When I first learned about the issue of human trafficking a few years ago, I was shocked. I learned millions and millions (figures now estimate over 40 million) people are living enslaved in our world today, despite the fact that slavery is illegal everywhere.
Since then, I’ve gotten involved on several fronts in my own little corner of the world to help. And through my involvement, I’ve learned the real stories of real people and how they were coerced into a trafficking situation. I’ve worked with women at risk and sold survivor made goods. Though I’m not as on the front lines as some, I feel like I’ve seen enough to have a pretty accurate understanding of how human trafficking works.
Thus, its been disturbing for me to read about all the near-miss human trafficking experiences of moms and their young children all over America.
It took me all of two minutes to find a story featuring Ikea, Walmart, and a Grocery Store, all containing similar tales of a mom and her young kids being followed, or in some way being targeted by “human traffickers.” The purpose of these articles seems to be to strike fear into the reader, lest they and their children become victims of a similar threat.
The problem with all of these stories… is they probably aren’t true.
These articles are mysteriously missing verifiable information, like whether police were called. Police records are stunningly vacant from tales of children being stolen from right under their parents noses in shopping centers and being trafficked. It’s just not actually happening like that.
And these stories are taking away attention from the real ways we can fight the evil that is human trafficking. Instead of turning our eyes outward and knowing the signs of trafficking, or making sure we aren’t supporting trafficking and slavery with how we live our lives and spend our money, we are focused on whether we are being followed in a Big Box Retail store.
How Trafficking Usually Works
Here is a link to an article about human trafficking in my home state, Wisconsin.
Based on that article, here are some actual facts about how human trafficking typically occurs:
Human Trafficking is Actually a Big Retailer Problem
The issue of slavery and human trafficking is actually something Big Retailers have to deal with, just not in the ways we think.
For example, there is slavery in the tuna industry. In the clothing industry. In the chocolate industry. Just to name a few.
And a lack of transparency in the supply chain of the items we purchase is a huge issue. Apart from a fair trade or ethically sourced label/standard, we have little way of knowing whether the cacao from the chocolate chips we are putting in our cookies was picked by a slave or a free man. And that’s a big problem. In the clothing industry, orders for items are often contracted out to different factories, with different standards for working and labor. These sub-contracts are often, according to retailers, difficult to trace. In my opinion, it helps them shirk responsibility when exploitation is found, because they can claim they didn’t know.
Big Retailers have often denied responsibility for slave produced items on their shelves, either by blaming sub-contracting and a lack of ability to follow the supply chain, or ignorance. But with all the billions of dollars in profits these companies rake in year after year, I have to ask this question: Do they really lack the resources to figure this problem out, or are the slaves in their supply chain too far away and too removed and too poor for them to care?
What Can Be Done?
Despite the frustrations about companies claiming to have no way to control their supply chain, we, the consumer, are not actually powerless.
Also, obviously, I’m all for everyone continuing to supervise their kids in public places. But, instead of all our energy focusing on potential traffickers who probably aren’t actually following us around, there is a much better way we can spend our efforts, and a more effecting means of channeling our horror at the nightmare that is human trafficking and slavery today.
First, make sure the food and clothing you purchase is ethically made. That $5 shirt at Kohl’s might seem like a good deal… but it might be a good deal because the person who sewed it isn’t making a living wage. Those chocolate chips might be cheap, but they might be cheap because child slaves picked the cacao. We can intentionally decide to live with less, and be willing to spend a bit more to ensure those who made the items we consume are making a living wage, and are free.
If it all seems overwhelming to you, a decent place to start would be to focus on things like fair trade chocolate, and ethically sourced coffee (Starbucks, for those in a mild panic, is ethically sourced). Because slavery and human trafficking are rampant in these industries. Also, consider owning less clothing so you can purchase ethically, or buy your clothing second-hand. Sites like ThredUp, and consignment stores are great places to start.
Learn the actual signs of human trafficking, and learn to pay attention.
Send your money towards companies that ensure their supply chain is clean is a major way we can make a difference. Here is a resource that helps us know whether the companies we spend our money at are ethical.
No, human traffickers probably aren’t following you around Walmart. But, human trafficking and slave labor is real. And we are right to be upset by it, and are right to want to take action. We just need to focus our attention in the correct places to ensure we are able to contribute to the solution, rather than propagating paranoia about an unlikely scenario.
I live in Wisconsin, and if you are near me, this is a short list of organizations you could contribute your time and/or money to that actively fight human trafficking in our neck of the woods.
And here are some options on a national/global scale: