Tag Archives: slavery

Human Trafficking Awareness Day 2013

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Today is Human Trafficking Awareness Day. Here’s a repost of a piece I wrote for Anti-Slavery Day last year – the issues remain relevant.

We think we know what slavery is, most of us. It’s Wilberforce and ‘Amazing Grace’, the American Civil War and and Abraham Lincoln. It’s a thing of the past, a historic barbarity.

And yet human trafficking to the UK is rising. Rising.

It’s almost unbelievable. This sort of thing should be non-existent, not getting worse. Sure, it’s not endemic in this country – 946 victims last year, a tiny fraction of the population – but that almost makes it worse. It’s a hidden sin operating in a shadowy world that most of us fortunately never encounter. I mean, people are being trafficked here for forced organ removals. It’s near impossible to comprehend, like the news and a exploitative horror movie have somehow got scrambled.

But the reality is that 712 adults and 234 children were thought to be victims last year, forced into prostitution, street crime and the sex industry. Slavery’s not a thing of the past, it’s still alive and getting worse.

That’s just in the UK though. Globally, human trafficking is up there with drugs and arms dealing as one of the top criminal money-spinners. Statistics are hard to come by, but World Vision states that between 500,000 and 4 million people are trafficked, 80% of them being women and 50% being children.

Well of course they are. Because this sort of thing always seems to lead back to the exploitation of women or children.

And let’s not kid ourselves. This – Well, let’s be crass and brutal and call it a market – exists because there’s a demand for it. Victims end up working in brothels and sweatshops and lap-dancing clubs and fields and mansions because they’re seen as just another commodity. And it’s not just the traffickers involved in this, it’s those who use these ‘services’ – heck the porn and mobile phone industries are massive and neither of them are particularly fair trade.

Hey, look, I own an iPhone.

The demand’s there alright. Some of it comes from me. Not intentionally, not really knowingly, but maybe that’s what happens when the primary model of human interaction prioritises consumers over community.

I don’t know how to fix this problem. I know there are organisations out there fighting for the victims of trafficking and modern slavery, and God bless them every step of the way. But I recently heard something wise – how do we fight things that are bigger than us if our engagement with organisations or politics has to be limited? Sure, we donate, we write to MPs, but that doesn’t feel like enough, so what then?

Just for a moment, forget they exist.

In other words, we can’t put all the onus on the Government or Stop the Traffik. We can’t leave them to fight a battle for which we ‘re all responsible. So forget they exist for a moment – what choices do we make, day-to-day, that could minimise slavery? What purchases have to change? When do we have to open our eyes?

I don’t do this anywhere near enough. I’m glad there are people out there fighting, but I’m fractionally making their job harder. That’s a tough admission to make, but it’s true.

And slavery is getting worse.

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Anti-Slavery Day 2012

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We think we know what slavery is, most of us. It’s Wilberforce and ‘Amazing Grace’, the American Civil War and and Abraham Lincoln. It’s a thing of the past, a historic barbarity.

And yet human trafficking to the UK is rising. Rising.

It’s almost unbelievable. This sort of thing should be non-existent, not getting worse. Sure, it’s not endemic in this country – 946 victims last year, a tiny fraction of the population – but that almost makes it worse. It’s a hidden sin operating in a shadowy world that most of us fortunately never encounter. I mean, people are being trafficked here for forced organ removals. It’s near impossible to comprehend, like the news and a exploitative horror movie have somehow got scrambled.

But the reality is that 712 adults and 234 children were thought to be victims last year, forced into prostitution, street crime and the sex industry. Slavery’s not a thing of the past, it’s still alive and getting worse.

That’s just in the UK though. Globally, human trafficking is up there with drugs and arms dealing as one of the top criminal money-spinners. Statistics are hard to come by, but World Vision states that between 500,000 and 4 million people are trafficked, 80% of them being women and 50% being children.

Well of course they are. Because this sort of thing always seems to lead back to the exploitation of women or children.

And let’s not kid ourselves. This – Well, let’s be crass and brutal and call it a market – exists because there’s a demand for it. Victims end up working in brothels and sweatshops and lap-dancing clubs and fields and mansions because they’re seen as just another commodity. And it’s not just the traffickers involved in this, it’s those who use these ‘services’ – heck the porn and mobile phone industries are massive and neither of them are particularly fair trade.

Hey, look, I own an iPhone.

The demand’s there alright. Some of it comes from me. Not intentionally, not really knowingly, but maybe that’s what happens when the primary model of human interaction prioritises consumers over community.

I don’t know how to fix this problem. I know there are organisations out there fighting for the victims of trafficking and modern slavery, and God bless them every step of the way. But I recently heard something wise – how do we fight things that are bigger than us if our engagement with organisations or politics has to be limited? Sure, we donate, we write to MPs, but that doesn’t feel like enough, so what then?

Just for a moment, forget they exist.

In other words, we can’t put all the onus on the Government or Stop the Traffik. We can’t leave them to fight a battle for which we ‘re all responsible. So forget they exist for a moment – what choices do we make, day-to-day, that could minimise slavery? What purchases have to change? When do we have to open our eyes?

I don’t do this anywhere near enough. I’m glad there are people out there fighting, but I’m fractionally making their job harder. That’s a tough admission to make, but it’s true.

And slavery is getting worse.

Breaking the Chains: Emancipation Day 2011

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According to the Economist’s Democracy Index 2010, I live in the 19th most democratic country in the world. I can’t say I think about this too often; it’s just how things are in my part of the world. I’ve reaped the rewards fron the work of Suffragettes, Chartists and nineteenth century reformers. I know this is a big deal, but still I take it for granted.

Today is Emancipation Day, 177 years since slavery was (technically) abolished throughout the British Empire. Celebrations will be held throughout the world, in Jamaica, Barbados, the Bahamas, Canada. Quite right too; it’s worth celebrating, albeit somewhat difficult to appreciate how an abhorant concept like humans-as-property came to dominate the world.

And yet all this should act as a reminder that slavery isn’t a thing of the past. Stop the Traffic has some sobering statistics: 1.2 million children are victims of human trafficking each year, according to UNICEF; 12.3 million people worldwide are involved in forced labour, according to the International Labour Organisation; 80% of those trafficked across international borders are women and girls, while 50% of them are children, according to the US State Department. There are many organisations fighting this, doing heroic work in the face of humanity’s darker desires and its hunger for cheap labour and no-strings sex. But then it’s always going to be an uphill struggle until everyone asks where their cheap clothes and internet porn come from.

I mean, I know I don’t ask the right questions, and even though I believe in the importance of universal human dignity, they wouldn’t even be questions if they related to my friends and family. “If I buy these cheap trainers, would it help screw up the lives of my girlfriend, my sister and my mom?” isn’t something that would never get asked because the answer is so damn obvious, and because I’m not a sociopath.

Yeah, yeah, I know. You or I can’t be the world’s conscience 24/7; sooner or later we’d fail, miss a vital piece of human rights information, get fatigued and say screw it. I know. And I also know I’m coming across as a preachy hypocrite, but… Well, I guess it’s the curse of the Information Revolution. William Wilberforce once said “You may choose to look the other way, but you can never again say you did not know.” That was in 1791 and he didn’t even have internet access.

But there’s another way of looking at this, one that also grows out of thoughts of slavery and emancipation. I talked here about doing good, about not doing as much as I should, and this ties in with something said by John Newton, repentant slavetrader turned writer of Amazing Grace: “I am not the man I ought to be, I am not the man I wish to be, and I am not the man I hope to be, but by the grace of God, I am not the man I used to be.”

Today is Emancipation Day; maybe it can celebrate not only the release of captives, but that of their captors as well. The world’s in a mess, partly because we don’t ask the the right questions about where ‘products’ come from, be they clothes, media or services of a morally more dubious kind. Maybe we should ask those questions. Maybe we should break those chains.

Wade in the Water – Follow-up #2

After this post last week, about coded messages in slave songs, I received a comment pointing out that quilts were also used to deliver secret messages; this led me to a nice article on the subject. I love this sort of thing (and thanks to the anonymous commenter!).

On a sort-of related note, last week saw an important chunk of code-breaking history saved for the nation, with Bletchley Park’s purchase of Alan Turing’s papers. Turing’s something of an under-appreciated national hero, being a key figure in decrypting Nazi cyphers, worked out a test to judge artificial intelligence, and (allegedly) may have been the inspiration behind the Apple logo. His story ends tragically, in state persecution over his sexuality and his eventual suicide; let’s hope his contributions to science and the country as a whole continue to gain further recognition.

Posted via LiveJournal app for iPhone.