Human Trafficking Awareness Day: How Many Modern-Day Slaves Are Supporting You?

In the 2008 Book of Resolutions of the United Methodist Church (Nashville: The United Methodist Publishing House), Resolution 6023, “Abolition of Sex Trafficking,” declares, “Therefore, The United Methodist Church, through education, financial resources, publication, lobbying, and the use of every relevant gift of God, shall join in the active battle against the modern-day enslavement of humans for commercial sexual exploitation” (p. 735).

United Methodist Women Human Trafficking Team

In August 2009, the United Methodist Women launched the Human Trafficking Team training program through the Office of Policy in Washington, D.C., and Hands That Heal. Intensive training took place at the Candler School of Theology in Atlanta, Ga. The program was a train-the-trainer opportunity, and through these ladies, nearly 11,000 people have been made aware of the existence of human trafficking through resource distribution and education. Today, the team has 21 members, each of which has developed an action plan to raise human trafficking awareness at the community, conference, state and national levels. In 2008, United Methodist Women joined others to advocate for the passing of the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, which President George W. Bush signed into law, and today we are actively working for its reauthorization. United Methodist Women from Iowa, Kansas, Georgia, California, Ohio and Florida alone have organized at least 131 human trafficking awareness events since 2009 and are regularly engaged with their legislators to enhance policy responses to trafficking in the key trafficking areas within the United States.

Modern-day Slavery

Human trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery and is the second largest criminal industry in the world after drug trade. Financial bondage and violent intimidation are mechanisms used by traffickers to enslave women and children. Victims of human trafficking can be landscaping and agricultural workers, panhandlers, day laborers, factory and sweatshop workers, hotel workers and housekeepers. These victims are exploited by the service industries in restaurants, bars, strip clubs, nail salons, and similar businesses. According to the Not for Sale Campaign, the process of enslavement includes the following elements:

  • Recruitment: Traffickers often target children from socially compromised communities, sometimes with the parents’ consent.
  • Extraction: Traffickers take recruits to places where law enforcement or citizens are unlikely to help them.
  • Control: Slaveholders control every aspect of recruits’ lives, so escape is nearly impossible.
  • Violence: Slaveholders reinforce control through violence to ensure compliance.
  • Exploitation: Slaveholders show little regard for the health of recruits in their quest for profits.

Louise Shelly in her book Human Trafficking: A Global Perspective, states that “every region of Asia has a significant problem of human trafficking,” and that the majority of forced labor victims reside in Asia. Worldwide, 1.8 per 1,000 persons is a victim of human trafficking, increasing to 3 persons per 1,000 in Asia and the Pacific. According to Slavery Footprint , the majority of modern-day slaves reside in China. “Coal mines, brick kilns and factories in the poorest regions of China operate illegally, using much of China’s estimated 150 million internal migrants as [modern day] slaves. Raw materials from slavery include: acrylic, cashmere, coal, cotton, gold, graphite, leather, limestone, linen, mercury, nylon, pearl, quartz, silicon, silk, silver, tin, tungsten, wool, pig iron, lead, lithium [and] polyester.” In Burma, forced labor is actually now illegal, but it is rarely enforced. In fact, the Burmese military forces men, women, and children to “do everything from building bridges to washing officers’ wives’ clothes.”

In India, young children often receive offers to work in bead or embroidery factories after tricking the parents by convincing their children will get an education and good pay in Delhi. Sangita Bhatia, a program manager for Catholic Relief Services in India says, “‘They’ll give a few hundred rupees to the parents to convince them that more is coming soon.’ But after the children are put to work in sweatshops, they and their families rarely receive any payment.” On a trip to India to investigate female gendercide, reporter Elizabeth Vargas met with Ruchira Gupta, a women’s rights activist. According to Ms. Gupta, “We put very little value to girls or to women. So they are always in danger, from birth to death. If they are born, then they might be murdered just because they are girls.” In India, the normal sex ratio is 952 girls to 1,000 boys, but since 1981, that ratio has steadily decreased. Sociologists say the skewed sex ratio “encourages abuse, notably in [sex] trafficking.” If this ratio continues, the 600,000 missing girls in 2011 will become more than 10 million missing in 18 years. Robbery, rape and bride-trafficking tend to increase in any society with large groups of young single men.”

Personal Responsibility

Each of us bears some responsibility for the 27 to 30 million humans being trafficked throughout the world (an estimated 50,000 in the United States). These include:

  • Men, women, and children who work and do not receive their earnings.
  • Those who work under constant threat of violence.
  • Those who work in bondage and cannot leave their employer.
  • The hands that pick our fruits and vegetables and dig to the coal that gives us heat and light.
  • The hands that make our rugs and clothes.
  • Girls and boys who serve the brothers, uncles and fathers.

Modern-day slavery happens in the United States, even when you cannot see it. It’s personal. It’s political. It’s economic. It’s a crime. Your voice and actions can protect and shine a light on those who are victimized and treated with indignity.

How many enslaved people work for you? The U.S. State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons and Call + Response have created a site to help us answer this question. Justin Dillion of Call + Response has noted, “The issue seems far away, but the truth is you cannot leave your home without touching something that was made with slavery." On this Human Trafficking Awareness Day, let’s all focus on ourselves as “traffickers” and take action to end modern-day slavery.

Action
  • Complete the Slavery Footprint questionnaire at slaveryfootprint.org. It will calculate approximately how many slaves have pitched in to make the goods you enjoy on a daily basis.
  • Contact your congressional representative at (202) 224-3121 or in your district office to urge support for H.R. 2759, The Business Transparency on Trafficking and Slavery Act. It is a bipartisan act focusing on corporate public disclosure of trafficking including forced labor and child labor used to produce goods. Companies would be required to include in their annual reports measures taken to identify and address modern-day slavery within their production processes.
  • Join our Intercept the Traffickers campaign and download the fliers, postcards and bulletin inserts to be used this Super Bowl season.
  • Let your favorite stores know you want slavery-free products with this free app: slaveryfootprint.org/about/#getapp. This app allows you to directly send letters to more than 1,000 brands to demand an end to slavery in their production process and then share the companies’ responses to create a crowdsourced database.
  • Urge your church communities to get involved with Freedom Sunday on February 26, 2012. Find resources at notforsalecampaign.org.
  • Read Resolution 6021, “Church Supports Global Efforts to End Slavery,” from The Book of Resolutions of The United Methodist Church (Nashville: The United Methodist Publishing House, 2008).

This article was originally published by United Methodist Women, Jan.9, 2012 at http://new.gbgm-umc.org/umw/act/alerts/item/index.cfm?id=776. It is reposted here with permission.

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