Pope Francis: His fight against social injustice and human exploitation in Argentina

Latin America's first Pope is a strong supporter of co-operatives, who helped the Argentina movement fight against corruption, human trafficking and exploitation.

Latin America's first Pope is a strong supporter of co-operatives, who helped the Argentina movement fight against corruption, human trafficking and exploitation.

As the former Cardinal of Buenos Aires, Jorge Bergoglio, who became Pope Francis, called for co-operation in many his sermons, encouraging people to think of the common good, rather than simply their personal fulfilment.

While he had the role of archbishop, he was very much "close to the people", according to the Catholic Herald, which said he was known simply as 'Father Jorge' who visited the poor, used public transport and lived in a simple apartment where he cooked his own meals.

During his time in Argentina, the former Cardinal was a strong supporter of worker co-operatives, which helped to rescue the country from economic collapse during 2002. One particular co-operative associated with the new Pope is Mundo Alameda, a small textile business in Buenos Aires. (The co-operative's members expressed wide-spread support for the new pontiff on the co-operative's official blog.)

Mundo Alemeda is a part of a wider co-op movement that was started in the 2002 financial collapse with the creation of a textile worker co-operative called “20 of December”. The co-op emerged at a time when Argentina was faced with an unemployment rate of 25 per cent and more than 60 per cent of its population were below the poverty level.

“20 of December” fights for a decent working environment and campaigned against slavery and human trafficking. Ever since he was appointed Cardinal of Buenos Aires, Jorge Bergoglio supported the co-operative, as well as other co-operators from the Movement of Excluded Workers and the pasteboard co-operative El Álamo, which were all actively engaged in promoting decent work.

In an attempt to provide food and jobs for local people, “20 of December” created a community dining room that serves 140 people in the local neighbourhood and produces bread for the community too. The initiative received the endorsement of the Ministry for Social development of the Government of Buenos Aires.

In May 2004 it received financial and technical support from the government and managed to create five successful social enterprises; a bakery, a textile workshop, a craft workshop, a grillroom and a copy center.

Between 2009 and 2011 Jorge Bergoglio officiated various religious ceremonies in the name of the victims of human trafficking and forced labour. Two of these ceremonies took place at Alameda’s premises.

In an interview commemorating the co-op’s tenth anniversary in 2012, the former Cardinal Bergoglio said he was first contacted by Alameda back in 2008. “I realised they were not only interested in these issues, but also working to address them,” he said.

In the video (below in Spanish), the former Cardinal congratulated Alameda for its tenth anniversary and encouraged the co-op to continue to fight against social injustice.

He added that in a culture where people wash their hands, Alameda is trying to make a visible change, by helping to raise awareness over this great problem of human exploitation that exists in Argentina.

Orla Cruz, a dressmaker for Alameda, said she is grateful to Cardinal Bergoglio for having baptised her daughters without asking why they had not been baptised. A Bolivian immigrant, she had been afraid to have her daughters baptised before for fear she might be asked for legal documents. The Cardinal baptised the two girls in Alameda’s premises rather than the church, as their mother requested.

On 4 June 2010, the former Cardinal Bergoglio was also present at the launch of the global brand "No Chains" (Sin Enlaces), which joined together Alameda and 4 other co-ops of South East Asia to fight against forced labour. The initiative aims to start a global campaign against human trafficking and labour exploitation under the slogan "equal pay for equal work".

The National Confederation of Co-operatives of Argentina (Cooperar) welcomed the naming of Cardinal Bergoglio as the new pope.

In a message addressed to Pope Francis I, Ariel Guarco, president of Cooperar, said: “We are delighted to listen to his first manifestations of compromise towards the poor and austerity, principles that can be found in our daily work. We seek to build a society based on values and mutual aid, responsibility, equality, democracy, fairness and solidarity, values that are supported by co-operators from all over the world.

Cooperar also expressed hopes that Pope Francis will have used co-operatives as a means of building a better world, where “the engine will be solidarity” and common good.

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