So tomorrow is Amazing Grace Sunday. Yes, this is a commercial tie-in to help promote a movie, but its for a good cause and raises awareness, so I don't care. The movie Amazing Grace tells the story of abolitionist William Wilberforce who helped bring the UK slave trade to an end and inspired the abolitionist movement in the USA. The producers have partnered with churches and numerous human rights agencies to get the message out that slavery isn't just a thing of the past. Slavery is still a vicious force in our world today and there is serious need for modern day abolitionists.
There are estimated 27 million people in slavery in the world today and half of them are children. Modern day slavery exists in the form of women and children sold into prostitution. Children forced to join the military in a kill or be killed scenario. Workers who think they are signing up for a decent job, but who are tricked into giving up their passports, losing their identity (and legal recourse), and made to work for little to no pay. Children who are kidnapped and trafficked to another country to work in mines, fields, or factories. Families who take a loan to pay medical bills and are forced to have their children "work off" the loan; but who discover that the high interest rates and abuse equal slavery for that child. Workers who although legally "free' are abused, forced into sex and abortions, and threatened so that they can keep a job and food on the table. Parents who can't refuse the high price offered for their young daughter's virgin night, but who then disown her (and condemn her to prostitution) for being impure in a society that values a girls purity above her person. Those are just some of the faces of modern day slavery.
I've been aware of these issues for a few years now and have supported the work of agencies like International Justice Mission. IJM uses legal process to free people from bonded labor and forced prostitution. Instead of aiding the system and buying the freedom of the slaves, they make governments stick to their anti-slavery laws (often ignored) to legally free the slaves and prosecute the slaveholders. There are a number of agencies that work to end slavery, but the problem is still huge. And as I researched all this recently for our discussion at church, it stuck me how much I was part of the problem. No, I don't own slaves, deny people their rights, or participate in the sex trade but I buy products from companies that do. It is my dollar and purchasing power that funds modern day slavery. I often care more about getting a good deal than I do about the people who made whatever cheap item I'm buying. Or I'm too lazy to find out where an item is made. Granted, it's very hard to discover the sources of a lot of products and then to discover if they make use of slave labor. Human rights watch websites are a big help in discovering which companies are under investigation (or have been convicted of) human rights violations. I have discovered that if a company is making an effort to be ethical, making sure none of their products come from slave labor sources, and are using their resources to better their workers then they want you to know about it. The harder it is to find a company's source information, the more likely it seems that they use unethical practices.
Example - chocolate. 40% of the world's cocoa is grown on the Ivory Coast and is sold to chocolate makers like Nestle, Hershey's, and Mars/M&M. The U.S. State Department Human Rights Report on the Ivory Coast for 2003 estimates that approximately 109,000 child laborers worked in hazardous conditions on cocoa farms in what has been described as the worst form of child labor. Many of those children were kidnapped from other countries and trafficked in as slaves. In 2001 US Congress. Representative Eliot Engel (D-NY) had introduced an amendment to the 2002 Agriculture Appropriations Bill to set aside $250,000 for the Food and Drug Administration to develop “slave free” labeling requirements on cocoa products. The bill was approved in the House of Representatives by a vote of 291-115 in June 2001. Given the multimillion-dollar trade in cocoa between the U.S. and The Ivory Coast, the bill would have had a tremendous impact on the chocolate industry. In response, the chocolate industry stopped the bill by agreeing to voluntarily adopt key portions of the bill as the Harkin-Engel Protocol. This (surprisingly?) didn't work. The deadline slipped by without the companies complying. Legal action is being pursued, but nothing has yet to be enforced (including US customs law prohibiting the importing of products made by child labor). Read the whole report here. So as I the consumer buy most chocolate I am supporting human trafficking and child slave labor.
One modern day abolitionist has come up with a creative strategy to bring attention to this issue. Recently a Dutch journalist asked an Amsterdam court to convict him for eating chocolate, saying by doing so he was benefiting from child slavery on cocoa farms in Ivory Coast. Teun van de Keuken, 35, is seeking a jail sentence to raise consumer awareness and force the cocoa and chocolate industry to take tougher measures to stamp out child labour. "If I am found guilty of this crime, any chocolate consumer can be prosecuted after that. I hope that people would stop buying chocolate and thus hurt the sales of big corporations and make them do something about the problem," van de Keuken said.
Interesting. Luckily chocolate is one of the few things that can easily be bought fairly traded. In buying chocolate (or coffee, tea, or sugar) with the Fair Trade label, one can be sure that you are not support slavery or other unethical practices towards workers. This doesn't mean giving up chocolate, it just means having to stop being a brainless, callous consumer and instead use our buying power to let companies know what we do and don't support.
I know that this is a complicated issues with many facets and causes. There is no simple solution. But I don't see that as an excuse to give up and and not care about our brothers and sisters. If we can do what we can where we can, make one life better, and start to change the world for the better - why not?
Here are some resources to help you get started in finding out more and discovering what you can do to help -
The Amazing Change - discover more about becoming a modern day abolitionist and sign the petition to end global slavery.
World Vision - A Christian advocacy group working to stop injustice worldwide.
International Justice Mission - a human rights agency that rescues victims of violence, sexual exploitation, slavery, and oppression.
Not for Sale - A popular culture call to end slavery.
Stop the Traffik - international organization that helps raise awareness of human trafficking and rescues victims.
Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers - works to prevent the recruitment and use of children as soldiers, to secure their demobilisation and to ensure their rehabilitation and reintegration into society.
War Slavery - An advocacy group focused on ending human trafficking by companies under Defense Department contracts in Iraq.
Labels: Social Justice