LOUISVILLE, Ky. — When we hear the words “human trafficking,” we often immediately think of sex trafficking in particular. While sex trafficking is a huge problem, it is not the only facet of human trafficking to enslave people around the globe.
It’s estimated that nearly 25 million people are trapped in forced labor around the world. The Department of Labor has identified 148 goods and products from 76 countries around the world that are produced through forced labor. They include everything from cell phone batteries, gold, jewelry, coffee, sugar, chocolate, seafood, and much more. Often, it is children who end up being forced to work in bad and dangerous conditions to make many products we buy.
Robert Beiser, the Director of Strategic Initiative with the Polaris Project—a nonprofit aimed at ending human trafficking—said consumers have more power than they may realize to strive for change.
“Certainly supporting ethical trade and fair trade is always great, because then you have a guaranteed set of minimum standards,” Beiser said. “But it's also great just to ask the companies that you really like and really care about what their practices are, how they make sure their workers are kept safe, that they're not being exploited… and we've seen that when customers ask companies to step forward and make sure they're doing everything they can to keep workers safe that those companies respond.”
There are numerous websites and apps that can help consumers track companies and products that are associated with human trafficking. However, Beiser said simply using these lists alone to determine companies to support or boycott may be misleading. Some companies discover human trafficking in their supply chains through their own internal investigations, and then take steps to rectify it; conversely, other companies may avoid investigations into their supply chains.
“In a global supply chain, in a global economy, sometimes the places you’ll end up finding exploitation are actually the companies who are willing to step forward and look at what their supplier are doing, what their subcontractors are doing,” Beiser said. “So it’s not necessarily the best bet to say, ‘these people have found challenges in the way their products are produced so avoid them and instead go to these other people,’ who might never have been willing to take a look in the mirror and see if they’re really keeping their workers safe.”
The number one thing we can do, according to the Polaris Project, is keep an eye on those we know and the people in the community around us. Trafficking is more common than many realize, including here in Kentucky—where the agricultural industry and the food services industry are hit particularly hard, Beiser said.
There are resources available if you or someone you know is caught up in human trafficking.