The take-home lesson from Human Trafficking Awareness Month is that we are all part of the problem and the solution.
There have been a ton of great conversations this month about human trafficking, including the historic Google+ Hangout with Nicholas Kristof, Somaly Mam and Rachel Lloyd. Though we ran The Misconceptions of Human Trafficking, what stood out most to me about January’s awareness campaign was the sheer number of people getting involved. Great organizations who once only got a few retweets or “Likes” are now consistently getting hundreds, and I’ve watched on more than one occasion this month as somebody wrote something like “I had no idea this existed” or “I can’t believe men are trafficked too” or even “Sex trafficking is just one of many forms of human trafficking.” There’s more buzz, there’s more interest. Artists and poets are using it as subject matter. Businesses are being held more accountable for their supply chain and some have for the first time witnessed the horrors of where their goods come from. Of all these brilliant happenings, the most consistent message being spread is that we are all in this together. Even the most conscientious consumer can trace the roots of something they’ve purchased back to a devastatingly brutal situation. One of the clearest messages out there, in my opinion, is a short piece that came from the US State Department and their collaboration with SlaveryFootprint.org. It was published in July 2012 but resurfaced thousands of times this month. Check it out:
6:00 am: Wake up and get ready for work:
The clothes on your back could have been produced by a man, woman, or child in a garment factory in Asia, the Middle East, or Latin America who is subjected to forced labor, including withholding of passports, no pay, long working hours to meet quota, and physical and sexual abuse. To complete your outfit, the jewelry you put on this morning may include gold mined by trafficked children in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
8:00 am: Sit down at your desk:
The electronics you use may be dependent on minerals that are produced in conflict-affected areas in Africa. Children and adults are forced to work in mines under conditions of forced labor and sexual servitude. The PDA you use may also be produced in Asia by adults and children – some as young as nine years old – who are sold or deceived into working in electronic factories under conditions of forced labor, including excessively long hours, minimal or no pay, and threats.
10:00 am: Take a caffeine break:
The coffee you drink to keep you energized may have been touched by modern slaves. Some men and children work under conditions of forced labor on coffee plantations in Latin America and Africa. The sugar you put in that coffee may have also come from plantations where children and men in Latin America, Asia, and Africa are subjected to conditions of forced labor and debt bondage. These victims were exposed to high levels of pesticides and potential injuries from machetes, which are used to cut sugar cane.
12:00 pm: Eat lunch:
The fish you eat for lunch may have been caught by men in Southeast Asia and children as young as four years old in West Africa, who are subjected to conditions of forced labor in the fishing industry. While catching your lunch, these victims may have been deprived of wages, food, water, and shelter, worked extremely long hours, and suffered physical and sexual abuse.
2:00 pm: Afternoon snack:
The chocolate dessert you eat may have been touched by modern slaves, primarily in Africa. Children that work on plantations that produce cocoa – the key ingredient in chocolate – are subjected to conditions of forced labor. There are an estimated 300,000 children who work in cocoa production worldwide.
4:00 pm: Drive to a meeting:
The tires on the car you drive are made of rubber, which is produced in Asia and Africa on rubber plantations. Adults and children, including entire families, are forced to work on these plantations for little to no pay, excessive hours to meet quotas, and in hazardous working conditions.
6:00 pm: Arrive at home:
The bricks in the walls of your house may have been produced by bonded labor victims, including men, women, and children, in brick kilns primarily in Asia and Latin America. Children and adults are forced to work in hazardous working conditions in brick kilns for long hours and minimal pay.
8:00 pm: Enjoy dinner:
The food you cook and eat for dinner may have been touched by men and children subjected to forced labor on cattle ranches and farms in the United States, Latin America, and Africa. These victims work long hours, receive little or no pay, and suffer physical and emotional abuse to herd the cattle that will eventually make it to your dinner table.
11:00 pm: Go to bed:
The cotton in your bedroom may have been picked by men, women, and children – some as young as three years old – in cotton fields, primarily in Central Asia and Africa. While you rest easy on your cotton pillow, children are forced to leave school to work under arduous and abusive conditions, sometimes with no pay, during the annual cotton harvest.