By Lian Bunny, ’17
Fr. David Couturier, O.F.M. Cap., presented on the issue of human trafficking at St. Ignatius Church in New York City on Feb. 5. His talk was titled “Slave Labor and Consumerism: A Franciscan Perspective.”
Fr. David is the dean of the School of Franciscan Studies at St. Bonaventure, as well as the interim executive director of the Franciscan Institute.
“I started the presentation by sharing a conversation I had with a woman here in the Western New York area who was involved in human trafficking,” said Fr. David. “She was held as a sex slave outside of Buffalo. We had communicated about her experience, what that was like and the kinds of things she wanted people to know about human trafficking.”
She said to remind people that men, women and children do not choose to be in those kinds of situations; they find themselves in a desperate situation and need people to intervene, to make resources available, so that they can escape.
Fr. David also discussed the other side of human trafficking: Some large United States corporations with subsidiaries and subcontractors around the world have been caught using men, women and children as human slaves to boost productivity.
According to Fr. David, on Valentine’s Day, Americans spend upwards of $1.8 billion on chocolate. Major companies are sometimes unwittingly involved in human trafficking in places such as the Ivory Coast and Bali. The international problem has been recognized for approximately 14 years and the companies agreed to stop the problem by 2008. Fast-forward to 2015, and the New York Times reports indicate that human trafficking is still an issue.
“I reminded [them] to take an examination of conscience about how they buy and sell things,” said Fr. David. “Do they care how their clothes are made? Do they care if the foods they eat [or] the clothes they wear have been produced by children in slavery? Does it bother them that the chocolate that they eat may have been produced by children who have been kidnapped and transported across government boundaries for the purpose of more profit for particular companies?
"My sense is it does bother people once they finally know about it, and they know they can do something about it.”
Fr. David said there is legislation before the House of Representatives that would require companies to audit their practices to guarantee the elimination of human trafficking within their businesses. Congress has had the legislation for at least five years, and it has gotten nowhere.
Slave trade today is larger than the slave trade in the 18th and 19th centuries, said Fr. David. There are more trade slaves today than at any period in human history.
“It’s time to help our companies to do the right thing,” said Fr. David.
Fr. David became involved with the issue of human trafficking in the mid 1990s. He was president of Franciscans International, a nongovernmental organization at the United Nations. The advocacy group worked on issues of human rights, and one of the issues was human trafficking. He has continued to be involved with the issue over the years.
To continue his work in the Olean area, Fr. David has contacted P.A.T.H., Inc. (People Against Trafficking Humans), an organization dedicated to fostering communication and cooperation between local, national and international groups that work against human trafficking.
Fr. David also plans to partner with the Franciscan Center for Social Concern and to continue to write, speak and acquire groups on campus to spread more information on the issue of human trafficking and to spark some action.
Since his arrival in August, Fr. David has given a senior plenary session and spoke in two classes on the issue.
“I tried to make the connection between human trafficking and an attitude of consumerism [with] how a Franciscan approach to life can help us solve the issue of human trafficking,” said Fr. David.
“When we abuse creation and turn God’s gift to us into matter and stuff to be bought and sold, it’s not a long trek to begin to treat people as stuff that can also be bought and sold. A Franciscan approach that continues to sense creation as God’s gift will help us to continue to remember that people are also God’s gift as well.”
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