I've Supported Industries Engaged In Forced Labor - And So Have You
All over the world, men, women and children are forced to work, often for what we in the West would consider pennies on the dollar. Often the labor is backbreaking, repetitive or in dangerous situations. Forced labor represents the largest single area of trafficked people worldwide and permeates every single nation in the world.
Did you know that, in the US, the largest garment factories are located in Los Angeles? Did you know that in 2016, the US Department of Labor discovered 85% of these factories violated labor and wage laws? That's here in the US. With generally decent local governance, people who are mostly respectful. Our nation is not at war, not in a famine, and not experiencing economic depression. And yet, a large portion of one of our industries employs people who could be considered forced labor.
Let's take a minute to breathe and digest that.
Human trafficking happens everywhere. Forced labor happens in the US, in garment factories producing goods for the US market. We buy goods made in America or labeled "fair-trade" to avoid this problem, and yet, we've probably contributed to it.
That's why I say you and I have contributed to forced labor. How can avoid it? I try to do what's right and good and I bet you do too.
I feature forced labor in Divided for this very reason. Why wouldn't a dictator use forced labor to enhance his power? To get an economic leg up in the world? Of course, evil dictators would use this. But so would a whole host of other people, including wealthy families.
What causes the proliferation of forced labor? The picture is often multi-factorial:
Poor economic opportunity to make a living wage - enough to support a family, feed and clothe the kids, send them to school, and put a roof over their heads.
Famine, war, recessions / depression in the national economy, and discrimination against ethnic minorities all contribute to individuals' or families' recruitment into forced labor situation.
Lack of education to qualify for higher-paying jobs.
Governmental corruption, causing officials to not enforce labor and wage laws, which now exist in most nations around the world. I say most because there are a few holdouts or where the government is a royal mess and has no real authority.
Not being able to speak the local language, and thus not qualifying for higher-paying positions.
A host of other factors, including family-based incentives to sell a younger child or teen into a forced labor situation.
Forced labor is the most common manifestation of modern-day slavery. It's more common than sex trafficking or child trafficking. Estimates put those trapped in forced labor above 20 million around the world. The worst regions for forced labor are Asia / Pacific Rim.
People trapped in forced labor could work in garment factories, mining (most of the world's production of cobalt for cell phones is mined with forced labor), heavy industry, farming, domestic service (most common in the Middle East), construction and even militaries (remember Sierra Leone's child soldiers?).
You've probably encountered someone in a forced labor situation - or you've bought the products they've made. It's almost impossible to avoid this, even if EVERYTHING you buy has a fair-trade label. But that's impossible to do, plus there's some controversy if the benefits of fair-trade designation end up in the hands of farmers or the workers they employ.
Forced labor is insidious. It's everywhere.
If it's everywhere, how can we end it?
We can advocate for the labor and wage laws already passed in nations around the world to be enforced.
We can advocate for greater accountability of governmental officials at the local and regional level internationally, starting in your hometown. Do those who govern your community accept bribes to turn a blind eye to forced labor? That needs to stop. You can make a difference in your local community.
We can help poorer nations establish solid, low-cost education available to all children, including girls. Educated teens and young adults have less incentive to accept forced labor situations.
We can research where the things we buy are produced and who produces them. This is difficult to accomplish, though, and we shouldn't delude ourselves into thinking this alone ends forced labor.
We can advocate for large corporations to accept accountability and responsibility for the supply-chain of their goods. Asking the tough questions as Americans and Westerners of our large corporations can begin the process of paying living wages to those who produce our goods.
We can raise awareness through social media, news and other worldwide connections. Someone trapped in forced labor may believe they have no other choice until something online makes them question why they accept their work situation. Once they ask those tough questions, then they can advocate for themselves.
As always, you can help spread the word by sharing this post on your socials. And if you want to join me in Dressember, our team page is linked below.
Dressember Team page here
Let's chip away at modern slavery. It's worth the effort to see over 20 million people freed.