‘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 work, drugs cultivation, forced 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.