There is a strong connection between a country’s tacit willingness to abide slavery and that country’s risk of being left behind by the currents of global civilization.
Being a socially responsible business today means so much more than buying recycled products and supplies. One aspect is to take on the task of ensuring your supply chains reflect your corporate values as well. Are workers in factories, manufacturing plants, and even cottage industries protected and given a decent living wage, while, at the same time, not controlled or exploited by their employers? Are they free of modern day slavery? Economic growth is important – but at the expense of another’s freedom? I believe this is unacceptable.
It’s easy to see why companies and countries both turn a blind eye; making a product for the least amount of money translates to greater monetary profits and a more competitively priced widget in the marketplace that will sell over the next guy’s if all other aspects are potentially equal.
Ethically, an equal playing field in place encourages rules that are the same for everyone, improves monitoring, and allows transparency to occur on every level. The underlying belief that human life has no or little value must be eradicated, smashed to smithereens, torn down and replaced by something far superior – respect for life and the freedom to earn a decent living wage, as well as the freedom to choose in what way you want to make that living.
If developed countries let slavery go unchecked, it will threaten to corrode the bilateral and multilateral agreements, and the international rule of law, that the global economy depends on. If developing countries don’t check it, it may or may not mean slower short-term growth, but it will definitely complicate long-term growth, or stunt it altogether, as outside investors bring more scrutiny and demand more transparency.
Modern day slavery – in all its forms – fuels a substantial part of the growth of globalization. Andrew Forrest, founder of the anti-slavery group Walk Free, has said, “Slavery is the dark side of globalization.” In essence, organizations like Walk Free want to harness the good, or at least potentially good, aspects of globalization to eliminate its most evil aspect: forced labor. Forrest is determined to shame big businesses and governments to sign a pledge for “zero tolerance for slavery”. One great example in our history books of how this worked is when the light of shame was focused on King Leopard II of Belgium, who enslaved millions of Congo people as his own personal property. Fortunately, the portable camera came along, and in its primitive form captured evidence on film of the horrific treatment and conditions that immediately caused public outrage. Leopold was exposed for cruel and inhuman behavior and it propelled a charge towards freedom in this nation’s life.
I understand that the problem of modern slavery is complex – there is not a simple or easy answer. I also understand that we can easily tune out the cries for help; we only have to watch, read or listen to the news to learn about what should be intolerable human stories. Without even thinking, we’ve all done it – we switch to another channel. We have become indifferent to the blasts from all walks of media that tell us about dire situations happening around us, and around the world. However, countless men, women and children have no voice, no advocate, no media attention being shone on them. They are alone, taken advantage of and exploited without a single person aware or seemingly interested.
The Atlantic‘s first editor, James Russell Lowell, wrote in the magazine’s endorsement of Abraham Lincoln for president in 1860:
The inevitable tendency of slavery is to concentrate in a few hands the soil, the capital, and the power of the countries where it exists, to reduce the non-slaveholding class to a continually lower and lower level of property, intelligence, and enterprise. … We do not, of course, mean to say that slaveholding states may not and do not produce fine men; but they fail, by the inherent vice of their constitution and its attendant consequences, to create enlightened, powerful, and advancing communities of men, which is the true object of all political organization.
I suggest to you that the creation of enlightened, powerful, and advancing communities of both men and women begins with me. And you.
— Debbie Hindman
WHAT IS MODERN SLAVERY?
Slavery exists when a person is treated as someone else’s person’s property. Typically, a person in slavery is forced to work, often without pay, and is coerced by the threat or fear of violence. Many have been deceived into taking jobs that did not exist – and then find that they cannot walk away.
Slavery is a crime that is hidden from view, but is occurring at different levels in all countries around the world. Forced labour exists in a wide range of industries, from brick kilns and construction to fishing and factories. Millions of people who have sought jobs as domestic workers have found themselves trapped in strangers’ homes in domestic slavery, subject to physical and sexual abuse and unable to escape. Millions more have been trafficked into commercial sex work against their will, among them many children.
HOW WIDESPREAD IS SLAVERY TODAY?
The most recent estimate of the number of people in slavery around the world is 20.9 million, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO) in June 2012. The ILO’s research suggests that the majority of victims of slavery are women (11.4 million), and almost one quarter of people living in slavery are children: an estimated 5.5 million.
The United States Department of Justice has described the buying and selling of human beings “the fastest-growing criminal industry in the world”. The ILO has estimated that slavery generates US$32 billion in profits each year.