Friday, January 11, 2013

Slavery is NOT dead

No one in the US today is in slavery, right? That's why we fought the Civil War--to free the slaves... right?

Wrong. Today, slavery is more prevalent than in any other time in history.

Modern-day slavery takes many forms. From the sweat shops in Malaysia making our cheap clothing to diamond mines and even the cocoa fields in Northwestern African countries, slaves touch nearly everything we in the "civilized world" do every day.

Abolitionists today are working just as hard as their 18th Century counterparts to abolish slavery. However, the world economy is built on supply and demand. When we in the industrialized world demand $5 t-shirts and $10 jeans, the owners and managers of the off-shore factories that produce our clothing will do what they feel they need to in order to make that happen.

Those tactics include going to poor villages and promising a better life in the city or another country for their children, and then paying parents for the opportunity to take their children--usually girls. These girls are usually sold to brothels or other forms of sexual slavery. The lucky ones get to work in the sweat shops. When they outlive their usefulness--many of the girls being HIV-positive--they are simply thrown out into the streets.

So what can we do?

1) Educate yourself. Slavery is real, it ruins lives, diminishes us all, and it is alive and well in the industrialized countries. There are upwards of 27 million slaves worldwide today, more than there ever was "back then." Do your research on manufacturers before making large (or small) purchases to see if they have a reputation for hiring slaves.

2) Buy responsibly. Many are sold into slavery as children, by parents who either believe the slavers will give them a better life, or are so desperate to feed their remaining children. When you can, buy Fair Trade items. Certified Fair Trade products only gain international certification after someone sees the working conditions and speaks with the workers. There are many companies online that sell certified fair trade.

3) Share your knowledge. Spread the word. When someone comments on your unique jewelry or the new leather jacket, tell them the story behind it. Tell them that you are providing a living wage for someone with your pruchases.

4) Contact your government officials. Human trafficking is quickly becoming the most lucrative illegal activity in the world. Contact your representatives to encourage them to create harsher punishments for those who are caught trafficking.

Human trafficking  and modern-day slavery affects everything we do. With all of the opportunities today for informing ourselves and purchasing humane products, I do not think we can close our eyes to the reality of our times and still call ourselves "civilized."

Here are some resources for more information: This website gives information on documented incidents of slavery around the world, including in North America. CNN's Freedom Project. Not For Sale Campaign. This is the modern-day Abolitionist movement.They also have a fair trade store. Want to find fashionable, organic, fair-trade clothing? Go here. Ten Thousand Villages provides certified fair trade products for home, garden, office, and other aspects of life. The End It Movement website gives many ways ordinary people can help end modern-day slavery.

Many religious organizations, as well, have ministries that provide good living wages to their workers, allowing their workers to not only refuse the human trafficker's offers for their children, but even buy their own children back! Two of these include: Eden Projects works to plant trees in deforested areas in Ethiopia, Madagascar and Hait, reviving not only the local economies but also the land. Land of a Thousand Hills is a coffee company that not only provides a living wage for their workers, but also has worked on reconciling Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda after the genocide in the '90s.

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