By Catilin Aquino
Throughout the world today, there are tens of millions of people trapped in various forms of slavery/human trafficking. In 2016, researchers estimate that approximately 40 million were enslaved worldwide, producing $150 billion in illegal profits for traffickers.
“We now have the largest number of slaves on Earth than we’ve had in human history,” states Andrew Forrest, founder of the Walk Free Foundation, an organization working to end contemporary slavery and human trafficking. “But we also feel equally as confident that we have the weapons now, we have the communication skills, we have the internet to raise it to public attention,” says Forrest. “As soon as the public becomes aware that slavery exists among them they can ask the question when they’re at the bank teller, or when they’re at the shops, or when they’re buying clothes, how can I be sure that this clothing, this seafood, this product wasn’t made by slaves? And with that question frees a slave.”
According to the U.N. International Labor Organization, a group devoted to promoting social justice around the world, about 50 percent of slavery victims work in forced labor industries, 37.5 percent are confined in forced marriages, 12.5 percent are trapped in forced prostitution, and 25 percent of today’s slaves are children under 18. “The thing about criminals is that they are incredibly inventive,” says Fiona David, the Walk Free Foundation’s executive director of global research. “As one form of slavery becomes illegal or becomes very difficult to perpetrate, criminals really look for the weakest link and they find new ways to exploit vulnerability.”
During the past few decades, economic and social factors have enabled modern slavery’s continuation by increasing people’s susceptibility. For instance, in many places, traffickers might pose as legitimate labor recruiters to kidnap migrants moving from impoverished areas to wealthier ones in search of work. Migrants are especially vulnerable since they are often very far from home, cannot speak the local language, have no money to return home, and have no friends or family to rely on. Other economic and social vulnerabilities may be based on gender, race, tribe, caste, etc. With that, global government corruption also plays a part in slavery’s persistence. Many law enforcement officials around the world aren’t even aware that bonded labor, where someone is enslaved to work off a loan, is illegal.
Slavery circulates into our homes, offices, and schools through many of the products we buy. To help make abolition possible, you can spread the word to your friends and family or through social media. Additionally, you should be a mindful consumer by finding out if there’s slavery in your shopping cart. A few companies to take into consideration include Nestle, H&M, Victoria’s Secret, GAP, Starbucks, Nike, etc.
“Slavery is a crime of opportunity,” claims Forrest. “If you’re in Bahrain and you’re enslaving an African girl… because you think you’re a higher species of human, you’re in fact nothing more than the modern day slaver who used to ship Africans out of Africa to Europe and North America for blood money.”