“The essence of all slavery, consists in taking
the product of another’s labor, by force.“
~ Leo Nikolayevich Tolstoy
While sex trafficking is undoubtedly the more lurid and most written about form of abuse, we should be equally concerned with the more hidden forms of human trafficking that commodify human beings and lure victims into an inescapable web of sweat and debt. A large portion of human trafficking involves forced labor, debt bondage, and domestic servitude. According to the International Labor Organization, over 12 million people worldwide are held in these circumstances, more than half a million of them in Europe and the United States.
Labor abuse in the U.S. : Labor trafficking may occur in many fields that are not closely regulated, places where the use of casual labor is commonplace such as manufacturing and agricultural settings. Domestic servitude occurs in homes. Landscaping, construction, and restaurant businesses are frequent sites of labor abuse. In many countries street peddlers and beggers are often trafficking victims. Whether hidden from public view in fields, in kitchens, in sweatshops, or on job sites, labor trafficking has earned the nickname: “The Invisible Crime”.
Abuse abroad: We are all connected to slavery abroad in ways most of us don’t imagine. The United States is the largest consumer of many common commodities tainted by the use of slave labor. Coffee, sugar, chocolate and cotton are just a few examples. Many manufactured goods such as clothing, electronics, and cosmetics may have slavery issues with elements in their supply chain. It is important that as individual consumers we try to become aware of where things come from and how they are produced. Everybody likes to find a bargain, but let’s ask “what is the true cost?” In too many countries the abuse, especially of children, approaches unimaginable limits that bring to mind the worst tortures.
- Coffee cultivation utilizes slave labor largely in Africa.
- In the Dominican Republic enslaved Haitian workers cut sugar cane.
- In the Ivory Coast, source of 70% of the world’s chocolate, young men are routinely enslaved to harvest the cacao beans.
- Cotton is grown with slave labor in West Africa, India, and Uzbekistan, the world’s second largest exporter.
- The mica that gives lip gloss its sparkle may be mined in a forgotten corner of India, by children who are sometimes buried alive.
- In Brazil slave labor is used to burn the forests to make the charcoal used to smelt iron ore for steel production. About a third of all our raw iron comes from these sources.
- The manufacture of cell phones and other electronic goods requires a metal called tantalum from an ore called Coltan. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, it is dug out of the ground by enslaved farmers who have been abducted by armed gangs. Legitimate mines elsewhere have closed, being unable to compete on price.
- In many countries children are abused and enslaved in the fishing and shrimping industries. In Bangladesh, boys as young as eight are kidnapped and sold to fishing crews.
This notorious account of the remote island of Dublar Char is told in the book “The Slave Next Door” by Kevin Bales and David Soodhalter:
Sold to the fishing crews for about $15, they are set to work processing fish on shore for 18 hours a day, seven days a week. If the boats return with a large catch they might work several days with no sleep at all. Like robots they clean, bone, and skin fish; shell mussels, shrimp and crab, and wash squid to remove the ink. Other children sort, weigh, check, and load the haul, processing and preparing the fish for freezing and shipment. The slaveholders sexually abuse the boys and beat them regularly. They get little food, no medical care, and sleep on the ground. If they sicken or are injured and die, they are thrown into the ocean. Dublar Char was raided and the children freed in 2004 when researchers linked to the US anti-slavery group Free the Slaves discovered the situation….
Around the island of Sumatra in Indonesia the sea is dotted with what appear to be ramshackle rafts. They are actually fishing platforms, crudely lashed together and moored up to twenty miles off the coast. There are some 1,500 fishing platforms in this region, each holding three to ten children whose only avenue of escape is a twenty-mile swim. Promised a good job, they are left on the platform to cast nets, catch fish, and clean and dry the catch. In heavy weather the platforms can break up, children can be swept overboard, or they might simply fall through the holes in the rough bamboo deck. On irregular visits, the boss collects the fish and administers beatings to increase productivity. As in Dublar Char and so many other places, the children are sexually abused, and if they become ill, there is no relief. If they die of illness or injury, they are simply rolled into the water. The revenues from Indonesian fish exports reached $5 billion in 2006; America is one of the top destinations for frozen shrimp, canned tuna, tilapia and sea crab from that country.
Horrifying, right? Does this make you feel differently about those ‘bargain’ shrimp? This is often the case when we look a little deeper into the source of products or the conditions under which they were produced.
What Can You Do ?
- Becoming better informed is the critical first step. Fight Slavery Now! was formed so that we could help one another do exactly that.
- Continue to look over the resources we have put together. There are many good books on this subject, and we have reviewed some on our Meetup site: Book Reviews
- Come join us at a meeting or an event! See our calendar.
- Publicize and support the work being done by other social justice advocate organizations near you. Many groups are listed at the top of our Message Board on our Meetup website, under “Info and Links“. Some groups are faith-based, others are not. If there is not a group near you, consider starting one.
- For domestic labor trafficking victims that you may encounter, you can learn more about how to recognize and report suspected cases. You can always pass along the 24/7 Human Trafficking Hotline which may be called anonymously:
National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1.888.3737.888
- In the case of consumer choices, it again boils down to being informed. Buying products that bear the “Fair Trade” label, when available, is a good start. Fair Trade Certification is currently available in the U.S. for coffee, tea and herbs, cocoa and chocolate, fresh fruit, sugar, rice, and vanilla.
- Buying union made goods is some assurance of fair labor practices, though not always throughout the supply chain. So a garment may be union sewn, but the cotton material could be sourced anywhere. Products that are organic are far less likely to be tainted by slave labor.
- Look at labels. Note where things come from.
- Ask yourself not just “What is the price?”, but “What is the true cost in human suffering?”
The unifying thread in all these cases is people being exploited against their will, who feel they have nowhere to turn. You can be their voice. Do not stand silent. Help them. Join us… Fight Slavery Now!
Hundreds of human trafficking victims being used as slave labor in Wales, by Peter Law, Sept. 23, 2012
Brazil’s ‘dirty list’ names and shames companies involved in slave labour, by Annie Kelly, The Guardian, 24 July, 2013