We like to think of January as the month of new beginnings, a month to erase the past year’s troubles and focus on fresh starts. But for millions of women, men, and children a fresh start is beyond imagination. They are the victims of human trafficking who, in the words of President Obama, “are bought, sold, beaten, and abused, locked in compelled service and hidden in darkness. They toil in factories and fields; in brothels and sweatshops; at sea, abroad, and at home. They are the victims of … a crime that amounts to modern-day slavery.”
January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. January 11 is National Human Trafficking Awareness Day. A Massachusetts newspaper editorial1 calls it a month we should not need. But reality makes it necessary. It’s a problem of enormous magnitude that deserves not just one month, but a year-round effort to eradicate.
A $32 billion industry, human trafficking is the second largest illegal trade in the world, drugs being the first. The International Labor Organization estimates there are 2.4 million people lured into forced labor of some sort. Women are disproportionately involved, with most reports stating at least 2/3 of the victims are women.
A number of non-profit organizations* are dedicated to eliminating trafficking. They work in various ways, from rescuing the victims to prosecuting the perpetrators. Once the victims are freed, they’re sheltered in safe havens and given emotional and physical rehabilitation.
The next step is preparing the survivors to function independently. This is where fair trade plays a valuable role. Many fair trade companies work exclusively with the victims, teaching them skills such as sewing, making jewelry, or designing fabric. The fair pay and training they receive help them start on the road to sustainable self-reliance.
Fair trade efforts also focus on prevention. Women living on $1 a day or less can’t help but be drawn to the promises of big money made by traffickers trying to lure them into the slave trade. Fair wages provide a stable income that makes these promises much less attractive.
What can you do to help? Volunteer with or donate to any of the trafficking organizations. Learn to recognize the signs of a trafficked person, because victims exist in our own neighborhoods, factories, and streets. Urge your legislators to provide law enforcement officials the tools to more effectively prosecute this crime. Look for fair trade products made by trafficked women, because each purchase directly benefits a victim.
But please do something. No matter how small or large your effort, it will contribute to a time when we’ll no longer need a month to shed light on this most barbaric of human abuses.
Update: Katie Couric did a show last year on trafficking which included segments where she interviewed trafficking survivors. Click here to see clips of the show.
1. MetroWest Daily News, January 6, 2013.