Slavery was abolished in 1865 with the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, however, modern-day slavery continues in the form of Human Trafficking.
The practice of enslaving humans of all races has blighted the world throughout recorded history. In the Book of Exodus Moses led Israelites from Egypt to escape slavery and in BC 73 the slave Spartacus was crucified for revolting against Romans.
In this modern age of humanitarian advancement and enlightenment, we may presume we have finally banned all slavery practices. Not so. Shockingly the endemic practice of trading humans for monetary gain is global. Men, women and children are still being trafficked around the world, enslaving people against their will for the sex trades or forced labor.
The U.S. State Department defines the essential elements of the Trafficking Persons crime; “Persons taken through recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring, or the receipt of persons by means of threats, use of force, abduction or fraud, deception, coercion, abuse of power, receiving payment for having control of a person for sexual exploitation, forced labor, slavery, servitude or the removal of organs…”
The ugly face of modern-day slavery is so globally pervasive that it is almost invisible to most observers. Human Trafficking follows gun running and drug dealing with estimated profits of over $32 billion a year. Trading subjugated humans by the merchants of misery is the world’s most abhorrent offence perpetrated by predatory individuals, gangs or international organized crime. This repugnant crime against humanity is a ticking time-bomb simmering to a boil that has become too big for any one government to crush as the global demand exceeds the supply.
Perpetrators who trade in human beings for the sex or labor markets may lurk for unsuspecting victims in a range of venues; four-star hotels, bus depots, inner city slums, or remote villages. The profiteering ring leaders look for the perfect storm in victims; desperation, opportunity and promised rewards. The perpetrators may emerge as well-dressed men, unkempt street procurers, motherly-type boss ladies, crime boss foot soldiers, money launderers, enforcers, pimps, document forgers, “employment recruiters” or other sundry manipulators of men, women and children.
Most legitimate agricultural ventures, apparel factories and other manufacturers adhere to acceptable labor and pay standards in workplaces, and are not the subjects of discussion in this article. This piece only addresses those persons who use force or slave labor in agriculture or underground sweat shop environments, many of whom don’t abide by labor laws, and who underpay and abuse workers.
Hundreds of thousands of slave workers are estimated to toil in field and factory labor in Africa, Asia and Pacific Island countries; the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia and Sri Lanka.
Most often desperately poor people turn to job recruiters, the liaison between factory owner and the workforce. Recruiters are known to troll towns and villages, procure willing laborers with promises of good pay, and then transport them in trucks. Many migrant workers are taken by force, shanghaied if you will. Some are never paid; others earn less than a living wage. Recruiters take large commissions off the top.
Trans-national procurers force migrants to travel to foreign regions with pre-paid fares. Upon arrival their passports, work permits and return tickets are confiscated, and thus the factory or field workers are trapped in the spiral of debt bondage with earnings held hostage to keep the workers working.
Many of the trapped migrants may labor long hours in rogue apparel factories in Indonesia and Bangladesh, slaving from dawn to dusk under appalling conditions in airless crowded workshops with barred windows, without benefits or labor rights, and may be paid about 93 cents to $1 a day. Some workers may never even get paid if they don’t reach daily targets and are forced to work through the night to make quotas.
Some workers are too intimidated to report the abuse of contractors, field bosses and managers, and most often the bribed corrupt authorities do nothing anyway. If workers run away they become trapped in a foreign place without legal documents and no wherewithal to return home. Destitute women and children are most likely to dovetail into the spiraling vortex of sex trades thus becoming part of a tragic diaspora with no happy endings.
Recruited workers for rogue factories and field labor may often be shipped to other regions to break family ties. Some non-profit organizations report that many slave laborers sleep in closets on factory premises, eat one meal a day, and labor long hours to pay off transport debts. A small factory workshop with forced quotas can produce about 15,000 garments daily with about 300 cutters and sewers.
Rogue factories’ low cost production of goods attracts some international apparel buyers who may not be aware of the labor abuse. Many government bureaucrats with elastic ethics may even ignore the reports of slavery and rampant unlawful practices in agriculture, garment and footwear manufacture. The rogue employers tend to own the worker’s time, not necessary the person per se.
Many name-brand manufacturers outsource labor to countries like Indonesia resulting in well-made products and low production costs. Advocates have exposed the practices of no-wage/low-wage labor as well as atrocious working conditions. The culture of slavery in Asia has endured for centuries with accepted practices disguised as versions of indentured servitude and forced labor.
Modern Jakarta in Indonesia, formerly Batavia in the 17th and 18th centuries, was then Dutch territory from where trading companies transported a half million slaves to their colonies and the West Indies. Over three centuries later, the country’s abject poverty still drives predatory practices of targeting men, women and children to fill the burgeoning sex trade or labor trades with no-pay/low-pay enslaved workers.
Many countries came late to the table to abolish slavery; the United States 1865; Mexico freed their last slaves in 1829; Morocco 1922; and Afghanistan in 1923. Niger abolished slavery in 1960 but laws were not enforced until 2003. Saudi Arabia abolished slavery in 1962 and United Arab Emirates followed in 1963. Mauritania, a nation south of Morocco, forbade slave trade as recent as 1981, but outlawed practices continue.
Traditional slavery and hereditary servitude still exist in parts of Ghana, Benin, Togo, and the oil-rich nation of Nigeria where men, women and children are still being sold into slavery. We see it on the news.
Such human abduction atrocities in Nigeria made recent headlines when schoolgirls were taken. Abducted children are sold for as little as $12, some bring as much as $70 apiece on a good day. Boys are sold to fields or mines or as child soldiers to rag-tag renegade groups. Girls are traded for domestic servitude, child brides, or are taken to sex dens. The tribal practice of shrine slavery, Trokosi, is the taking of virgin girls as payment for a family’s religious atonement.
Once stolen children pass through the gates of human trafficking they are forced into lives of servitude with no possible escape. Most are never found. If they run away they are shot. Villagers are helpless as they witness heavily armed traders drive overland Toyota Hilux trucks and motorcycles hunting for humans.
Global slavery practices that once poisoned the past are now poisoning the present. This unspeakable scenario is not thriller fiction, this is fact. Many of us may have been naïve about these abhorrent slavery practices until the heavily-tweeted abduction of 276 mostly Christian Nigerian school girls shocked the world’s sensibilities. This horrific act has driven home the fact that the wretched practice of forced slavery still exists.
Human Trafficking has a dark underbelly in the crime world of trans-national perpetrators with multilayers of subjugated people being traded and merchandised. The lucrative venture attracts criminals in over 127 countries, estimated to bring profits of over $32 to $50 billion annually. Several Human Rights organizations offer startling statistics; about 27 million people are bought and sold of whom 80% are women and children. The International Labor Organization estimates that forced labor markets of $132 billion per year involve money laundering, and unpaid wages have reached over $21 billion.
After the global sex trade markets, the most common industries where trafficked children are forced to work against their will are small workshops and agriculture. Children harvest the Uzbekistan cotton fields, work in apparel “sweat shops”, and brickmaking, palm oil, cocoa, tea and coffee harvesting, and gold and mineral mining. The regions where most trafficked persons are forced into labor are Asia and Sub-Sahara Africa. Many trafficked workers are no-pay/low-pay young children.
CHILD SLAVE LABOR
The economies that prefer child slave labor to bolster profit margins are varied, and may embrace high revenues over the morality theory. Many agricultural ventures appear to be upright for-profit businesses, but among the worst child-labor offenders are the vast cocoa fields on the Ivory Coast of West Africa and South America. In Pakistan and India over 300,000 children are held in debt bondage slaving for loom masters in the carpet weaving industry. These children have no childhoods.
The “employers” prefer the nimble fingers of malleable young children who labor in the shadows of seemingly legitimate industries to harvest cotton, palm oil fruits, and cocoa crops or weave intricate carpets on looms. The child cocoa harvesters work from sunup to sunset in the tropical heat of day, often with little food. The agile boys climb barefoot up cacao trees, slash off pods with sharp machetes, remove the beans, and carry sack loads on their backs. Africa’s West Coast yields about 70% of the world’s cocoa, and about 200,000 boys, as young as seven, slave in the fields.
Hershey’s Chocolate Company, Nestlé, and Ferrero Chocolates are the three main buyers. They have pledged to monitor the growers’ unpalatable labor practices and help eradicate agrarian child slave labor by 2020. Chocolate wrappers bear caveats; “Fair Trade Certified” to imply ethically-sourced products.
The most delectable chocolates may very well have been brought to us by the slave labor of little children’s hands and who ironically may never have tasted a piece of chocolate. Think about it. Our most common purchases may have been tinged by the use of slave labor from the field production to finished products. Imagine if you will that child cotton pickers worked in fields from dawn to dusk; weavers and dyers may have slogged for pennies a day; and cutters and sewers may have worked in airless ‘sweat shops’ in Bangladesh. The nimble hands of young children may have brought us crisp cotton shirts, luscious chocolates, Oriental carpets and high-end running shoes.
Our insatiable appetites for cheap goods swell the profit margins of middle-men who in turn sell to big brand buyers. Have consumers ever considered the cheap goods we buy may have been facilitated by slave labor? No we haven’t.
Some consumers pledge to buy American-made goods, but even labels boasting “Made in America” are actually manufactured by foreign guest workers in U.S. Commonwealth Mariana Islands, north of Guam. Americans never add a single stitch to the $2 billion industry.
So as we consumers peer through the window of rogue labor conditions, we see a trending paradigm shift in the way we spend our money. Billionaire Ralph Lauren, who designs, markets and licenses multi-million dollar ultra-preppy-chic brands, has no hand in the actual manufacturing, but nevertheless only buys outsourced goods.
Their company’s new policies are to buy from only fair trade factories. Other low-priced merchandisers may follow suit by observing the multiple tiers of the supply chain from field to finished product to consumer. If the big brand-boys make enough noise it may lead to profound changes in the international slave labor markets—but then again maybe not. Economics are about profit margins.
Following the money trails sometimes reveal the possibilities of labor law offenders. We tend to buy products with competitive prices—we learn that in Economics 101—hence international corporations outsource production for low-cost manpower. What really happens behind the heavy curtains of commerce?
A case in point is the competitive Palm Oil Industries that produce the ubiquitous ingredient contained in over 50% of all supermarket products. Palm oil is used in bio-fuels, soaps, creams, cosmetics, salad oils, bakery goods, and purchased by manufacturing giants; Unilever, Nestle, General Mills, Kraft and Cargill of California.
Malaysia grows half of the world’s palm oil trees, and with Indonesia, Thailand and Nigeria grows 85% of the world’s supply. The profit-driven market yields 47 million tons and brings over $40 billion a year. More than a million acres of palm oil tree groves now blanket acreage where old-growth rain forests once were. Palm oil industries are considered among the world’s worst eco-villains.
As the palm oil groves produce palm fruits year-round it is work intensive with a labor force of tens of thousands. Recruiters most often import cheap-labor migrant workers, and upon arrival confiscate passports and work permits. Workers pay for transport, food and lodging out of wages. The disgruntled trouble-makers may even be sold into other markets.
Ugly backstories emerge. Most of the 100,000 migrant workers never leave the dense groves; they labor, live and shop at company stores. Thousands of children work in the tropical sun without protective goggles or gloves while spraying toxic chemicals and pesticides. There are rampant abuses of child labor exploitation but the often stateless children fall through the cracks of weak government oversight. Few complain for fear of beatings and reprisal. There is no escape.
People movers may be among the world’s worst traffickers in forced labor. Over 300,000 domestics from Ethiopia, the Philippines and Sri Lanka work in Lebanon, and many more throughout Middle Eastern nations. In many cases passports and documents are confiscated, and work arrangements may be structured as debt bondage leading to exploitation. Some enslaved workers are even sold to European sex traffickers. Others just disappear with no trace.
THE RED MARKET
The trafficking of humans for forced labour is just one of the nightmares facing displaced victims; the other is their possible captivity to be sold into the sex trade. Atrocities suffered by hostages can be one part of the nightmarish equation—but the horrifically macabre buying and selling of humans, especially children and teenagers, for their high-value vital organs, assaults all humanitarian senses.
The most spine-chilling breeds of human traffickers deal in the illegal practices of harvesting human organs for financial gain. Medical technology and pharmaceutical breakthroughs perfected the practice of organ transplants in the 1970s, and it was a matter of time that the illicit market would prove lucrative for the body snatchers.
The most precious of commodities, hearts, lungs, kidneys and tissue from abducted people bring billions of dollars a year. Those who are kidnapped specifically for their organs do not travel far; they are harbored in makeshift clinics close to where they were taken. They are the ‘disappeared ones’.
The taking of human organs for transplants is illegal in all nations except Iran who forbid selling to foreigners. The miracle pharmaceuticals that once saved lives by preventing foreign organ rejection have now spawned predatory organ harvesting practices. The Red Market theft of human organs brings over $1.2 billion a year.
India is the world’s biggest kidney trading centre. Nephrologists pay donors only $600 each and make big money on organ tourism. China harvests organs from the executed prisoners and in Europe a kidney brings $100K, and Rent-a-Womb industries thrive.
Ethical dilemmas often face surgeons when transplanting human organs. As much as 42% of “donor” organs may be yielded from illegal Red Market industries. In the U.S. most organs are donated through the Anatomical Gift Act of 1968, whereby the potential donor bequeaths organs legally.
There are horror stories of organ theft. Trials after the Kosovo-Serbian war accuse a human organ harvesting ring of ex-soldiers and “Frankenstein” doctors of taking prisoners’ organs in makeshift clinics. Human Rights’ Watch Groups report the perpetrators were charging customers in Turkey and Saudi Arabia $45K per body.
The “Yellow House” case tells of a farmhouse in Albania where organ robbers performed surgeries. Many refugees and war prisoners were said to have checked in and never checked out. Surgical tools were later discovered in a nearby river. The gruesome case reads like a chiller thriller but the macabre atrocities really happened.
The harvesting of human organs smacks of science fiction drama. One can visualize Rod Serling offering the Twilight Zone’s iconic tease; “Imagine if you will that living people are abducted to be robbed of their vital organs…” Fade to black.
THE RED WINDOW PROJECT
There are several child advocate organizations that help stolen children and young adults to re-enter the workforce. They are the David fighting the Goliath of the $32 billion industry of 27 million victims of human trafficking.
Though UNICEF and the Polaris Project have a global presence to counteract this overwhelming marketplace, there will never be enough funding to dismantle such far-reaching global ventures. Some organizations realize they can’t solve the entire problem, but with one step at a time to rescue a handful of victims, they may have the ability to empower but a few to escape the churning wheel of forced servitude. These and other organizations are no match to dismantle the vast network, but at least they have a presence to advocate for the victims.
One such organization that has a finger on the virtual pulse of human trafficking is the Red Window Project in Livermore. Mark Fisher heads the project, and with limited funds, concentrates efforts on Cebo City in the Philippines with faith-based focus on preparing young people for the job market.
Human Trafficking still exists in California with porous border points that facilitate the illegal moving and selling of the most vulnerable victims. Assembly Bill 22 is California’s first law that sets higher criminal penalties for Human Trafficking. It is not known how many people are trafficked locally, or how many traffickers are apprehended and sentenced. But each step in the right direction attacks the job at hand gradually, if only saving a single drop in the vast bucket of human trafficking.
Director Fisher of the Red Window Project made a recent presentation to the Blackhawk Museum Guild and explained their modest mission. His group helps the most vulnerable victims of human trafficking; women and children. He spelled out how his staff and the International Justice Mission concentrate on the needy youth in Cebo City, the Philippines.
The crux of their organization’s mission is to focus on victims of modern slavery, one step at a time. Their staff prepares students to graduate high school and provides job training and career counseling to apply for jobs.
The mission and dedication of the Red Window Project is to rescue at-risk youth and plan their education with scholarships. Some of the rescued girls had been sold into slavery by traffickers, many others are the sole providers of siblings, but most of them will find a bright future with the help of those who are dedicated to raising awareness about the modern day slavery one person at a time.