One of the manliest quotes from a movie has to be Liam Neeson in the thriller ‘Taken’. His daughter kidnapped by human traffickers, he fearlessly says to them, “I have a specific set of skills… skills that make me a nightmare for people like you.” We then watch Liam go on a rampage to find his daughter, as any good father would.
What is this whole human trafficking thing?
Recently, we’ve heard a lot about human trafficking in the media; the Obama administration has taken steps to tackle it, the British government is improving legislation, factories burning down in Bangladesh, and Hollywood has us believing there’s an underworld of secret agents and assassinations.
What is human trafficking to you?
The first thing I think of is slavery; women or children being sold for sex. It sends chills down my spine, and makes me simultaneously angry and sad. We all visit non-profit websites from time to time, reading stories that make us emotional, and we want to help.
Human trafficking is the threat, force, or coercion to use a person for benefit and the purpose of exploitation (summarised from the full definition of the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime, UNODC).
Here are some quick facts from the International Labour Organization’s 2012 report on trafficking:
- 21 million - The estimate number of those currently being exploited, in every country across the globe,
- 68% are subjected to forced labour, and ¾ of these within their place of origin or residence,
- 22% are subjected to sexual exploitation, with the majority of this proportion being women,
- 5.5 million (26%) are below the age of 18 years.
After working in the field for a couple of years, I experienced first hand the true surprise at all the misconceptions we have. Looking at the stats, it becomes clear that forced labour is a big part of trafficking. It can sometimes be hard to remember all those people who are being coerced to help produce the goods we consume on a daily basis. These workers are making smartphones and jeans, trapped on fishing boats, making bricks to build houses, or locked in sweatshops. It makes me feel guilty and sad. I mean, I love my smartphone!
There is HOPE! Organisations such as Unseen, Polaris Project, MTV Exit, and Fair Trade Foundation are all working on different levels toward building a better future for trafficking victims and society. There are fundraising programs, skills training, awareness education, and victim services all combating this horrible crime.
What can I do?
I have kids, football practice, a dog, and I work everyday 9-5. I donate to non-profits every year, but I don’t have time to really get involved. How can I really help?
Here are a few things we can do as consumers and citizens:
1) Be careful of brands: Massive and ‘super cheap’ chain stores, like Primark, many times use exploited labour – even without realizing it.
2) Buy Fair Trade: There are many certified products out there that help to avoid exploitation, go for these types of goods. An extra quid or buck won’t break the bank.
3) Buy local: If possible shop at farmers markets and local sellers. We should know where our goods come from. Ask questions if you’re not sure.
4) Vote: Make sure you vote for important legislation, which is helping to stop trafficking.
5) C.S.R. at your company: Ask your employer if they have a Corporate Social Responsibility program that helps stop human trafficking in their supply chain.
6) Trafficking happens in every country: Don’t be shy, report anything you witness that may be related to human trafficking, especially in big cities or impoverished areas.
These tips will make a difference, and continue moving us in the right direction. There is a lot of amazing work being done within governments, non-profits, policing units, and corporations or small businesses. In our global world, we have no idea where products or services are coming from. It’s up to us to be responsible consumers, and just because a product is cheap doesn’t mean there isn’t a cost.
Contact me for further questions, or thoughts, on how you or your company can help.
Here’s a great video from MTV Exit on human trafficking: