In his recent Encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, Pope Francis encourages openness to encounter with other people, and advances universal brotherhood and social friendship as the Christ-like approach to such encounter. The Pope illustrates how our culture, our politics and our economy not only diverge from, but even undermine, those principles of brotherhood and social friendship.

He draws our attention to our insufficient vindication of universal human rights as a failure to recognise the humanity of our brothers and sisters: It frequently becomes clear that, in practice, human rights are not equal for all.’ (22) Instead, Francis points to the way in which our apathy towards human dignity, and greed driven by our economic system, has created the conditions in which rights are trampled: ‘In today’s world, many forms of injustice persist, fed by reductive anthropological visions and by a profit-based economic model that does not hesitate to exploit, discard and even kill human beings. […] What does this tell us about the equality of rights grounded in innate human dignity?’ (22)

In particular, the Holy Father points to modern day slavery and human trafficking as a brutal example of the disregard for human dignity and rights:

‘We should also recognize that “even though the international community has adopted numerous agreements aimed at ending slavery in all its forms, and has launched various strategies to combat this phenomenon, millions of people today – children, women and men of all ages – are deprived of freedom and forced to live in conditions akin to slavery… Today, as in the past, slavery is rooted in a notion of the human person that allows him or her to be treated as an object… Whether by coercion, or deception, or by physical or psychological duress, human persons created in the image and likeness of God are deprived of their freedom, sold and reduced to being the property of others. They are treated as means to an end… [Criminal networks] are skilled in using modern means of communication as a way of luring young men and women in various parts of the world”.[21] A perversion that exceeds all limits when it subjugates women and then forces them to abort. An abomination that goes to the length of kidnapping persons for the sake of selling their organs. Trafficking in persons and other contemporary forms of enslavement are a worldwide problem that needs to be taken seriously by humanity as a whole: “since criminal organizations employ global networks to achieve their goals, efforts to eliminate this phenomenon also demand a common and, indeed, a global effort on the part of various sectors of society”.’ (24)

Pope Francis discusses the political and economic models that on the one hand resist migration, while on the other, generate the push and pull factors of migration. When the cultural, economic and security conditions that generate migration meet with the wall erected by political ideology, the conditions for trafficking are primed:

‘Certain populist political regimes, as well as certain liberal economic approaches, maintain that an influx of migrants is to be prevented at all costs. Arguments are also made for the propriety of limiting aid to poor countries, so that they can hit rock bottom and find themselves forced to take austerity measures. One fails to realize that behind such statements, abstract and hard to support, great numbers of lives are at stake. Many migrants have fled from war, persecution and natural catastrophes. Others, rightly, “are seeking opportunities for themselves and their families. […] Unscrupulous traffickers, frequently linked to drug cartels or arms cartels, exploit the weakness of migrants, who too often experience violence, trafficking, psychological and physical abuse and untold sufferings on their journey.’ (37 – 38)

The Pope condemns the failure to create a politics capable of responding effectively to trafficking and the conditions that give rise to it: ‘We are still far from a globalization of the most basic of human rights. […] Often, as we carry on our semantic or ideological disputes, we allow our brothers and sisters to die of hunger and thirst, without shelter or access to health care.’ (189) Francis’s ire is especially reserved for the cynicism revealed when empty rhetoric is contrasted with the political failure to find real solutions to trafficking: ‘trafficking in persons represents another source of shame for humanity, one that international politics, moving beyond fine speeches and good intentions, must no longer tolerate. These things are essential; they can no longer be deferred.’(189)

Finally, Pope Francis warns against fearfully holding onto political office at all costs, with the result, paradoxically, of failing to use that office for any good purpose. Instead he calls upon political leaders to take on the fundamental problems facing society and in particular the most violent abuses of human rights:

‘Politicians are doers, builders with ambitious goals, possessed of a broad, realistic and pragmatic gaze that looks beyond their own borders. Their biggest concern should not be about a drop in the polls, but about finding effective solutions to “the phenomenon of social and economic exclusion, with its baneful consequences: human trafficking, the marketing of human organs and tissues, the sexual exploitation of boys and girls, slave labour, including prostitution, the drug and weapons trade, terrorism and international organized crime. Such is the magnitude of these situations, and their toll in innocent lives, that we must avoid every temptation to fall into a declarationist nominalism that would assuage our consciences. We need to ensure that our institutions are truly effective in the struggle against all these scourges”.’ (188)