Corban Teague Remarks on Assisting Victims of Human Trafficking at Vatican City

HU’s Corban Teague, Senior Associate for Policy & Government Relations, was invited to speak at the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences Workshop on Assisting Victims of Human Trafficking at Vatican City. Read his full remarks below.


My name is Corban Teague, and I am the Senior Associate for Policy & Government Relations at Humanity United.

It is a tremendous honor for me to be on this panel alongside such amazing advocates, and in particular to be here at the Vatican. We all have different reasons for why we chose to get involved in this work, but for me, it is very much an extension of my Christian faith. I believe that as a Christian I am called to model the life of Christ, whose purpose was to restore a broken and hurting world. So for me, and I am sure for many of you, working to combat modern slavery is as much as spiritual calling as it is a profession, and I cannot think of a more appropriate venue than this to discuss how to better assist trafficking victims and survivors.

Humanity United is a foundation dedicated to bringing new approaches to global problems, including modern slavery – problems that have long been considered intractable and unsolvable. One of our core beliefs – and the key theme of what I’d like to briefly share today – is this: When humanity is united, we can act together to create a powerful force for human dignity.

Combatting human trafficking demands collaboration and partnership, across civil society, government, industry, and survivor communities. While at times we may have very different perspectives on what are the most effective solutions to pursue, on the whole we can accomplish infinitely more by focusing on identifying areas of agreement and working together towards those common goals.

I’d like to briefly share two Humanity United initiatives that highlight this kind of collaborative approach, with the goal of challenging all of us to think critically about how we can better mobilize diverse stakeholders to partner on anti-trafficking initiatives.

First is the Alliance to End Slavery & Trafficking, a coalition of U.S. based NGOs, including IJM, which Humanity United brought together to influence the U.S. federal government’s approach to trafficking. This coalition was launched in 2007, and it has worked over the past decade specifically to increase resources to assist victims and combat the crime, along with promoting better overall federal anti-trafficking policy.

For the coalition, Humanity United deliberately brought organizations together with different perspectives and priorities. Some focus primarily on sex trafficking, others on labor; some focus on domestic trafficking in the U.S., others work internationally.

But even with these different approaches, by working together to identify and advance shared priorities, the coalition and its allies have contributed to important U.S. policy advances over the past decade, including:

  • A more than 50 percent increase in U.S. government funding to anti-trafficking programs; and
  • Meaningful improvements to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act – which is the fundamental U.S. law that addresses trafficking.

We found that our case to policymakers was often stronger because of the coalition’s diversity, not in spite of it.

The second initiative focuses on Nepal’s brick kiln industry. The program, called Better Brick Nepal, aims to improve business practices and labor standards within the Nepali brick industry, with the goal of reducing forced labor and debt bondage in that sector.

The brick industry in Nepal employs approximately 250,000 people, roughly a quarter of whom are underage children. Many of these brick workers face extremely harsh living and working conditions, and are either being trafficked or are quite vulnerable to being trafficked. The Better Brick Nepal initiative is working to address these challenges on three fronts.

First, we are working with the brick kilns to incentivize them to eliminate the trafficking and exploitation of their workers. While that may seem like an unlikely partnership, we are seeing a growing number of these businesses who do want to implement ethical production standards, and we are helping equip them with the tools to make that a reality. We are providing technical assistance to those businesses taking concrete steps to change, in order to strengthen their competitiveness and help them market their bricks.

Second, we are working with consumers to create a market preference for those bricks made free of forced labor. There are now almost 100 million Nepali bricks made without child labor on the market, and we need to steer consumers towards these bricks. Establishing a strong market for that product will help create an additional leverage point that we can use as we push to eliminate all forced labor from this industry.

And third, we are working with the workers and their families to strengthen their individual financial situations, so that they are less vulnerable to predatory loans that result in bonded labor.

The Alliance to End Slavery & Trafficking and Better Brick Nepal are just two examples of how Humanity United is supporting collaborative networks to combat trafficking and assist victims. While they focus on very different parts of the problem, the common thread is that by having diverse actors working towards one common goal, we can create the powerful force needed for change.

Thank you for this opportunity to share a little of our work, and I look forward to our discussion.

Learn more about the Workshop on Assisting Victims of Human Trafficking.