Today, it seems like awareness about human trafficking is certainly on the rise. You can hardly walk through an airport without seeing a sign warning you of the sad reality. Gone are the days where this is an unspoken occurrence. We hear stories of police raids, American Airlines identifying teenagers being trafficked, and pimps luring teenagers through social media platforms disguised as friends. This is real and it’s not just happening over “there in some other country.” In my city of Williamsburg, Virginia, often praised as a quaint tourist town, trafficking is a reality that we need to be aware of and empowered to expose.
In case you didn’t know, there are five main forms of human trafficking that have been identified globally: forced labor, sex trafficking, involuntary domestic servitude, bonded labor, and child soldiers. I Included A21’s definitions of these forms below for reference. I think most of us would say we believe in freedom for all people and want to see a world where people get to choose where they work, who they have sex with, and how they spend their lives.
A21’s mission is to abolish slavery in the twenty-first century. While that can sound a little overwhelming, we all have a part to play and in case you don’t know where to begin, we invite you to start with your closet, your purchases, and your way of consuming. By choosing to buy from brands who put people first, which means providing for the whole human, you are decreasing the risk that someone was trafficked to make it available to you or that someone would be trafficked because of the desperate place they are in. Intentionally screening the brands you support is no trivial matter; for many today, fair trading means freedom.
Fair trade is about protecting people from being taken advantage of and exploited, which often leaves them vulnerable to trafficking situations. A few of the artisan groups and social enterprises we have the privilege of coming alongside began with a desire to end human trafficking. Quickly, they realized that by providing holistic employment to women, they were creating a world where women could thrive.
When paid a living wage and treated like a human, precious and important, people are less vulnerable and no-longer at such risk. When paid fairly, families don’t have to live in a constant state of poverty which only ever makes survival the goal. We need to stop blaming people who are in desperate situations for saying yes unknowingly to offers from traffickers, and instead seek to understand why someone was that desperate to begin with. While warning someone and raising awareness among vulnerable groups is good, getting to the root cause is vital. Poverty creates an atmosphere where the promises traffickers offer sound like the only way out.
The International Labour Organization defines forced labor as “work that is performed involuntarily and under the menace of any penalty.” In many countries, people are trafficked into garment factory jobs with the promise of fair wages, and then end up being forced to work for little pay and in deplorable conditions. . As fast fashion brands have continued to chase cheaper labor, they have allowed for the most vulnerable in the supply chain to pay the cost. It is estimated that there are 170 million children engaged in child labor, many of whom are working in textile factories and have been trafficked to get there.
We cannot separate the fight against human trafficking from where we buy our clothing. We love how Dressember (another amazing organization fighting human trafficking) said it — “when we choose to hold off on buying a $10 dress from one store and decide to save up for a fairly made $60 dress, we are sending the fashion industry a powerful message.” Hold off. Find an ethical option. Wait, save, go without, borrow, or search your local thrift store. Let’s be those who wear what was freely and fairly made while we post about believing in freedom for all people.
So, while we are always focused on supporting employment opportunities that honor people thus naturally fighting human trafficking in our world, this month — we will be sharing a few thoughts and resources to support you in the fight, as well as giving a percentage of all sales to A21. Lastly, if you are local — we invite you to take a stand and learn with us at A21’s Global Freedom Summit and our 2nd Annual Freedom Market + Clothing Swap.
It is important to know what we are talking about when we say human trafficking. Today, these are the five main forms of human trafficking that have been identified:
Forced Labor: When a person is forced to work in captivity with little or no pay. Forced labor is well documented in extractive industries—industries that consist of having children remove non-renewable raw material out of the earth such as oil and minerals.
Sex Trafficking: Forcing, deceiving, or coercing a person to perform a commercial sex act. Sex trafficking can include forms of commercial sexual exploitation in sex tourism, pornography, and strip clubs.
Bonded Labor: Also known as debt bondage or peonage, bonded labor is often made to look like an ordinary employment agreement at first. However, in the agreement, the worker starts with a debt to repay. This worker finds out later that the debt is impossible to repay, thus making their enslavement permanent. Workers may also inherit intergenerational or ancestral debt in more traditional systems of bonded labor.
Involuntary Domestic Servitude: Forcing a person to work and live in the same place for little or no pay. Involuntary domestic servitude consists of an individual working in a private residence. This makes inspection by authorities more difficult. Domestic workers often are not given the same basic benefits and protections that are ordinarily bestowed upon workers.
Child Soldiers: Unlawful recruitment or use of children—through force, fraud, or coercion—as combatants, or for labor or sexual exploitation by armed forces. Thousands of children are currently serving as child soldiers around the world. These children are commonly being forced into sexual slavery, fighting on the front lines, participating in suicide missions, and acting as spies, messengers, or lookouts.