What is Forced Labor Trafficking?
If you're reading this article, you've probably heard the term “trafficking.” Maybe you've heard it in reference to sexual slavery, but this is only one form. A wider definition of trafficking is "dealing or trading in something illegal," but let's get a little narrower than that. Let's talk about forced labor trafficking.
Forced labor trafficking is when people are employed to perform work against their will, with some sort of threat motivating them to perform. Victims of trafficking are often deceived into working, manipulated with violence, left in poverty due to debts owed, or imprisoned. Victims might have their passports revoked, or be told they will be reported to the government as illegal immigrants if they do not work—recent immigrants are sometimes targeted for this very reason. Other victims are manipulated into labor because of threats made to their family members.
The work itself varies. Victims are forced into sexual work, such as prostitution or sexual slavery, but a variety of other industries, as well. According to the definition of labor trafficking given by Polaris, an organization that works to combat modern slavery in the United States, "common types of labor trafficking include people forced to work in homes as domestic servants, farmworkers coerced through violence as they harvest crops, or factory workers held in inhumane conditions. Labor trafficking has also been reported in door-to-door sales crews, restaurants, construction work, carnivals, and even health and beauty services."
The problem isn’t limited to the United States. In 2012, the International Labour Organization, a United Nations agency that deals with labor issues around the world, estimated there were 20.9 million victims of forced labor globally.
That’s 3 out of every 1,000 people.
The Asia-Pacific region contains the largest number of victims by far—more than 50% of the world’s victims. The Commonwealth of Independent States (Russia and nearby countries) and Africa have the most victims per inhabitant at 4+ per 1,000. About 45% are male, and the rest are women and girls.
So, what can we do about it? How can you and I combat forced labor trafficking? The statistics can be overwhelming, or else so massive it’s hard to comprehend them on an emotional level. But surely we can do something.
That’s the good news—we can do something. You and I can do something.
If you’re here, you probably know one way to do something: join Dressember! You can wear a dress or a tie every day of December, posting pictures of your outfits to raise awareness about the issue of modern day slavery, and to ask for donations to fight it. Portions of the donations go to organizations like International Justice Mission and A21 that fight to free those trapped in slavery. What if you hate wearing dresses or ties? You can donate instead, or share posts of others participating.
If you want to volunteer, many nonprofit organizations have internships. I myself am an intern at Dressember, participating with the skills that I have. You can use the skills you have, too. Two Wings seeks volunteers in mentorship and career education to empower former victims in their lives after sex trafficking. And if you just don’t have time because of school or work, your education/career could contribute to the fight to end slavery.
Those are just the conventional ideas. Last spring I ran a 5k in a hotdog suit to fight slavery, so keep an eye out for single day fundraising events, and opportunities to make them your own. You can also take a picture of your hotel room when you travel to help investigators locate traffickers.
You can even fight forced labor by shopping! The Tote Project's beautiful tote bags and pouches, Penh Lenh's handmade jewelry, and Dressember's dresses are all examples of fair trade products. When you have a sweet tooth, purchase fair trade chocolate to stop supporting forced labor in the chocolate industry.
Last, but not least, your voice matters. Companies have to listen to consumers—it’s how they make money. If we show we’re not interested in products made by forced labor, companies will listen. If we show we are interested in fair trade products, companies will notice that, too. Some companies—big ones, like Target—are already making products responsibly.
Forced labor trafficking is a significant problem, but there are many significant efforts being made to fight it. Don't get discouraged about the size of the problem. Instead, take a small step toward being part of the solution. Whether it's through a total career change, or small changes to your shopping habits, you can make a difference.
It is not too late to be a part of the impact!
Right now, thousands of people around the world are taking on the creative challenge of wearing a dress or tie in the month of December. The reason? To bring freedom to the 40+ million around the world still trapped in slavery. Your donation or participation in Dressember 2018 is part of a movement to end human trafficking for good.
About the Author
Lucas Moore is a writer in Los Angeles. He likes Neo-noir films, running and cycling, classic American novels, small venue music shows, and burritos.