It has been called modern-day slavery and has not only deprived people of their human rights, but is increasing health risks and fueling the growth of organized crime, according to church leaders. One of the issues to take center stage at the upcoming CPJ/ Ecumenical Advocacy Days Conference in April will be human trafficking. 

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has long fought the battle to end trafficking across the globe. Its work within the church as well as with international partners has brought the issue to the forefront over the years. 

“Federal laws were passed against human trafficking in 2001. However, we have continued to see an increase in the last 10 years,” says Ryan Smith, Presbyterian representative at the U.N. “Despite this, churches have more information and are more engaged than before.” 

The total number of trafficked persons totals in the millions worldwide, according to national and international studies. Human trafficking can take on many different forms, including forced labor or servitude in such industries as agriculture, construction, manufacturing, prostitution, domestic service, or marriage. 

The Human Trafficking Roundtable was created in response to General Assembly action. Church staff have begun meeting regularly to develop strategies to combat the problem along with congregations, presbyteries, and synods. 

One of the strategies has been the creation of “Code of Conduct” cards, a new initiative to encourage companies, organizations, and individuals to take a stand against human trafficking. 

“When conducting business, Presbyterians and other interested parties can distribute these code cards and urge companies to train employees,” says Smith. “The PC(USA) was one of the first to make this a priority, and we will use our purchasing power to encourage companies to join us.” 

Smith adds that travelers can use the cards when booking hotels, eating at restaurants, or renting cars. This encourages companies to join “the Code” and take actions to address trafficking. 

The Human Trafficking Roundtable has created various public awareness campaigns around the issue, as well as sermons, Bible studies, and more. It has provided take-action opportunities through legislatures, corporate campaigns, shareholder initiatives, and human trafficking awareness trainings for interested presbyteries. 

Over the years, the church has aligned with other organizations. The Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking (ATEST) is a U.S.-based organization battling labor and sex trafficking and empowering survivors with tools for recovery.  The Coalition of Immokalee Workers is dedicated to fighting farm slavery operations across the southeastern U.S. Its work has led to the liberation of more than 1,200 workers held against their will. ECPAT-USA is an anti-trafficking policy organization working to end commercial sexual exploitation of children. 

The 2014 General Assembly called for a comprehensive study on human trafficking, creating a study team to look at the issue and help the church create a stronger policy base. The 2014 overture stated that the current policy does not address the “scope and breadth of human trafficking.” The new team was appointed by the ACWC and the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP.)   The group’s findings will be reported to the 222nd General Assembly in 2016. 

Those attending CPJ Day on April 17 will be able to hear the latest on roundtable activity and the church’s next steps on human trafficking.  Smith will be leading a course on the topic. 

The Compassion, Peace, and Justice Training Day and Ecumenical Advocacy Days Conference will be held in Washington, D.C. April 17-20. 

For additional information on human trafficking, contact hrroundtable@pcusa.org.