“We choose to hope as an act of defiance in the face of violence and horrific abuse.”
Dear Clients and Friends,
This weekend, I’d like to introduce the authorship of yet another family member here at MORWM. Kirsten Warner, who you all know, is not just responsible for your administrative client experience, she is also a former educator and an avid social activist. Although an ever present problem, human and civil rights have been much more broadly discussed in recent years. Insomuch as we here at MOR Wealth Management have a strong commitment to using our resources to better the world, Kirsten has written a fabulous, eye-opening article about human trafficking, including small steps all of us can take to spread the word, and push back at this global issue.
Please welcome to your screen Kirsten Warner…
If someone approached you today and mentioned a society that is built on the backs of slaves, you would probably think of the pre-Civil War South, an economy that was only possible due to the forced labor of an enslaved population. The American imagination knows these images: African-Americans forced to pick cotton all day, every day, whipped or worse for not complying with the rules. We rightfully applaud the bravery of people like Harriet Tubman and cry when we watch films like 12 Years A Slave. Yet in our imagination, all of these images are firmly fixed in a past time. They have no influence on our view of today’s economy.
In reality, present-day levels of forced labor and slavery are staggeringly high. Exact figures are hard to pin down, as governments that utilize forced labor do not readily disclose such information and because 124 countries view the practice of human trafficking as illegal.1The Global Slavery Index stated that “In 2016, we estimate that 45.8 million people are in some form of modern slavery in 167 countries… The countries with the highest estimated prevalence of modern slavery by the proportion of their population are North Korea, Uzbekistan, Cambodia, India, and Qatar... Those countries with the highest absolute numbers of people in modern slavery are India, China, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Uzbekistan. Several of these countries provide the low-cost labour that produces consumer goods for markets in Western Europe, Japan, North America and Australia.”2
The definition of human trafficking that was included in the State Department’s 2016 Trafficking in Persons Report states that human trafficking includes “sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age; or the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.”4 This same report identifies countries that make no effort to combat this issue, including familiar names such as Venezuela, Russia, and North Korea.5
The Department of Labor maintains a list of goods from certain countries that are believed to be produced by forced labor or child labor. The following is a selection of countries and goods from the list, which is current as of 2016:6
Although the United States is generally seen as a leader in the fight against forced labor, it is important to know that we are not immune from modern day slavery. The following statistics are for 2016:
When dealing with the economics of human trafficking, there is a harsh realization that forced labor is ingrained and embedded in the fabric that we wear, the food that we eat, the phones that we use and the coffee that we drink. According to the U.S. Department of State:
The difficulties in assessing the impact of human trafficking are most apparent when attempting to quantify its economic costs... The costs of the crime of trafficking in persons incorporates many elements, including the value of all resources devoted to its prevention, the treatment and support of victims and the apprehension and prosecution of offenders. These costs may be offset in part by the recovery of criminal proceeds and assets of the traffickers. Trafficking in persons also results in loss of human resources and reductions in tax revenue. Further, trafficking in persons redirects the financial benefits of migration from migrants, their families, community and government or other potential legitimate employers to traffickers and their associates. All indications are that the income generated by related organized crime is significant and global. Given the ongoing nature of exploitation, human trafficking generates a stable and regular source of income for criminal networks, with a consequent impact on other forms of criminal activity as well as legitimate business.8
Consider the following (oversimplified) example. John was on his way to Rio de Janiero to look for work so that he could send money home to support his mother and three younger sisters. He was then kidnapped and forced to work on a coffee plantation in Brazil, where “…workers often face debt bondage, non-existent work contracts, exposure to deadly pesticides, lack of protective equipment, and accommodation without doors, mattresses or drinking water…”9
He is paid nothing, and thus has no money to send home to his mother and sisters. The coffee that he picks is sold for five dollars in an American store. The coffee company makes five dollars. John makes zero dollars, and his mother and sisters go hungry.
The Department of State is careful to note, however, that the impacts of human trafficking go far deeper than business and trade:
As a complex manifestation of the global economy, organized crime and human rights violations, human trafficking causes extreme hardship to the suspected millions of people worldwide who have become victims of this crime and has an impact on the financial markets, the economies and the social structures of countries where trafficking is allowed to exist. As a major component of organized crime with its enormous financial power, trafficking in persons has a complex and interlocking negative impact across human, social, political and economic arenas. The destabilizing and dangerous consequences range from readily recognized violence, direct economic loss and major migration concerns to the less easily quantified, equally serious, but more complex effects of risks and harms to environmental, social, health and safety, and violations of human rights. Trafficking in persons directly challenges the development of stable, more prosperous societies and legitimate economies, and works strongly against the reconciliation of political interests with humanitarian and human rights obligations. The range of trafficking-related crimes and their broad and interrelated impacts have created a cumulative threat to global peace, security and stability and have shaped political, social and economic responses at both national and global levels.10
So what can one person do when faced with such a large and systemic issue?
First, we can teach ourselves about the issues and raise awareness. CNN’s Freedom Project is a rare case of a major brand taking a stand on the issue of human trafficking. Articles are frequently posted on CNN’s homepage about the plight of victims and the strength of survivors.
Second, we can support local, national and global organizations, including organizations that focus on sending children to school instead of to work. GEMS (Girls Educational and Mentoring Services) is a local organization based in New York that assists young survivors in building a life after forced sexual labor and other forms of human trafficking.11 Its founder is a survivor of such violence herself. The Polaris Project runs a hotline and text-line through which thousands of incidents of suspected human trafficking have been reported.12Love146 works internationally to end the forced labor of children.13
Third, we can impact local, state, and national legislation by making the fight against human trafficking a vocal part of a bipartisan political agenda. MORWM family members who live in New Jersey might be interested to know that Congressman Chris Smith is very involved in the fight against human trafficking, to the point of having written three major anti-trafficking laws. 14 Senator Bob Corker from Tennessee has also been involved in the fight for abolition, introducing the End Modern Slavery Initiative Act early last year. 15
Fourth, we can be conscientious consumers. Although we cannot know if every banana, coffee bean, and T-shirt that we buy has been brought to us free of forced labor, we can make an effort to buy fair trade options when available.
Remember John from the example above? Let’s imagine that he chose to work on a coffee plantation that supplied coffee beans for fair-trade companies. The coffee is sold for ten dollars in American stores – five dollars more than the non-fair trade variety. John makes two dollars a week, one of which he sends back home to his mother and sisters, who buy food and start to save up to put a metal roof on their house. The difference is five dollars to us, but it is life and death to John and his family.
We can also avoid brands that are known to use the services of companies that engage in unfair labor practices while using the services of brands that are known to take a stand against forced labor and human trafficking. For example, Western Union and Amtrak are partners with the Department of Homeland Security’s Blue Campaign.16 Stay tuned around the holiday season for another weekend reading about gifts that we can feel good giving – some of which are made by trafficking survivors themselves.
I want to end with a quote from the mission and values page of Love146:
“We choose to hope as an act of defiance in the face of violence and horrific abuse.”17
The first time that I realized that human trafficking is a widespread and horrific issue was when I was in college, in an anthropology course focusing on the role of women in certain labor markets. I was so horrified that I felt that I had to learn more and that I had to do something to help these people. I joined an abolitionist organization at my university, and a lifelong passion was ignited.
We who are charitable in heart and deed choose not to shy away from the dark corners where our help is needed the most. We choose to believe that positive changes can be made in the most terrible of situations. This is what makes us different.
Thank you for reading,
1 http://www.globalslaveryindex.org/findings/. Retrieved 9/28/2016. 2 http://www.globalslaveryindex.org/findings/. Retrieved 9/27/2016. 3 http://www.globalslaveryindex.org/index/#. Retrieved 9/28/2016. 4 Department of State, United States of America. “Trafficking in Persons Report: June 2016.” 2016. Pg. 11. 5 Department of State, United States of America. “Trafficking in Persons Report: June 2016.” 2016. Pg. 55-56. 6 All statistics from https://www.dol.gov/ilab/reports/child-labor/list-of-goods/. Retrieved 10/14/2016. 7 https://traffickingresourcecenter.org/states. Retrieved 9/27/2016. 8 The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. “An Introduction to Human Trafficking: Vulnerability, Impact and Action.” 2008. Pg. 10 9 https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2016/mar/02/nestle-admits-slave-labour-risk-on-brazil-coffee-plantations. Retrieved 10/12/2016. 10 The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. “An Introduction to Human Trafficking: Vulnerability, Impact and Action.” 2008. Pg. 100 11 http://www.gems-girls.org/about. Retrieved 9/28/2016. 12 http://polarisproject.org/successes/25000-cases-human-trafficking-identified-and-responded. Retrieved 9/28/2016. 13 https://love146.org/mission-vision/. Retrieved 10/11/2016. 14 http://chrissmith.house.gov/biography/. Retrieved 9/27/2016. 15 https://www.corker.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/end-modern-slavery-initiative-act. Retrieved 10/11/2016. For more information, see https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/senate-bill/553 16 https://www.dhs.gov/blue-campaign/blue-campaign-partners. Retrieved 10/11/2016. 17 https://love146.org/mission-vision/. Retrieved 10/11/2016.