There are an estimated 27 million slaves today. There are more slaves at this moment than at any point in history. In addition to this, the average price of a slave today is about $90 USD, when the historical average is about $40,000 USD. The price of a human being has collapsed at the point when the number of slaves reaches historical heights. The United States spends an average of $6000 a second on it‘s military industrial complex, a rate at which it could free every slave in about 4.5 days. Of course, the purchase of every enslaved person‘s freedom only reifies the system that enslaved them, increasing their market value, as the purchase is a sign of increased demand. On an ethical level, the purchase of enslaved persons‘ freedom does nothing to combat the ideologies that make slavery permissible and normalized.
What is Trafficking in Persons?
The recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs. The consent of a victim of trafficking in persons to the intended exploitation set forth [above] shall be irrelevant where any of the means set forth [above] have been used.
Of course, this definition does not encompass the full range of exploitation, which includes but is not limited to:
- illegal (transnational) adoption
- sexual exploitation
- coerced labour
- child brides
- recruitment of children into armed conflict
- forced begging
- removal of organs
Contributing factors to the vulnerability of victims of trafficking in persons include:
Poverty: due in part to tbe breakdown of social structures that served to protect the vulnerable and marginalized.
Weak Governance: Lack of effective protections against discrimination against and exploitation of vulnerable populations [suggests the social exclusion of the most marginalized members of society, erosion of community protection networks, wasted human resources, failure to invest in social services (50, UNICEF Trafficking in Human Beings, Africa 2003)
Armed Conflict: War causes displacement and dispossession of land, increasing the vulnerabilty of already-marginalized populations- women and children. The recruitment of child soldiers usually begins with the promise of food, an education, and in the case of young boys, a veneer of masculinity.
What is needed is not simply nominal freedom for victims of human trafficking, but sustainable emancipation. It does no good to free a former-slave and return them to their home. It is necessary to equip them with essential skills and knowledge, while bolstering regional and nation-wide legal structures for providing legal recourse for trafficking victims and punitive measures for traffickers. Additionally, in cases where transnational and international human trafficking occurs, it is neccesary to forge agreements between origin and destination nations respectively. There needs to be an acknowledgement of trafficking in persons as a crime, and proactive action to address and prevent it.
We can end slavery in our lifetime. If not ours, our children can see slavery‘s end in their lifetime. In our everyday lives, we can be more vigilant about not buying products of slave labor- for example, most chocolate that is not fair-trade (Cadbury‘s, Nestlé, Hersheys) is the product of slave labor in countries like Ghana and Côte D’Ivoire. Even cotton- nearly half of all cotton consumed on global markets comes from Uzbekistan, where schoolchildren and their parents are forced to harvest cotton without pay in harsh conditions. As consumers with effective demand, we have the power to say „enough is enough“ and demand free trade products with greater transparency and accountability in the production chain. It may mean higher prices, but a few dollars is certainly worth it when it means that millions of fellow human beings are free.