Image: Coalition of Immokalee Workers
Today is human trafficking awareness day—and although for many that conjures up images of people trafficked for sex, most people forced into slavery today (which does exist) are trafficked for purposes that have nothing to do with sex. They're working in agricultural fields to harvest the fruits and vegetables we eat, they're laboring in the forests of Brazil for a steel industry that supplies U.S. businesses, they're making bricks in India, and they just might be working as domestic servants cleaning your neighbor's house. Celebrated anti-slavery activist Kevin Bales is currently working on a book about the connections between slavery and environmental destruction—because in situations where labor abuses are as horrific as they are, concern for the environment isn't a priority either.
For example, from a New York Times story: "Slave labor in Brazil is directly linked to deforestation," said Cláudio Secchin, director of the Ministry of Labor's special antislavery Mobile Enforcement Team. "There are more and more cattle ranchers who want to increase the size of their herds, but to do that they need more space, so the clearing of land is a constant."
Also in Brazil, from Entrepreneur: "slaves cut down forests and burn the wood into charcoal that is then used to make steel. The United States imports over half a million tons of Brazilian steel each year to produce everything from toys to cars to office buildings."
Forced labor is prevalent in developing countries, but it's also widespread in the U.S. Farm workers across the country, for example, are lured here with promises of great jobs, good pay and a better life—and end up being forced to work, living in locked trailers or homes from which they're not allowed to escape and threatened with punishment if they try, robbed of their wages and subjected to physical and/or verbal abuse.
An executive with the United Methodist Board of Church and Society once said at a forum on human trafficking: "Slavery doesn't just happen over there. We are all connected to it. We all gain some privilege from this system of slavery. Every time I go to the supermarket, I am potentially fueling this boom of trafficking."
Forced labor is alive and rampant in the 21st century, and today is a nationally-recognized day to take charge and stop it.
More on forced labor
What Is The True Cost of Chocolate?
Two Victories in One Week for the Coalition of Immokalee Workers - Are More Needed?
Red Card Campaign Highlights Human Trafficking at World Cup
Shrimp On Your Plate? Think Twice (Your Liver, Endangered Mangroves, And Poorly Paid Workers Will Thank You)