"Slavery is one of the greatest shames of humanity," the Italian head of state said in an address today. "Today, the World Day against Human Trafficking, obliges us to reiterate our condemnation against all forms of slavery, old and new, and to fight against them.”
He stressed that “the migratory phenomenon is fertile ground for modern slavery.”
“Every day, thousands of people put their lives at risk and those of their loved ones at sea and on land in desperate conditions,” he said.
“These are children of war, poverty and instability, fueled and exploited by disgraceful human traffickers, who put them on a path towards a future of oppression: labour exploitation, illegal adoptions, organ harvesting, recruitment by organised criminals, or sexual exploitation.”
According to the Italian Ministry of Internal Affairs, human trafficking is the third-biggest source of income for criminal gangs in Italy, after arms and drugs trade.
The International Labour Organisation has found that there are about 40 million victims of human trafficking worldwide.
Of these, it says some 25 million are in forced labour, a figure which includes domestic work and sexual exploitation, and another 15 million are in some form of forced marriage. One in four victims of modern slavery are children.
These shocking numbers have pushed the United Nations to adopt the goal of eliminating human trafficking completely by 2030.
Mattarella described trafficking and slavery as a “plague on society that must be eradicated”, and called for people to “look at their consciences.”
"No country is immune from this systematic violation of human dignity and no one should feel the temptation to look away,” he said.
“Only cooperation can defeat this phenomenon, with a European Union aware of its values and responsibilities.”
Earlier this month Mattarella appealed for discussion about migration and border policy to be based on rationality rather than emotions, denouncing Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini's talk of closing borders as "irresponsible."