Friday, April 12, 2013

Rabbi Julie Schonfeld: The Faith Community's Role in Ending Modern-Day Slavery

 Rabbi Julie Schonfeld

The voices of courageous survivors of human trafficking and the efforts of the many non-governmental organizations dedicated to ending this crime too often go unheard. As faith and community leaders, and as the members of the President's Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, we are compelled to come together to raise up a unified moral voice to mobilize the public to join us in our opposition to modern-day slavery. But just as importantly, we call upon the White House to use its unique role as leader and convener to mobilize even larger numbers of people and resources across the country -- and across the globe -- so that together, we can bring the struggle against modern-day slavery to the scale it demands.

We share President Obama's conviction that "our fight against human trafficking is one of the great human rights causes of our time." It is a high-profit and low-risk endeavor that allows criminals, through their cruel enslavement of innocent people, to profit by $32 billion per year.

This week, the advisory council came together at the White House to release our report, Building Partnerships to Eradicate Modern-Day Slavery, and to present the recommendations we make in the report to President Obama on how to eliminate modern-day slavery. My esteemed fellow members of this advisory council and I, national religious and community leaders, are utilizing this moment to initiate a national call to action for our government to work with the American public -- NGOs, charitable organizations, business leaders, universities and other educational institutions, and the faith community, to eradicate modern-day slavery -- a heinous crime trapping an estimated 21 million people across the globe in servitude.

Each of the advisory council's 10 recommendations is interrelated and build upon central themes. We envision a robust partnership with the White House as leader and convener in bringing to scale the growing sector of modern-day abolitionists in every sector fighting modern-day slavery. We commit ourselves and call upon people of conscience around the country to join this growing movement of modern-day abolitionists committed to eradicating the horror of slavery, growing every day around the globe.

Many of these enslaved people are forced to work in labor and supply chains that produce cheap goods consumed by the American public. Among the advisory council's recommendations is the formation of a set of definitive standards for companies and industries to follow for eliminating slavery in supply chains. The council recommends these standards can be developed as a result of the implementation of President Obama's executive order issued during the Clinton Global Initiative last September, prohibiting the U.S. government from purchasing goods or services from contractors who engage in any form of human trafficking. Using Energy Star or USDA organic as a model, we believe that U.S. government leadership on this issue can galvanize and bring to scale the work already being done by deeply committed people working in the field.

The Council also calls upon faith and community leaders to educate and work together in order to help curb the demand for commercial sex that is trapping innocent people in lives of unspeakable cruelty, both in the United States and around the world. We have also made recommendations that look at how government and law enforcement can work more effectively together to provide more effective and expansive victims' services, and create a single national hotline for human trafficking.

But the release of our report is but the first step.

As a rabbi, I recognize that the Jewish community has an abiding obligation to fulfill our moral mandate to emulate the Godly qualities described in the Bible -- where God "saw our suffering and brought us out of Egypt with an outstretched arm." The Jewish community joins Americans of all faiths in acting upon our belief that human beings are inherently free and may never be viewed as property, much less subject to the horrors of labor and sexual exploitation.

I know I speak on behalf of the other members of the advisory council when I close with a pledge to continue to work as a collective front of advocates committed to bringing an end to modern-day slavery in order to successfully combat this complex situation which affects a diversity of individuals and communities, is exacerbated by rampant poverty, and preys on those in crisis seeking refuge in runaway and homeless youth shelters. We are committed to joining with the White House to accept leadership in this realm and to help us grow partnerships across different industries, faiths, and communities across the country -- and globe.
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