Guest Author: Alice Li from IMSA’s chapter of UNICEF
This is the current number (and by some accounts, an extreme undercount) of human beings currently enslaved around the world.
40.3 million is more than the population of California, the number of monthly users on Uber, and almost double the number of people who use Apple Music®. With such harrowing statistics, it’s easy to think that there is nothing ordinary people like us can do about it, right?
No matter how distant you think the problem may be, it is likely providing the comfort you are living in right now. Your clothes, electronics, makeup, and even the chocolate that you may be eating likely has been thanks to the millions forced into labor, exploited, and sold into the $150 billion economies thriving in the shadows. No matter how difficult it is to believe, this is our reality; human trafficking is truly something that happens under all of our noses and involves us all.
Just like with any other global issue, there is no clear reason or solution to this problem. However, there are ways that you can help.
1. Build a slave-free closet
Fast fashion is undeniably one of the greatest proponents of modern-day slavery here in the US. We obviously all need clothes to survive, and while to some degree we are and aren’t responsible for the exploitation of workers behind our favorite brands, there are simple ways to build a more ethical closet. Through research, you can discover fair trade companies that provide fair wages and safe working conditions for their employees. Even if it’s just through the avoidance of one complete outfit, you can make a difference in the life of another every time you shop ethically (A few of my personal fair trade favorites are Krochet Kids, The Shop for Freedom, and even going thrifting!) And while this next tip may be a bit harsh to hear, sometimes less is more. I’m definitely guilty of buying things that I definitely don’t need, but through making small changes in your lifestyle and embracing some minimalism, you can purchase a smaller number of items that you love rather than having a ton of options that you only wear out of guilt. Change is still change, no matter how small.
2. Speak up
The voices of many truly are a powerful tool. Following several investigations and social media call-outs regarding the exploitation of Brazilian coffee workers in 2015, Starbucks revamped its Ethics & Compliance and has now reached the milestone of 99% ethically sourced coffee as of 2017. No matter where you use it, your voice makes a change, no matter how small that change may seem. In this age of technology, a simple post inspires many more, and a single voice can be the beginning of an entire movement. Encourage your local schools and districts to include human trafficking in curricula and to develop protocols for identifying and reporting potential cases. In addition, (safely) contact your local, state, and federal elected officials and ask what they are doing to address it. By staying well-informed and sharing the reality of the situation with others, you can make a difference
3. Be a conscientious and informed consumer.
Take the initiative and find out more about who may have picked your tomatoes or made your clothes at ResponsibleSourcingTool.org, or check out the Department of Labor’s list of goods produced by child labor or forced labor. Encourage companies to take steps and prevent human trafficking in their supply chains in addition to raising awareness among other consumers. Following the 2015 investigations and scandals regarding the exploitation of Brazilian coffee plantation workers, Starbucks revamped their Ethics & Compliance and have since then improved to 99% ethically-sourced coffee. If you are willing to, do research into fair-trade companies and support the fair-trade initiative. Every single food in your diet likely has an ethical alternative, and it takes is a little bit of research.
4. Donate if you can
Sadly, the industry and profit are strong reasons as to why modern-day slavery is growing. Money can be a sensitive topic, but any donation truly helps. There are several organizations in the US dedicated to preventing exploitation and giving a voice to the exploited. Every organization has a different strategy, approach, and location, but each is making major strides in ending human trafficking. Here are a few particularly impactful ones:
- The Polaris Project takes a more comprehensive approach to ending modern-day slavery in the US through advocacy in federal and state laws. They also operate the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline and provide services and support for trafficking victims.
- Prajwala : India is home to one of the highest rates of child sex trafficking. Children who grow up in brothels are oftentimes sold into slavery by their parents, and their children will likely meet the same fate. Social activists have teamed together to rescue women from brothels and provide education, mental health care, and job programs.
- Urban Light : a number of organizations help girls in the sex industry, but very few work to aid young men. After witnessing male exploitation in Thailand firsthand, service worker Alezandra Russel founded Urban Light in order to give a voice that was oftentimes excluded. By providing food, shelter, healthcare, support services, and mental health consultations, the group helps to restore and rebuild the lives of male victims.
- UNICEF USA: UNICEF is dedicated to simply bettering the lives of all children. By working with law enforcement, enforcing trafficking policy and advocacy, providing direct aid to victims, and training social and health workers from all across the world, UNICEF has dedicated itself to improving the lives of child victims.
Photo courtesy of prajwalaindia.com
Your voice is bigger than you think, and your actions are now louder than ever.
Fundraiser link: https://www.facebook.com/donate/175025204239995/