Bitcoin, slavery and the Vatican

The way bitcoin and other crypto-currencies are being used in the modern-day slave trade is a hot topic at the Vatican.

Bank of Montreal senior manager Joseph Mari yesterday presented the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences (PASS) with an overview of the role crypto-currencies play in money laundering.

He also explained blockchain‘s potential in the money-laundering and slavery fight.

Pope Francis has made slavery a top priority of his pontificate and helped inspire the recent PASS efforts, according to an internal document provided to CoinDesk.

The International Labour Organization (ILO) says forced labour including human slave trading generates annual profits of approximately US$150 billion.

The profits are gleaned from more than 21 million men, women and children in forced labour, commercial sexual exploitation and forced economic exploitation.

The slaves are mostly engaged in domestic work, construction, manufacturing, mining and utilities, agriculture, forestry and fishing.

PASS has held workshops, seminars and plenary meetings and has a “core” recommendation to resettle slaves where they are found, if they so choose, rather than repatriate them.

“Blockchain and cryptocurrency need to be on their [PASS’s] radar, it needs to be recognised as something that is current, is being utilised and, the quicker the learning curve is surmounted, the quicker we can start working towards the risks that are presented,” Mari says.

Mari also presented PASS with the most recent results of Project Protect.

Project Protect was founded in 2015 to teach anti-money laundering (AML) officers how to identify transaction patterns that might suggest evidence of human trafficking.

It identified an increase in the use of crypto-currencies by slave traders in Canada and other regions.

The Project has worked with blockchain data startup Chainalysis and other financial institutions to create new methods to identify patterns in crypto-currency transactions that might indicate a slave has been purchased or is being advertised.

“… I’m just really stressing from an AML standpoint that this is something that has been going on for the better part of 10 years,” Mari says.

“And its [bitcoin’s] uses are diversifying across the board, in terms both positive and negative.”

Mari described the potential impact the PASS event could have on jump-starting the fight against slavery transacted in crypto-currency:

“The quicker we can start coming to terms with the fact that this is something that is most likely going to be here for the foreseeable future, the quicker we can start getting towards mitigating the risk.”


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