There are 27 million slaves in the world today. Did you know that? And that number is probably a conservative estimate.
Today is National Human Trafficking Awareness Day.
I had heard about the issue a few years ago and then learned more about it during my short stint at WorldCrafts, a ministry of Woman's Missionary Union (WMU). But it wasn't until I accepted the assignment to write an in depth package of article about the issue for The Alabama Baptist newspaper that I began to understand the magnitude of this evil.
The statistics are staggering. The personal stories are heartbreaking. And here's the kicker. It's happening in your neighborhood. The child you see on the missing poster at Wal-mart might have been a victim, kidnapped and sold as a sex slave. The immigrant worker you see out and about town might be one of those in forced or bonded labor unable to get out. He is a labor trafficking victim. The teenage girl you go to school with may be in a relationship where she is forced to have sex if she doesn't want terrible things to happen to her family. She is a sex trafficking victim.
I encourage you to check out websites such as wmu.com/projecthelp, freetheslaves.net, notforsalecampaign.org, and ijm.org and educate yourself on the issue. There are many others. In fact there's a more comprehensive list in the human trafficking package I did for the newspaper that came out this week. If interested in getting this newspaper, call 205-870-4720.
I'll end with a personal story.
While researching the issue, I was told that we as consumers are part of the problem. We create the demand that is filled by traffickers. I remember sitting at a table at the WMU building and Jean Roberson looking at me straight in the eyes said, “When you put a Hershey’s Kiss in your mouth, you are financing labor trafficking.” Hershey’s has lagged behind its competitors in eliminating forced labor and child labor from its chain of cocoa supply. By eating a Kiss, I am creating the demand and sending the message to Hershey’s, “It’s OK that you are using slaves in making your project because I’m OK with eating it.”
That was my first realization that I was part of the problem. I was the purchaser of many goods supplied by companies using workers who are caught in slavery or in unsafe working conditions.
Then, this realization went even further.
While I was in Chicago this past November with my husband, I went shopping one day with some girls while he was attending the Society of Biblical Languages conference. We went into a 4-story Old Navy, and I was in awe of the size of the store (and that it was in downtown Chicago, which of course makes everything cool!). I found some pants and a sweater for Philip at a great price and made my purchase.
About a week later, back in Birmingham, I looked at the tag and saw the words “Made in Bangladesh.” My heart sunk. While doing research, I found a report put together by the State Department on the worse countries for child and forced labor and the trades in which it occurs in that country. Bangladesh was a major violator in several industries including cotton. This information came rushing back to me.
That very same day, I learned that a Bangladesh apparel factory had caught fire killing all 112 people inside. My heart about reached my toes! Although no reports have come out linking Old Navy to this factory (but it did to Walmart and Sears!), it very well could have been the case. In fact, in a New York Times article, it said this case has “focused attention on the unsafe work conditions and low wages at many garment factories in Bangladesh, the No. 2 exporter of apparel after China.” See nyti.ms/WPYxti
Even though I still catch myself buying things from companies who are part of the problem, I am getting better. I only buy fair trade coffee. I haven't purchased anything from Hershey's. I am trying to be more conscientious as a buyer. Once informed, it really does affect you.
Some people wish to remain ignorant on issues so they don’t have to change their lifestyles or habits. But what about you? What should be your Christian response? What will be your response?