WASHINGTON, D.C. — In December 2014, Francis gathered with religious leaders from faiths around the world to commit to ending “modern slavery across the world by 2020 and for all time.” The following year, he declared February 8 as an international day of prayer and awareness of human trafficking.

On this year’s occasion, the archdiocese of Sydney, Australia has announced a bold initiative to slavery proof its supply lines — a move that imitates a similar decision made by the Vatican in 2016.

Sydney’s taskforce is being led by former Australian Ambassador to the Holy See, John McCarthy, and with the full support of Archbishop Anthony Fisher, who has requested that every parish in the archdiocese mark the day with special masses to raise attention to this issue.

McCarthy spoke with Crux to outline how the taskforce will operate and how he — and Pope Francis — believe “this dreadful scourge can be eradicated in this generation.”

You’ve worked on anti-human trafficking initiatives for some time now, dating back to your tenure as Australia’s Ambassador to the Holy See in partnership with Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo. How did this come about?  

On my departure for Rome in August 2012, my instructions from the Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs (Senator Robert Carr) emphasized engagement with the Holy See on human rights and religious freedom. At all times during my service until my departure in 2016, I was consistently and actively involved with the work of the Holy See to eradicate modern slavery and human trafficking in our generation. A major collaborator with Pope Francis in this great work is Bishop Sánchez Sorondo, Chancellor of the Pontifical Academies of Science and Social Sciences. It was my privilege to be involved in the major international conference on human trafficking in Rome organized by him in November 2013 and to support him subsequently in many anti-slavery events at the Vatican. I was also deeply influenced by Sister Eugenia Bonetti, an international leader in rescue work relating to trafficked girls and women and promoter of the importance of St Josephine Bakita for the contemporary anti-slavery movement.

Human trafficking could be considered one of Pope Francis’s chief issues. Why do you think it’s so important for him?

One need only briefly reference his words and statements to understand the centrality of this issue for Pope Francis. He has declared modern slavery and human trafficking to be crimes against humanity and speaks about it constantly. Within a couple of weeks of his election, Pope Francis sent a now famous, hand-written note on a used envelope to Bishop Sánchez Sorondo requesting major initiatives and research by the Holy See on modern slavery and human trafficking. Pope Francis came from Buenos Aires which is a hub of prostitution and trafficking in Latin America. He saw how young lives, particularly young women, were degraded and destroyed by this vile enslavement. He recognizes it as an open wound on the body of Christ and a terrible scar in modern life, but that with requisite will and organization, this dreadful scourge can be eradicated in this generation.

Upon returning home to Australia, you’ve focused on slavery proofing the supply lines of the Archdiocese of Sydney. What’s this process been like?

Last year Archbishop Anthony Fisher gave a public address to the state parliament on modern slavery and human trafficking. He announced the appointment of an Archdiocesan Anti-Slavery Taskforce and mandated them to develop an anti-slavery supply chain strategy. The taskforce executive has received overwhelming support from the agencies of the archdiocese. This differs significantly from some responses we have received in our negotiations with the public and corporate sectors in Australia.

When you think about slavery proofing supply lines for all diocesan churches, schools, hospitals, and other properties and venues, it’s a mammoth task! How will this work in reality? 

We have recommended a specialized project team to head up the work of implementing the archdiocesan anti-slavery supply chain strategy. This project team will work in partnership with Catholic entities to advance ethical procurement. The basis of the strategy is the development of comprehensive commercial contracting arrangements which embed human rights due diligence throughout the supply chains for goods and services.

In what ways do you think the initiatives of the Archdiocese of Sydney will serve as a model for the rest of the country?

The archdiocesan anti-slavery supply chain strategy proposes the Australian Model of supply chain regulation. Unlike other strategies which fail to adequately mitigate slavery in supply chains, it is recognized as an international best practice model. Both the public and corporate sectors have much to learn from this approach of the archdiocese which is committed to ensuring effective anti-slavery supply chains. Archbishop Fisher is already working to persuade the other Catholic dioceses to follow Sydney on supply chains. He has called on governments in Australia and the Australian corporate sector to adopt procurement policies which will implement 8.7 of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (which Australia voted for) to eradicate modern slavery and forced labor by 2030.