The EFN held its 7th Bridge Conference.“The church has a crucial role in preventing trafficking and in creating a safe restorative community for survivors”, organisers say.
The European Freedom Network (EFN) held its 7th Bridge Conference from 5 to 9 October.
Like last year, the gathering was online, with the attendance of 309 anti-trafficking experts and ministry leaders of 43 different countries from all across Europe.
According to EFN’s Executive Director, Leanne Rhodes, “EFN’s Bridge Conference is an important time for the Christian anti-trafficking sector to meet, to collaborate, upskill, and understand the latest trends in human trafficking”.
“Many of our members are on the front lines, faithfully serving survivors of human trafficking, whilst others work in prevention and advocacy. Bridge Conference is an imperative time for our partners to learn from one another as we address modern slavery together”, adds Rhodes.
Throughout the 5 days of the conference, there were talks, workshops, devotional times, consultations, regional meetings, actions groups and think tanks, among many other things, focused on this year’s conference aim to tackle issues on human trafficking, including how to measure impact and address labour trafficking.
All the speakers were experts in human trafficking from different backgrounds and contexts, public and private; politics; prevention; advocacy, NGOs and many more.
Furthermore, during the conference EFN launched its fourth Don’t Shut Your Eyes campaign video. This year’s video focuses on labour trafficking and online exploitation, and it has been specifically designed for churches to use to raise awareness about it.
“When we talk to people about human trafficking, we find that they generally only think it happens to young women for the purpose of sexual exploitation. That is simply not true. There is a huge market for labour trafficking in Europe and it enslaves a lot of males looking for a better life”, stresses Rhodes.
That is why they “created this year’s Don’t Shut Your Eyes campaign around this theme, to help dispel this myth and help people understand the reality of what is really going on”.
“It’s wonderful to see the Christian anti-trafficking movement engaging on the issue of labour trafficking. Eradicating slavery from corporate supply chains is a very current conversation in the EU at the moment”, underlines the EFN’s Executive Director.
She explains that “German Bundestag (National Parliament) MP, Frank Heinrich spoke about the recent changes in Germany and Valiant Richey from OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe) spoke about the influence of trade agreements that will have an impact on modern day slavery across the globe”.
EFN believes that “the church has an important part to play in addressing human trafficking not only because we are mandated by Jesus to stand for social justice, but human trafficking impacts our brothers and sisters in Christ”.
That is why, as part of this year’s conference, EFN held a Church Engagement Day, aimed at church leaders, parents, and educators, to inform Christians about the realities of human trafficking and the special role of the church”.
“We believe that the church has a crucial role to play in preventing trafficking and exploitation and in creating a safe restorative community for survivors”, points out Jennifer Roemhildt Tunehag, who heads up Church Engagement for EFN.
According to Rhodes, “local churches can check their own supply chains to make sure they are not unknowingly engaging in slavery. They need to look in areas where they hire caterers or cleaners as these services often engage in exploitation. They can start by having a conversation with their suppliers”.
Furthermore, “Christians can help by asking the companies they buy from if the product is slavery free: in just the same way they might ask if the product is environmentally friendly. If enough people start asking, companies will start listening”, she adds.
“The EU is currently developing its directives on corporate responsibility in proactively eradicating slavery from supply chains. Christians can advocate and pray that companies will receive tough penalties for not meeting their obligations on slavery rather than just having to put a statement on their website”, concludes Rhodes.
According to the OSCE, trafficking human beings is the third-largest criminal activity in the world behind drug trafficking and counterfeiting.
Slavery in the 21st Century has become especially hard to identify and prosecute because perpetrators and their associates are now using the advancements of technology in many stages of human trafficking which include recruitment, movement, control, and advertising.
Rhodes stressed that since the pandemic, they have noticed a large increase in online prostitution through video sex, chat rooms, and pornography.
As the landscape and modus operandi of how traffickers recruit victims are changing, EFN has expanded and increased efforts to collaborate with other NGOs, government bodies, and authorities on this matter.
“Human trafficking is a complex problem and it needs our collaboration to end it once and for all”, say the members of EFN.
Learn more about the 2021 Bridge conference of the European Freedom Network here