no one, but in favor of all.”
“We are all in the same boat,” he said.
“What kind of world do we want to leave our children?” Francis asked. “Do you want to leave them the memory of exploitation, of insufficient pay, of workplace harassment? Or do you want to leave them a culture which recalls dignified work, a proper roof, and land to be worked?”
“I know that the issues raised are not easy, but it is worse to leave the future in the hands of corruption, brutality, and the lack of equity,” Francis said. He then departed from his prepared remarks, to say that sometimes this world “robs us of the capacity to dream.”
Still improvising, he spoke about the “throwaway culture,” defining it as a one where a mother or a father have no time to play with their children because they have to leave for work early in the morning and get home after the kids are in bed.
He spoke of an Argentine union representative, saying that he admired his way of negotiating: “He’d always sit on the table knowing that he had to lose something. You always lose something when you negotiate, but everyone wins.”
“I want to invite you to dream of a Mexico where the mom and the dad can waste their time playing with their children,” he said, repeating words he said before. “This you will only accomplish talking, negotiating, and losing, so that everyone wins.”