Coauthored with Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo
In April, twenty five years ago, Pope John Paul II wrote "Centesimus Annus," an encyclical very similar to Pope Francis's much-heralded "Laudato Si'". Both encyclicals addressed the rampant exploitation of people and the planet. Both called for justice. Both lifted up the working class and the poor. Both remain extremely relevant in 2016, which is why we're inviting to the Vatican this week world leaders to answer Pope John Paul II and Pope Francis's clarion call to protect the environment and everyone who lives on it.
There could be no more urgent political or policy agenda. There are two global crises that are increasing exponentially in scale this year, trapped in a vicious reinforcing cycle, one making the other worse. Both involve the treatment of people and planet as expendable. Both are at the heart of a new Global Sustainability Network Forum, launched last month at the Vatican by the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences.
The first is the mass and unmitigated exploitation of people. Devastatingly, the trafficking of humans - to be sold, bonded, traded, and raped - is on the rise. The world is trafficking more humans than ever before. Worsening this trend: the global migration of refugees fleeing unstable and insecure environments. The numbers mount with each passing month. While we hear most about migrant flows into Europe, these vulnerable populations are on the move on every continent and in every country - take, as an example, the unaccompanied minors going from Central America to Mexico and, finally, to the US - making exploitation more possible.
Exploitation's worst example, however, is war. Three-fourths of the humanitarian needs today result from war - noted by world leaders gathered at the Casina Pio IV in the Vatican in February - all of which is human caused. Wars result from many causes: injustice, deprivation, greed and the unbridled pursuit of gain, the pathological pursuit of power, secret diplomacy, and distrust across the lines of culture, religion, class and race. Yet all wars have human solutions, and the greatest humanitarian solution on the planet is the end of today's wars and the prevention of future conflicts. Mutual dialogue, restraint, the pursuit of international law and justice, honesty, and love can provide a solution. The payoff is huge: Ending wars saves lives, avoids humanitarian crises, obviates mass refugee movements, and saves money. It is without question the least costly and most practical form of humanitarian assistance available in the world. We should pursue it.
The second crisis is the unmitigated exploitation of the planet. The result? Each month and each year is proving hotter than the one before it, with more carbon dioxide in the air than ever before and more rapidly rising sea levels, mounting heat and acidity in the oceans, and terrifying accounts of extreme weather everywhere. Consequently, climate change is creating tens of millions of climate refugees, putting already poor people at even greater risk of exploitation.
It is time to put in practice what the international community has committed to post Paris, post UN adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals and post Encyclical, Laudato Si'. We want to move from words to action in all sectors of society - business, government, media and more. And while the new Vatican-based network will cover the range of social, economic and environmental sustainability issues, we decided to zero in on two of the most urgent crises: exploitation of people and exploitation of the planet.
Both stem from a malevolent mindset that sees humans and the environment as expendable. We want this cheap commodification of people and the planet to stop and are calling on the UN mandate, via the Sustainable Development Goals, to mobilize the international community.
We can put an end to these two crises but it will require every good person to take a good look at their lifestyle practices in view of peace and the common good. What we wear, what we eat, and what we build is often made by slave labor and is, more likely than not, exacerbating global warming.
The textile industry's dependency on slave labor is well documented and its toxic and oil-dependent footprint is also well known. The food industry's dependency on migrant labor is well documented and its heavy carbon and methane footprint, especially meat, is also well known. The building industry's dependency on bonded labor is well documented and its greenhouse gas emissions, the largest of any sector, are also well known. The automotive industry, and its fossil fuel allies, is one of the main causes of global warming and hasn't yet fully integrated more sustainable solutions such as electric cars, which are present in the market.
Each industry is killing, maiming, or abusing the people who dye, cut, spray, pick, prepare, haul, and heave. Each industry is getting by without paying for or protecting the very planet that built their profits. It is a shameful abdication of morality, ethics or basic responsibility. And each day that goes by, each injustice that goes unstopped by any one of us, the problem gets worse. (And we haven't even mentioned the weapons industry and the extensive and informal sale of weapons, which cause many of the wars not waged for justice.)
It's time for this practice of irresponsibility to end because it is impacting all of us in immeasurable ways. That is why our partners in the Global Sustainability Network Forum are now rolling out a "Freedom Seal" to reward companies who refuse to enslave labor in any and all parts of their product's supply chain. That is why the Academy is calling for any exploitation of people to be understood and prosecuted as a crime against humanity, the only crime that has no statute of limitations. That is why we are organizing every sector possible - from religious leaders to elected mayors, from business executives to appointed government officials, from media experts to community-based nongovernmental organizations - at the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences.
Why, because it will require all hands on deck to hold the exploiters accountable. Whether they are expending people or the planet. Neither can continue unabated anymore. People globally answered the call of Pope Francis in his encyclical, Laudato Si', for a more socially, economically and environmental just world. Now it is time to act on that call. Ending exploitation. Living differently. Witnessing radically. We are serious about action and eager to act - ASAP.
Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo is the Chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences. Michael Shank is assistant adjunct professor at New York University's Center for Global Affairs and adjunct faculty at George Mason University's School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution.