When I think of human trafficking victims, I think of our sharing the same heart. We share the same basic dream of living safely in a world full of abundant goodwill. Human traffickers steal those dreams, as they steal the people who dare to dream.
It’s nearly impossible to buy anything today that hasn’t been made with trafficked labor. Trafficked labor is used worldwide to make our clothing, components of cell phones, food production, fuel production, materials used to build our homes, as well as the labor to build homes. It is prevalent in sports and domestic labor. Sex trafficking of all genders and ages persists. It connects us with our neighbors in other countries and across the United States in a manner that is least desirable and beneficial for humanity.
I first became interested in the issue of human trafficking seven years ago when talking with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, an organization formed by farm workers to work internationally on social responsibility, human trafficking, and gender-based work violence. At that time, it was nearly impossible to find information on human trafficking. Five years later, when I worked with my colleague, Nicole Coffey Kellett, Assistant Professor of Anthropology at University of Maine at Farmington, we found it difficult to find anyone in our community who was aware of human trafficking. We were met with blank stares and “We don’t have that in Maine, do we?” However, through our event we were able to spark interest on the UMF campus and in the larger community. That interest has continued to grow.
In the food industry, there are encouraging victories in the fight against human trafficking. The International Labour Organization (ILO), European Union (EU) and Thailand’s Ministry of Labour have join together and launched a 42-month project called “Combatting Unacceptable Forms of Work in the Thai Fishing and Seafood Industry”. Concurrent with this development, The Multi-stakeholder Initiative for Accountable Supply Chain of Thai Fisheries (MAST) will work with organizations in Thailand to enhance Thailand’s legal and regulatory framework in line with international labor standards, as well as coordinate efforts in the United States to eliminate human trafficking and other forms of forced labor. This will at the least, take perseverance to change political will, culture, and monitor new programs.
The International Cocoa Initiative, partnering with the Ivorian Government is collaborating on a plan to combat human trafficking in the Ivory Coast cocoa industry. The plan presented will work to reduce human trafficking in the industry by 30% by 2017. Prevention campaigns will target policy, improve socio-economic conditions, training and education. They have pledged to build shelters for child victims and strengthen border patrol. No mention was made of returning children to their families, but that opportunity is rather bleak when so many children have no documentation papers. Still, this is a giant step and gives hope for improved work conditions and lessening the demand for child labor.
In the United States, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) have worked to uncover, investigate and see prosecuted multi-state, multi-worker farm slavery operations. Over 1,200 workers have been liberated. These workers had been beaten, chained and kept in debt. The US Department of State has called CIW, “a pioneer in the work-centered and multi-sectoral approach” to slavery prosecution. CIW believes that solving modern day slavery lies with the demand side, meaning it lies with grocery store chains that profit from buying low-cost produce. Grocery store chains tend to think this is a labor issue which lies with the farm owners and is not their responsibility.
These are only three examples, but they are impressive examples. Taking a comprehensive and holistic approach is the common denominator. Companies are educating themselves on supply chain labor; developing training programs to educate farmers on child labor codes; increasing traceability in supply chains; and of course, encouraging smallholder farmers to engage and collaborate with organizations and community members.
Nicole Coffey Kellett and I have partnered once again to organize an event to further raise awareness of human trafficking. The screening of “Stand With Me” and a presentation by Maine Sex Trafficking Survivor: Tricia Grant will be held on April 6th at UMF and April 7th at Mt. Blue High School. It’s encouraging to note that we are finding in the community, great interest in learning more. Educating and training on human trafficking is having an impact on eradicating this crime against humanity. Whether it’s in your local community or globally, collaboration is key.