The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s efforts against human trafficking in the nation and in the world were highlighted Monday by a panel assembled by the denomination’s Human Trafficking Roundtable.
The roundtable came into existence after the church had adopted policies against human trafficking, beginning in 2006, and after its ongoing partnership with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers raised awareness of domestic labor trafficking, said Ryan Smith of the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations.
More than 100 people gathered to hear Bethany Karbowski, Equal Exchange interfaith and community program coordinator; Doug Tilton, mission co-worker in South Africa and regional liaison for Southern Africa and Madagascar; and Jill Bolander Cohen, founder of the Greater Orlando Human Trafficking Task Force.
Karbowski said Equal Exchange is trying to eliminate trafficking by attacking its causes. “Poverty is one of the root causes of trafficking,” she said. “When there aren’t better alternatives for people in rural areas, human trafficking increases – especially in agricultural areas … Having a stable price allows farmers to stay on their land, allows for better education opportunities and a better quality of life to keep families together.”
Tilton described the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s efforts, including the addition of Cathy Chang, a new mission co-worker for Southeast Asia, who will work together with the United Church of Christ in the Philippines to oppose exploitation of vulnerable people. In Africa, he said, the PC(USA) has two co- workers advancing the interests of women and children: Christi Boyd in the Congo and Janet Guyer in Malawi.
Bolander Cohen joined the fight against human trafficking after taking a role in justice and peace advocacy with Presbyterian Women of Central Florida in 2010. She said attending Ecumenical Advocacy Days in Washington, D.C., led to her becoming an activist when she learned that Florida’s Interstate 4 corridor is one of the most heavily trafficked areas in the country.
“I engaged the church by educating myself about human trafficking,” she said. “… The Human Trafficking Roundtable has great resources for the church.”
Cohen, the founder of the LifeBoat project and of the group Awareness Combats Trafficking, said: “It’s never too late to get involved. I’m so proud of the work the PC(USA) does and the support we’ve received.”
In her closing remarks, Karbowski said, “Many people would do the right thing if they had the right information; education is really important.” To that end, she suggested the books “Everyday Justice” by Julie Clawson and “The True Cost of Low Prices” by Vincent Gallagher.
“This is a global issue,” Tilton said. “From Global Ministries’ perspective, it’s always good to recall the power of prayer. Remember those who are affected or involved in trafficking, and especially partners working to combat trafficking in their areas.”
Cohen spoke about the power of collaboration, urging attendees to partner with knowledgeable people. “Get involved on the presbytery level and you will be amazed at where God will lead you and bring awareness,” she said. “If you see something, say something. Someone’s life may depend on it.”
The Human Trafficking Roundtable is a multi-agency effort of the PC(USA), comprising representatives from the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program, the Presbyterian Hunger Program, the Presbyterian Ministry at the UN, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, the Office of Public Witness, World Mission, Presbyterian Women, Presbyterian Men and the Office of the General Assembly Office of Immigration.
Ann Hayman, a Presbyterian pastor who is program director of the Mary Magdalene Project, announced that the Social Justice Issues Committee of the 222nd General Assembly (2016) approved the report “Human Trafficking and Human Rights” minutes before the luncheon began.
The 40-page report includes current statistics about trafficking and points out that human trafficking and modern-day slavery have become lucrative businesses. “We’ve been good [about] understanding women and children,” she said, “but we also need to attend to men in mining, construction and agriculture, living at a subsistence existence.”