Community leaders and concerned citizens attended a presentation on human trafficking and modern day slavery by Brooke Hathaway from the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. The event, sponsored by the alumni of the civic group Leadership Adams, was held Thursday, Nov. 19 at the Frisch’s restaurant in West Union.
Hathaway spoke for more than hour about the history and significance of the slavery/human trafficking problem today and steps that are being taken to fight it.
According to the Freedom Center’s web site, slavery has technically been illegal in every country since 1981, but it is difficult to define today because of its invisible nature and ever-changing forms. We use a loose definition of enslavement, believing that it is any forced work under fear of physical injury or intimidation, with little or no pay, and with no opportunity for a victim to escape.
Hathaway presented eye-opening information on the prevalence of the issues. “There are 21 million people held in illegal modern-day slavery,” she told those gathered, 15 million of them are in labor and 5 million are forced to work in the sex trade. The men, women and children, who are enslaved throughout the world, work as field hands harvesting crops, as seamstresses in sweatshops, as kidnapped fishermen, as child soldiers, as common laborers so deeply in debt that their obligation can never be repaid, and as sex slaves in the commercial sex industry.”
She explained that the law recognizes several types of slavery: child slavery, bonded slavery, the sex trade, and domestic servitude – all of which are illegal.
Additionally, she told those attending that the majority of those trapped in modern-day slavery are adults, however an estimated 5.4 million are children.
She also explained that the problem is closer to home than most people might imagine, “The majority of those ensnared by human trafficking and the slave trade are in Southeast Asia, but 1.5 million are from Europe and America.”
Poverty, drug addiction, and threats of physical violence were cited as major contributing factors precluding escape from enslavement. “These people have no money, they’re often hooked on drugs by those who enslave them, especially in the sex trade, and they’re lives are threatened by violence or deportation if they attempt to leave their situation.”
At its heart, slavery is an inhuman perversion of a simple economic principle: The best way to maximize profits is by minimizing the cost of labor.
According to statistics provided by the Freedom Center, “Of the 20.9 million slaves in the world today, 90% are enslaved by the private economy – individuals and businesses using enslaved labor to generate a profit. Carpet factories, textile mills, fishing boats, brick kilns and charcoal camps – amongst many other industries – often use slaves to reduce labor costs.
In today’s global economy, the demand for cheap goods and services has created a labor system of slaves. Consumers unknowingly support this practice by preferring less-expensive goods, made so through enslaved labor. In other parts of the world, labor traffickers round up impoverished, desperate laborers, helping them enter other countries, like the United States, where they are entrapped in a bonded labor arrangement.
According to the United Nations and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the human trafficking market is worth more than $32 billion, just behind drug trafficking and tied with the illegal arms industry.”
Representatives from the Salvation Army were also present to provide Angel Stars to those attending. The Salvation Army’s Angel Tree program provides new clothing and toys for children of families in need through the support of donors. Found in local malls, companies and churches, Angel Trees are decorated with numbered paper angel tags with the first name, age and gender of a child in need of gifts. Contributors remove one or more tags from the tree and purchase appropriate gifts for the child or children described on the tags.