2022 Assembly


Auxiliary Bishop Puff: “Human trafficking should not be profitable!”


Santa Marta Group Releases Appeal Against Business Trafficking

COLOGNE, February 10, 2022 / (Catholic News Agency -German).-

At the first European meeting of the Santa Marta Group, the auxiliary bishop from Cologne, Ansgar Puff, called for the crime of human trafficking to be deprived of its financial basis.

The meeting took place on February 8th and 9th in Cologne – at the invitation of the Archdiocese and the Migration Commission of the Bishops’ Conference.


Speakers from the police, victim support, science and politics, such as Wolfgang Spadinger (Task Force Human Trafficking in the Austrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs), emphasized the importance of cooperation in all areas of combating human trafficking. “An effective fight against modern slavery can only be achieved across borders and sectors,” summarized Auxiliary Bishop Puff. “We also have to include the perspective of the home countries of victims and start with the churches’ help at the beginning of the chain of exploitation and enslavement. New laws alone will not solve the problem.”


In a heated discussion about the role of employers and workers’ organizations, Prof. Ulrich Hemel, Chairman of the Federation of Catholic Entrepreneurs (BKU), and Jeroen Beirnaert from the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) agreed that a mixture of regulation, effective monitoring of existing laws and Individual responsibility of companies and consumers is required.


Prof. Joachim von Braun (President of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences) also pointed out that activities to combat human trafficking need to be strengthened in many areas. Thomas Wissing (ILO) underpinned this and drew attention to the importance of education and a grievance mechanism for victims, where they might also be able to claim compensation. Archbishop Hess summed it up: “The variety of perspectives at the conference made it clear to us how important this exchange is. At the same time, the church as a worldwide network can be an important source of inspiration for exchange.”


The session was chaired by Cardinal Vincent Nichols, President of the Santa Marta Group and Chair of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, as well as long-time Special Adviser to the Santa Marta Group, Kevin Hyland (OBE), Irish member of the Council of Europe’s Group of Experts against Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA).

Hyland called for more attention to the impact of human trafficking in everyday life to increase awareness of victims and stressed the importance of European and national supply chain laws. He summarized the goal of the Santa Marta Group in the concise formula “leadership by example” – setting a good example and thus convincing many.


Action Plan presented

The aim of the online event with over 100 participants from 23 countries was to promote cooperation between the church, the police and other actors. For this purpose, an action plan was presented and discussed, which identifies core problems and steps to be taken to combat human trafficking.

The action plan contains recommendations for eight areas of victim protection and crime prevention. Among other things, the Santa Marta Group and the German Bishops’ Conference call for the crime of human trafficking to be made more visible to the public. “The topic of human trafficking and exploitation must reach the centre of society so that the crime is seen and understood as a problem,” said Auxiliary Bishop Ansgar Puff (Cologne), Chairman of the Human Trafficking Working Group of the German Bishops’ Conference.


Sufficient state funds are necessary, among other things, to create specialized departments in police and law enforcement agencies and to train specialists.

If illegal profits from exploitation and slavery could be confiscated, this not only made it possible to compensate the victims, but also increased the risk for the perpetrators. Because “Human trafficking must not be profitable!“, Auxiliary Bishop Puff said literally.

The Santa Marta Group and the German Bishops’ Conference announced that they would present the action plan to political representatives after the discussions had been evaluated and that they would like to introduce it to the next international conference of the Santa Marta Group.

In his welcome speech, Archbishop Stefan Hesse, chairman of the Bishops’ Conference’s Migration Commission of Hamburg, said “the Church still has many opportunities to intensify the fight against exploitation.”


Keyword Santa Marta Group

Pope Francis has made the fight against slavery and human trafficking a priority of his pontificate. In 2019, for example, the Vatican Dicastery for Integral Human Development published the “Pastoral Guidelines on Trafficking in Human Beings”, which provide valuable assistance for international work in this area.

The Santa Marta Group is a cooperation of high-ranking church representatives and organizations, police officers from over 30 countries and other governmental and non-governmental organizations who have met every two years in the Vatican since 2014 at the invitation of Pope Francis and on the initiative of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales. The aim of the group is to develop “common and effective strategies” by state and civil society actors against human trafficking and exploitation.



Photo: Raimond Spekking / Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0 )