A local anti-trafficking task force will sponsor a human trafficking and modern slavery awareness workshop Oct. 13 at the Academy of the Holy Names in Albany.

Speakers include a panel of staff from the Albany Division of the FBI and the Albany County District Attorney's office, students from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, and Sister Teresita Hinnegan, MMS, co-founder of a safe house for domestic and international victims of sex trafficking in Philadelphia.

The keynote speaker will be Sister Michele Morek, OSU, director of UNANIMA International, a non-governmental organization associated with the U.N. that advocates on behalf of women and children, immigrants and refugees, and the environment.

UNANIMA's membership consists of 19 congregations of women religious. Altogether, the religious orders have 20,000 women tackling justice issues in more than 80 countries.

UNANIMA started in 2001 - a time when the issue of human trafficking wasn't getting much attention, Sister Michele told The Evangelist. Today, things have changed: U.N., U.S. and state studies and recommendations have proliferated. All 50 states now have laws regarding trafficking, with New York standing out among a handful that classify it as a felony.

But Sister Michele said advocacy at the U.N. can be "very slow in terms of seeing great big results. We operate sometimes in getting single words into documents."

Some of the causes of trafficking include poverty, organized crime, globalization, lack of education for women, lack of decent employment and social and political conflict. The International Labour Organization estimates there are 18.7 million slaves in the world, with 14.2 million of them in forced labor and the rest in sexual exploitation.

People also traffic in organs, babies, brides, child soldiers and more, Sister Michele added. Cultural myths about sex with virgins means sexual tourism destinations like Thailand and Cambodia put children as young as three in brothels.

"There are more slaves right now than there ever have been in the history of the world," Sister Michele said. "Women and children are more profitable than arms and drugs. You can only sell drugs once, but you can sell women over and over again."

During her Albany talk, Sister Michele will discuss major international anti-trafficking actions and structures; the definition, types and causes of trafficking; what drives demand; prevention; models followed by different countries; case studies; and how attendees at the event can make a difference.

Human trafficking has caught the attention of parish groups in recent years. Sister Michele said Catholics are called to raise awareness about the issue.

"We think, 'Well, we don't traffic people,'" she said. "But we buy stuff that has been obtained or manufactured or grown by slaves [or child labor]."

She gave as examples products like cotton, clothing, rugs, coffee, chocolate and fish, and advised to shop for fair trade products and research the sources of brand names.

"That's what we Americans are best at - buying stuff," Sister Michele said. "I don't think you can know about [trafficking] without feeling like you're morally obliged to do something."
•  The workshop at the Academy of the Holy Names in Albany will be held Oct. 13, 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Registration is $10 in advance, $14 at the door and $5 for students. Call Sister Doreen Glynn, CSJ, (585) 943-7442. Junior Ladies of Charity from AHN will volunteer at the event. Learn more at www.unanima-international.org.

•  In addition, St. Thomas the Apostle parish in Delmar and its Pax Christi and public policy ministries are sponsoring a "Food for Thought" dinner presentation about human trafficking in New York State, to be held Oct. 20, 6 p.m., at St. Thomas School. Presenters will cover awareness, the state's human trafficking statutes and regulations, services available to victims and ways to help. To make reservations for the free dinner by Oct. 15, contact Marie Copeland, 439-44050 or mariecopeland62@gmail.com.