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Buying fair trade products can help stop forced labor, free people from bondagecomment (0)

January 10, 2013

By Kristen Padilla

Buying fair trade products can help stop forced labor, free people from bondage

A young man came to the United States to look for work because he needed to support his aging parents,” wrote Polaris Project, an organization that works to end human trafficking. “A recruiter helped transport the man along with several others. Once in Florida, the recruiter offered the men jobs picking tomatoes.” 

The story continues, “The young man was forced to work extremely long hours. Once, the recruiter beat two of the other workers when they tried to take a break, and he threatened to harm the other workers if they stopped work. He also threatened to report the workers to immigration if they attempted to leave.”

This is just one of many real examples of someone trapped in labor trafficking, according to the calls received by the National Human Trafficking Resource Center.

“Human trafficking for labor is characterized by several types of exploitation, including bonded labor, forced labor and child labor,” according to the “Release and Restore” CD, a resource of national Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU).

Bonded labor occurs when someone is forced to work to pay off a debt that can never be paid off.

“You are the one who goes to Mexico to smuggle someone, and you promise that person work,” said Nell Green, whose work with Cooperative Baptist Fellowship focuses on human trafficking in Houston. “Then you charge them exorbitant prices when you get here for travel, smuggle fees, housing and they can never pay you back. They want to get away, but you say, ‘I know where your family lives, and I’ll kill them if you leave.’”

Forced labor occurs when an individual is held against his or her will and forced to work. Child labor happens when children are forced to work instead of adults. Child labor has been prevalent in both the chocolate and cotton industries worldwide, although it is used in a variety of industries. The U.S. Department of Labor released a report in 2012 called “List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor,” which lists 73 countries with the types of goods that involve known forced or child labor.

Approximately 246 million children are exploited, beginning as early as the age of 5 to 17 years of age, according to the International Labor Organization.

Dillon Burroughs, coauthor of “Not in My Town: Exposing and Ending Human Trafficking and Modern Day Slavery,” recalled the first time he encountered a child slave on a trip to Haiti in 2009.

“On the last day [in Haiti] as we drove back to the airport, we saw some children who looked like they were in some kind of forced labor situation,” Burroughs said on a New Hope Digital podcast. “As I looked into it a little bit more, they were in fact slaves. … When you look into the eyes of someone who is held against their will, it does something to you; it changes you.”

Labor trafficking is most commonly used in agriculture. Other venues include hotels, nail salons, sweatshops, construction, day labor, restaurants, child care, illegal drug trade, tourism, traveling carnivals and industries, according to the “Release and Restore” CD.

“Human trafficking is fueled by a demand for cheap labor or services,” according to the Polaris Project. “Human traffickers are those who victimize others in their desire to profit from the existing demand. To ultimately solve the problem of human trafficking, it is essential to address these demand-driven factors, as well as to alter the overall market incentives of high-profit and low-risk that traffickers currently exploit.”

One way you can make a difference as a consumer and decrease the demand for labor trafficking is by buying fair trade, Burroughs said.

“We may go into Wal-Mart and see a lamp that’s on sale for $10,” he said, “and we go, ‘Wow, that’s a great bargain,’ but not realizing how was that made. … Even though it might be less than 10 percent of the actual product’s labor, it may be used in a situation where part of the labor was slave trade labor and we don’t even know it. So the whole idea of fair trade or the fair trade movement we see in our country now is a response to stop that.”

WorldCrafts, a division of the WMU, is one example of fair trade at work. WorldCrafts partners with artisan groups around the world that employ men and women who are coming out of human trafficking or are vulnerable to human trafficking. WorldCrafts then sells the products they make to consumers in the U.S. By doing so, WorldCrafts “develops sustainable, fair-trade businesses among impoverished people worldwide,” with the vision of offering “an income with dignity and the hope of everlasting life to every person on earth.” 

One of the artisan groups WorldCrafts supports rescues girls as young as 10 from sex traffickers, WorldCrafts director Andrea Mullins said.

“[These girls] are helped to return home when possible,” she said. “If this isn’t possible, they are provided a safe home, education and taught a skill that provides them with an income. We are helping these young women have the income they will need to live free of exploitation.”

Another company providing fair trade products is Freeset Global. Based in Calcutta, India, this company employs women coming out of sex trafficking to make handbags and T-shirts. Through Freeset, women have a sustainable income, medical insurance, retirement, day care and reading and writing classes. So far, Freeset has freed more than 200 women from trafficking.

“We can be a part of the solution and be an agent of change,” said Kristi Griem, president of Freeset USA and member of Shades Mountain Baptist Church, Vestavia Hills. “We don’t even have to go to a brothel to make an eternal impact in the lives of those seeking to get out. We can pray for their protection, and we can participate in economic ways to ensure their freedom, like shopping for Freeset products.” 

Green said when she first began her journey learning about human trafficking, she never realized that she could do something about child labor until she realized the power she had as a purchaser.

“I was responsible every single time a child was forced to work in a cotton field … or every single time a woman was so poor that she had to be sold,” she said. “Being a Christian means that we have to be involved in these things that break God’s heart. Just because I like my clothes and my electronics may mean children are being forced to work. Those are my issues as a Christian.”


Red flags to watch for someone being trafficked

If a person(s) in question:

  • is not free to come or go as she/he pleases.
  • is under 18 and is providing commercial sex acts.
  • is unpaid, paid very little or paid only through tips.
  • is not allowed to take breaks or suffers under unusual restrictions at work.
  • is usually fearful, anxious, depressed, submissive, tense, nervous or paranoid.
  • avoids eye contact.
  • reacts to any reference of “law enforcement” with fearful or anxious behavior.
  • appears malnourished.
  • shows signs of physical and/or sexual abuse.
  • has few or no personal possessions.
  • is not in control of his/her own identification documents.
  • claims to be “just visiting” and is unable to clarify where he/she is staying.
  • is unaware of his/her whereabouts.
  • has numerous inconsistencies in his/her story.

(Source: Polaris Project)


Helpful websites of organizations seeking to end human trafficking

  • wmu.com/projecthelp
  • freetheslaves.net
  • notforsalecampaign.org
  • ijm.org
  • traffickstop.org
  • zoechildren.org
  • the-wellhouse.org
  • makewaypartners.org
  • freesetglobal.com
  • worldcrafts.org/set1free.asp
  • slaveryfootprint.org
  • iast.net
  • halftheskymovement.org



Free World by Slavery Footprint, an app you can use while shopping to see how products were made.

Free2Work by Not For Sale Campaign,  which rates companies based on their efforts to address forced and child labor.

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