Have you ever considered whether slaves work for you? When we learn about slavery that existed more than 200 years ago, when people were sold as a commodity, and the horrors of separating mothers and children and the beatings that were a common occurrence, we think “Thank God,” those days don’t exist anymore. And yet, there are more slaves today than ever before.
Human Trafficking is the fastest growing criminal industry, second only to drugs. It is a 354 billion-dollar industry, and Orlando is ranked third in the nation for reported phone calls to the National Human Trafficking Hotline. We often hear about sex trafficking, but most human trafficked victims are in forced labor.
The International Labor Organization estimates that there are 40.3 million victims of human trafficking around the world, including 24.9 million in forced labor and 15.4 million in forced marriage. And we contribute to it every day.
If you drive a car, own a cell phone, a computer, jewelry, clothes, purchase seafood, coffee or chocolate, you have slaves working for you. If you visit SlaveryFootprint.org, you can find out how many slaves actually work for you. It’s overwhelming to see how many of our everyday products are produced using forced or child labor. But here’s the good news. You can do something about it by using your purchasing power and spreading awareness.
When you go to the store and buy your coffee, seafood, and chocolate. You see a product. What you don’t see are the faces behind those products. Have you ever wondered why some of the shrimp and seafood you may buy are so inexpensive? Seafood is considered one of the top five at-risk products. Often, we may purchase cheap seafood, but what’s saving us a few dollars is costing others their lives. If we are buying seafood from Indonesia and Thailand among other places, you could be contributing to human trafficking. What we may not realize is that fishermen are kept aboard fishing vessels for years without ever coming ashore with some as young as 12 being separated from their families where they are forced to work 12-hour days. If they fall sick or complain, they are beaten or worse — thrown overboard.
An estimated 30,000 adults and children were in forced labor in the cocoa industry between 2013 and 2017. But these numbers have faces, such as the little boy who was lured away from his family with the simple promise of a bicycle — one he never saw. Instead, he found himself enslaved on a Cocoa plantation where he never even got to taste the chocolate that he worked so hard for. According to the Food Empowerment Project, former cocoa slave, Aly Diabate, told reporters that the beatings were part of his life. Drissa, a recently freed slave, would tell people who eat chocolate from slave labor, that they enjoyed something that he suffered to make, adding “when people eat chocolate, they are eating my flesh.” These are the faces of human trafficking.
This is not just a global issue. Right here in Florida are those in forced labor working in nail salons, massage parlors, the hotel industry, among the fields that grow our food or in our neighborhoods where children are forced to go to door to door selling items. They are hidden in plain sight. Gone are the visible shackles that we would have seen so many years ago, now replaced by the invisible chains of human trafficking. Human trafficking occurs through force, fraud and coercion. Many victims’ families are threatened unless they perform their duties. Their passports are confiscated, and fear is instilled in them, so they rarely report their circumstances to law enforcement.
Human Trafficking speaks directly to the tenets of Catholic Social Teaching. We have the responsibility to protect the rights and dignity of the human person, the poor and vulnerable and to care for God’s Creation—our brothers and sisters.
Pope Francis once said, “Every person ought to have the awareness that purchasing is always a moral – and not simply an economic – act.”
Too often, the responsibility of eliminating modern slavery is placed only on the countries where the crime is perpetrated. They have a responsibility, but we can, and must, do more.
Everything changes when we accept the invitation from God to partner with him and work on behalf of other human beings. I tell you these things to educate you because knowledge is power and now you have the power. Victims of human trafficking do not have a say, but you can be their voice.
Make the commitment to consider buying fair trade not only this holiday season but for the upcoming year.
- ASK: “Do you sell sustainable and slave-free seafood? Encourage companies to sell Fair Trade products and let businesses know this is important to you.
- BUY: Use your purchasing power to buy Fair Trade products at local stores. If unavailable, look for the country of origin on products. Download the Sweat & Toil app or visit www.dol.gov/ilab/reports/child-labor/list-of-goods/ to see which countries to avoid.
- CHOOSE: Fair Trade items found at www.crsfairtrade.org when shopping.
- ADVOCATE: Spread the word about slavery and encourage others to buy fair trade and contact your legislators to let them know this issue is important to you.
In the coming year, look for more articles highlighting popular items that are made using Child or Forced Labor. Take the pledge to start making a difference one item at a time. No demand. No supply and changes will begin to happen. Buying Fair Trade and looking at our purchasing choices may cost us a little more time and money, but we have that choice…victims of human trafficking do not. What will you choose? Will you choose to give the gift of freedom?