Local faith actors and their response to modern slavery and human trafficking during COVID-19

Professor Emma Tomalin, University of Leeds

Tribeni Gurung, The Salvation Army

This is the first in a series of blogs that will explore the work of local faith actors in responding to human trafficking and modern slavery during COVID-19.

The JLI Anti-Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery (AHTMS) Learning Hub

The AHTMS learning hub was set up in 2018 with the aim of understanding the ways in which local faith actors are engaging in this area. Following the publication of a scoping study 2019 – Faith and Freedom: The role of local faith actors in anti-modern slavery and human trafficking – the hub has initiated a number of activities to deepen knowledge about and engagement with the work of local faith actors as related to modern slavery and human trafficking (MSHT). This blog series aims to capture local faith actor responses to MSHT and how this has been affected by COVID-19. 

The hub is also working to regionalise its work with activities to establish a regional hub in South-East Asia, as part of the JLI’s Fair and Equitable Initiative.

Background to the blog series

For organisations responding to modern slavery and human trafficking (MSHT) COVID-19 presented specific challenges, not least because the pandemic both exacerbated and changed the profile of human trafficking activities, triggering the need to adapt to the issue in this ‘new world’.  To understand how the international anti-trafficking response adapted to COVID-19, a collaborative research project was conducted between the International Anti-Human Trafficking Network (IAHTN) and the Joint Learning Initiative on Faith and Local Communities (JLI) and the findings were published in August 2021 in the report – International response to anti trafficking during COVID

One of the aims of the research was to ensure that the experiences of faith actors were included and out of responses to a survey that was disseminated, 27 out of 47 were from faith-based organisations, most of which were large Christian NGOs. The high representation of Christian organisations in this field is already well known, but it was noticeable from our responses that very few came from local faith actors whose activities have a lower visibility at the international level. This meant that they had been less likely to be part of the international networks through which the invitation to participate in the research was circulated. Moreover, compared to international organisations in the MSHT field, which consciously identify their work as belonging to this area, local actors do not always think about their activities in this way. Instead, many view their work more broadly as ‘community based’ and ‘holistic’ even though it plays a role in supporting survivors of MSHT as well as involving activities to address its root causes.  

The blog posts presented in this series aim to capture the voices of local faith actors involved in MSHT work and specifically the impact of COVID-19 on their response. Not only have we aimed to include local faith actors, but also to encourage those from religious traditions outside of Christianity to participate, where Christian actors have tended to dominate.

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