48 Slaves: How Many Slaves Work for You?

48 slaves work for me.

No, I’m not rich. I don’t live in a big house sitting on acres of land. I’m an average, 50-something woman with an average life. I’ve never personally met the faceless individuals who mine the gold and silver in my jewelry and the minerals in my personal care products, or harvest my food and the cotton for my clothing. I’ve never seen the women and children who endure forced labor to produce and manufacture the products I purchase at the local grocery or department store.

It never occurred to me that my simple practices support human bondage and suffering. Until yesterday I felt pretty good about my buying practices. My closets aren’t full of expensive clothes and most of what is there came from thrift stores. I have few leather items. I don’t wear makeup, and try to buy local produce when I can. Maybe I just never thought about it much.

And then the writing bug took me.

A few years ago I began to write a fictional tale. The storyline is complex, but it didn’t start out that way. As I’ve heard from others who are driven to put fingers to keyboard in creative pursuits, my manuscript took on a life of its own. One of the elements that began to emerge was that of trafficking in human beings. I didn’t intend to write about slavery. I knew nothing about slavery. In fact, at an early stage of my story’s development, I stopped to read what I’d written and almost deleted it all. I thought, “No one will believe this. It’s too harsh. What will others think of me that I could write about such cruel treatment of other people?” I’m not sure what kept my finger off the delete key.

The rest of that day I trudged through a mental debate on that subject. Later that evening, as a distraction, I plopped in front of the television and began to channel-surf. Somehow — I don’t remember the chain of events — I stopped on a channel I’d never viewed before. The documentary they were airing depicted young (young!) women in the U.S. who are forced into prostitution. Shocked, I watched their individual tales wind out before me on the screen for several hours, and came away knowing beyond a doubt that my manuscript was tame by comparison to the real-life stories I’d just witnessed.

In the time since my eyes opened I’ve done a little on-line reading. Information on modern-day slavery is abundant because it’s such a major problem. Estimates on the numbers of trafficked individuals vary from 2.5 million (United Nations Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking) to 20.9 million (Polaris Project) to 21 million (International Labour Organisation). Over 50% of all trafficking victims are from Asia and the Pacific. Almost 50% are used exclusively for commercial sexual exploitation and of those, 98% are women and children. Yes, you read right. Children. Knowing the exact number of victims is impossible due to the nature of the crimes and the perpetrators. And prosecution for the perps is sadly lacking. One study done in 2006 showed that for over 800 people trafficked, only one slaver was convicted. (United Nations Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking)

Few of us are untouched by this multi-billion-dollar enterprise. Even the mindset behind it can be in operation right under our noses, and we don’t see. Of course we don’t support human bondage in this day and age. Naturally, we and our friends and loved ones despise the manipulation and coercion of other human beings. We’d know if that weren’t the case. These things can’t happen to us, right?

Wrong. As it turns out, I myself “employ” 48 slaves. How many work for you? (Slavery Footprint Survey)

A few notes:  This is my first blog ever. I’m bound to make blogging mistakes; your patience is appreciated. I don’t intend to turn this forum into a scholarly tome with nothing but facts and figures; those can be easily found elsewhere online. Instead, Forty-Eight Slaves will be a tool for awareness both for myself and for my readers. Posts will be added at least every two weeks, more frequently if time permits. (I work for a living. And I’m writing a complex and intricate manuscript, remember?) I welcome intelligent, thoughtful, constructive comments as well as those directed toward increasing awareness of the realities of contemporary slavery and the organizations that fight it. I do not encourage (and will delete) mindless, snarky comments with no constructive value.

Thanks for reading.

Resources:
International Labour Organisation — www.ilo.org
Polaris Project — www.polarisproject.org
Slavery Footprint Survey — slaveryfootpring.org
United Nations Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking — www.ungift.org

Drema Deòraich (from 9/1/13)