A coalition of faith leaders from many of the world’s biggest religions have united in Ghana to sign a declaration against modern slavery.
The commitment by 14 leaders from four countries to the Joint Declaration of Religious Leaders Against Modern Slavery represents a pan-African coalition of ethical leaders to fight an injustice which affects more than 40 million people globally.
The Declaration signing was hosted by the Global Freedom Network, the faith arm of international human rights group Walk Free which is dedicated to accelerating the end of modern slavery.
It is the eighth signing since 2014, when Pope Francis and Grand Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi al-Modarresi joined other faith leaders from many of the world’s great religions in declaring that modern slavery must be eradicated.
Modern slavery is an umbrella term which includes human trafficking, domestic servitude, the worst forms of child labour and forced and child marriage.
Sheikh Armiyawo Shaibu, spokesperson for Ghana’s national chief Imam, said all religions denounced these crimes.
“As faith leaders, you have a very special position in Ghanaian society,” Sheikh Shaibu said.
“You can see changes in people that would pass many others by. And you understand what poverty and desperation can do to men, women and children.
“So you are uniquely placed to identify victims and help victims by putting them in touch with professionals who can help them and who can help deal with the perpetrators.”
Reverend Fr Lazarus Anondee, secretary general of the Ghana Catholic Bishops Conference, said that modern slavery often involved cheap or abusive labour.
“Human trafficking is an especially heinous crime. This is because it involves the exploitation and abuse of human beings for profit,” Rev Fr Anondee said.
Walk Free co-founder Grace Forrest, who was in the Ghanaian capital Accra for the signing, said faith leaders were pivotal in the fight to end modern slavery.
“Faith leaders are uniquely positioned to observe and tackle instances of modern slavery in their communities,” Ms Forrest said.
“This is especially so in Africa, where faith is embedded in communities and the prevalence of modern slavery is high.
“Faith leaders are able to influence where government and business cannot. They can work as community leaders creating systems change and legal reform, as well as providing moral guidance and education to their congregations.
“We are deeply honoured to be in Ghana for this signing, and we acknowledge the history of slavery and the exploitation of the people of this country and other parts of Africa, the effects of which are still felt today and are undoubtedly connected to the prevalence of modern slavery in this region.
“Walk Free is committed to working alongside these leaders to accelerate the end of modern slavery.”
Faith leaders from Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria and Cote d’Ivoire joined Ghanaian leaders to sign the commitment in a ceremony held under strict COVID-19 protocols.
Both the National Interfaith Council of South Africa (NICSA) and the Inter-Religious Council of Kenya (IRCK), who could not join because of COVID-19, said their organisations wholeheartedly endorsed the declaration and that their representatives look forward to adding their signatures.
The signing event coincided with the launch of the Faith For Freedom smartphone app, which was developed in collaboration with faith leaders to help guide them to tackle modern slavery in their communities and congregations.