Human Trafficking: ‘A Crime That Shames Us All’

7 Dec

‘A Crime That Shames Us All’ is the slogan of UN.GIFT (United Nations Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking). There are three worldwide factors which contribute to the preponderance of human trafficking and slavery in 2011: the poverty and desperation of the victims, the criminality and greed of the perpetrators, and the global demand for cheap labour with little or no concern for how this labour is brought about.

The labour for which humans are trafficked can be broadly split into two main categories. The first category, the one with which most people are familiar, is the illicit labour such as sex workdrugs cultivationforced begging and petty theft, or domestic slavery. This sort of trafficking forms part of the criminal underground. Victims are often lured into coming to another country by being told they will be earning lots of money doing some other sort of work. They are then forced to work for free in appalling conditions by their traffickers who tell them that they are owed money for their visas, and that their families will be in danger if they do not work. These victims are then often criminalised themselves as they are forced to carry out criminal activities and therefore also face being persecuted by the authorities.

The second category is those who are trafficked to carry out labour which forms part of the everyday production of products that you and I consume on a daily basis. Agriculture is one of the key areas into which people are trafficked. It is dirty, difficult and dangerous work. Much of the result of this labour ends up in the factories and production lines which produce the food we eat on a daily basis. The most well-known example of this (thanks to the campaigning of Stop the Traffik) is chocolate. Cocoa beans are grown and picked in the Cote d’Ivoire by children who have been trafficked from neighbouring countries and forced to work for free as slaves. The chocolate industry are fully aware of this and this year saw the 10th anniversary of their pledge to make all chocolate traffik-free. A quick glance at the list of traffik-free chocolate demonstrates that this goal is far from fruition. While announcements like that from Nestle this week that it is to extend the number of its chocolate bars that are traffik-free are more than welcome, there remains a huge number of products that we consume where we and the companies that supply them have absolutely no guarantee that their production has not involved slavery or forced labour at some point.

One of the problems with the money-driven world that we live in is that it is deemed acceptable to put the welfare and basic human rights of our fellow world citizens behind the goal of profit-making. Consumers and companies alienate themselves from the consequences of their decisions on a daily basis. We are told that it is ‘difficult for food companies to establish exactly where their cocoa comes from and under what conditions it was harvested.’ This is absolutely unacceptable. Companies have the moral duty (and should also have a legal one) to ensure that the products they offer to consumers are completely free of exploitative labour, regardless of the cost in effort or profits. We as consumers need to make a stand by purchasing only products we know are traffik-free so that that third provision – the global demand for cheap labour – which results in the widespread existence of slavery in the 21st century is diminished. In the meantime, the international community – including the governments of both supply and host countries of trafficking – must do all it can to reduce the poverty and desperation which fuels the international trafficking industry.

Katy Owen - freethehuman.blogspot.com - @FreeHumanBlog

4 Responses to “Human Trafficking: ‘A Crime That Shames Us All’”

  1. vodkablue23 December 7, 2011 at 11:58 pm #

    This is one issue that will be coming up in my MA Disstertation. Have you seen the film ‘Lilja 4 ever’? It’s a Russian language film that illustrates how horrible the slave trade in the sex industry really is.

    • freethehuman December 8, 2011 at 11:50 am #

      I haven’t got round to watching Lilja 4 ever but it’s on my list! The BBC’s ‘Stolen’ is a really good one to watch about child trafficking in the UK. UN.GIFT have got a good list of films about trafficking which are a good way of getting into a subject (and make a nice break from the books:. http://www.ungift.org/knowledgehub/media/films.html

  2. Mandii December 8, 2011 at 4:47 am #

    I agree, But how exactly can we know whether or not we are buying labour free products?
    I hear once in socials class that Nestle chocolates are made by trafficked children, but other than that company I have no Idea who else may even possibly be involved…

    • freethehuman December 8, 2011 at 12:03 pm #

      You’re right it’s very difficult to know. Often companies don’t even know themselves because they just buy the commodities without asking any questions… So it’s pretty much impossible to get by avoiding all products that have been made using exploitative labour which is why governments and companies need to do their bit too.

      As far as chocolate goes, Stop the Traffik have estimated that over a third of the world’s chocolate originates from the Cote d’Ivoire where the trafficked children work so it is highly likely that the chocolate we buy is produced in this way. It is very difficult to know whether this is the case for individual chocolate bars which is why we need that Fair Trade logo as a guarantee that the company has looked into the origins of it’s products and can assure the consumer that it meets the international Fairtrade standards. Information about the standards is here: http://www.fairtrade.net/our_standards.html

      However, I think it’s important not to give up trying. What I try and do is buy fair trade products wherever possible and avoid the companies I know use these malpractices. It can also be effective to simply write letters to companies. There has apparently been a massive campaign about fair trade chocolate in Australia and New Zealand which means that Nestle has extended its fair trade commitment further down there than it has in Europe.

      This is a good (if rather dispiriting) website to get an idea of how much our consumerism relies on exploitative labour: http://slaveryfootprint.org/
      This one is also good for information about what’s behind the things we buy: http://buyresponsibly.org/index.php
      Fair Trade International have got a list of products which need to be fair trade with some information on where to get this: http://www.fairtrade.net/products.html
      You can also check out the fair trade organisation for where you live which should provide a list of the products they have certified as being fair trade.

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