Connections between human trafficking and environmental destruction

The connection between human trafficking and environmental destruction is not obvious at the outset. But a closer scrutiny of human trafficking reveals how it does lead to the degradation of the environment.  When we study the life and works of luminary figures from past to present, they all acknowledge the centrality of human liberty for cultural progress.  Since the upkeep of our environment is a reflection of our cultural values, the link between human freedom and environmental conditions is established.

Saint Vincent de Paul’s words of divine wisdom offer guidance as to how we should consider human freedoms. In the theological context of his counsel, de Paul equated human freedom as the liberation from worldly attachments and desires. He said, “Naturally, everyone loves his freedom, but we must beware of this as of a broad road that leads to perdition.”  (De Paul) Since the moral preoccupations during his lifetime were about sin, salvation and redemption, his wise words were very prescient. In the context of human trafficking (ancient or modern), it can be construed as the excessive exercise of freedom on the part of the trafficker. Often a person in a position of power and privilege is the one perpetrating human trafficking.  His/her motivation is mainly that of economic exploitation. From the Christian doctrine articulated by de Paul, such practices are akin to following a broad road that leads to perdition. Here, perdition can be equated to a catastrophic environmental event that unmitigated human freedom would result in.

When we look at the life and works of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, we once again see why human trafficking is a destructive institution. Ann Seton’s famous words highlight this connection between human slavery and environmental destruction. Although there is no direct mention of trafficking (for the word was not then coined), they resonate with the spirit of human liberty: “The first end I propose in our daily work is to do the will of God; secondly, to do it in the manner he wills it; and thirdly to do it because it is his will.” (St. Ann Seton) All through the Holy Bible we read how the God perceived the poor as the most virtuous.  The austerity and lack of material possessions of the poor is inherently divine.  Hence to enslave this community of the blessed is to act against the Will of God.  Ann Seton’s pitch is that the Will of God is paramount before all other considerations.  So, those who indulge in human trafficking are acting in opposition to the divine command. If God created humans as He created the rest of the Universe, then the actions in the domain of human relations have implications to the broader realm of the environment.

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