The statistics of modern slavery are grim. There are 40.3 million people being forced or exploited into labour, prostitution or marriage, held against their will, beaten, repeatedly raped and abused, starved and deprived of their most basic needs and ultimately, deprived of basic human rights, freedom and their future.
71% of them are women and 25% are children. In the past five years, 89 million people experienced some form of modern slavery. Modern slavery presents one of the most inhumane breaches of human rights yet one of the most widespread and far-reaching issues of today’s society. It signals a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions that no country, no matter it’s economic and social development, is excluded from. How is this possible and what can we do to aid the fight against it?
A lot of countries have special police forces that deal with human trafficking. A lot of them have governmental or non-governmental organizations consisting of trained volunteers that spread awareness and help the victims themselves too. Unfortunately, this does not mean we, as members of the lay public, can look the other way and forget about this ugly stain on our society. As a person who has been, although aware, quite clueless about the true extent of this issue until recently, I have been deeply inspired by the events carried out within the SEE-ME project and all the speakers that have taken part in it and presented their solutions and campaigns.
They motivated me to rethink my own choices, and to look for ways in which I, as a regular civilian and by extent, everyone else as well can fight the issue of modern slavery. The participation of the general public in this fight is not only morally binding, but it is also compulsory. This is because modern slavery is not just organised crime. It is a symptom of an ill society. It is a symptom of mindless consumerism, and of wanting our needs, whether it be sex, clothes or food, met now and at as little cost as possible. If we want to solve the issue of modern slavery we have to take a look at ourselves first.
1. Decreasing demand. This may seem difficult at first since it requires us to analyze our lifestyle choices and change them. But any step we take is better than none. We have to realize crime will exist as long as there is demand for it. Out of 40.3 million victims of modern slavery, 4.8 million are victims of forced sexual exploitation. In a 2018 BBC interview with a former victim of forced prostitution who has been kidnapped in London and trafficked to Ireland and who later on helped put forward the first and only bill in the UK that considers buying sex crime, she recounted she was forced to have sex with hundreds of men. She said they all knew that she and the other girls were held against their will, they had seen her bruises and the state she was in, but they did not care. I, like millions of others, like to shop for »fast fashion« at H&M, Zara and countless other affordable fashion brands. The reality is, the fashion industry is the second biggest contributor to the issue of modern slavery, according to the 2018 Global Slavery Index, right after technology (laptops and other gadgets). So what do we do? First, stop buying sex. Every buyer of commercial sex needs to realize their direct involvement in increasing the demand for sex trafficking. Second, ethical consumerism, a phrase most of us are familiar with. It means boycotting unethical brands or brands with insufficient ethical statements (a list of which you can find with a quick Google search on websites such as https://www.ethicalconsumer.org, http://www.endslaverynow.org/act/buy-slave-free where you can download a Slave-Free Shopping guide, and https://guide.ethical.org.au ) and checking Modern Slavery Statements from brands, or lack thereof (which you can do on the following website). The UK Modern Slavery Act requires the statement to be published on the organisation’s UK website with a link in a prominent place in the UK homepage. Ethical consumerism also means buying products marked as Fair Trade, getting involved in recycling and reusing goods, shopping at thrift and second-hand stores and supporting businesses with transparent supply chains (the list of which is available on https://www.gbcat.org/ ). Lastly, it means minimizing our consumption and simply buying less.
2. Spreading awareness. Despite the gloomy statistics I previously talked about, modern slavery remains a taboo topic among the general public. Which is why, in spite of appearing like a tired phrase, spreading awareness is one of the most effective ways to fight it. Firstly, it protects people from getting caught up in modern slavery themselves by informing them of ways in which traffickers operate and lure victims in. In sex trafficking, recruitment of victims usually occurs in one of five ways: deceit (a false job offer, false offer of migration or economic security), romantic relationships and seduction (where trafficker preys on the vulnerable, befriends them or enters a romantic relationship with them), sale by family (most common in poverty-stricken areas), recruitment by former or current slaves and abduction. With the rise of the Internet and the anonymity it provides, traffickers found new ways of acquiring victims, mostly with online ads and job offers that can often seem completely legitimate. Some of the biggest red flags are overpromising, little detail about the job, requiring texts instead of calls, not asking enough questions about the potential employee or asking strange personal questions and a company name not provided or not found on LinkedIn and other professional platforms. A job interview taking place somewhere else than a company’s office or at least a public place such as Starbucks should always be avoided. However, the Internet has, at the same time, given us the wonderful opportunity of having our voices heard by many people on many social platforms; let’s use it. Awareness is also important so people can spot the red flags that someone else is being trafficked and know who to report it to. And finally, the legislation and even more so, the societal norms and beliefs ingrained in the culture of many countries, directly or indirectly allow this organised crime to silently keep running in the background. But any sort of change, whether it be political, legislative or societal, calls for people that are aware of the issue and ready to push for change of the status quo.
3. Pushing for political change. The simple fact is, we need better laws. Some countries are doing better than others in this aspect, but the situation is not ideal in any of them. In first world countries, this applies to sex trafficking especially. In countries with legalised prostitution, sex trafficking and exploitation is allowed to flourish due to poor regulation and no or loosely defined standards. And yet in most countries with illegal prostitution, victims find themselves criminalised and persecuted instead of being recognized and protected as victims of a crime. The beauty of democracy is that politicians need voters to stay in power, and by making them aware of this issue as an issue that the public cares about, laws may begin to change. Getting in touch with our representatives on a regional level, such as councillors, mayors and other members of the local government is always a good idea.
4. Helping the disadvantaged. Certain groups of people are much more susceptible to fall victim to this crime. Poverty, economic instability, low education and lower social class, especially when coupled with young age and/or female gender are all factors which multiply a person’s risk of becoming a victim. Domestic abuse, child abuse and previous or on-going sexual abuse also disproportionately predispose people to become the trafficked. This means the socially disadvantaged should be prioritized when it comes to spreading awareness. It also implies that fighting modern slavery goes hand in hand with fighting poverty and economic, social, gender and any other inequality. As long as these disparities exist, there exist desperation and social insecurity, two main vulnerabilities the traffickers exploit. Any form of helping the underprivileged, whether through charity work, donating, housing or other, is a form of modern slavery prevention.
5. Knowing the signs and reporting. Perhaps the most direct and active way we can help is by knowing the signs of human trafficking in people we come in contact with and knowing where to report it, whether it be a national human trafficking hotline or the police. A comprehensive list of signs which indicate a victim of modern slavery can be found on this website. It is also important to know how to communicate with potential victims, as they are usually traumatised and threatened or terrorised into silence and compliance with the trafficker’s orders, one of them being avoidance of contact with any outside person. It’s of vital importance and our responsibility not to look the other way and report any suspicious activity.
Overall, the picture being painted by the numbers, reports and research is not pretty in the slightest and can be very discouraging to anyone newly exposed to it. I have been distraught and taken aback by the statistics and numerous testimonies myself. However, it is necessary to acknowledge that not all is lost; many positive changes have been made in regards to this issue already and many laws were passed or changed recently, with the UK serving as a prime example and a role model with other
European countries following in its footsteps. Above all, it is absolutely vital to keep faith in the good in people, in this fight and to actively participate in it ourselves.
This article was written by Eva S.