Eradicating Modern-Day Slavery
2016 Book of Resolutions, #6032
“How terrible for [him], who builds his house with corruption / and his upper chambers with injustice, / working his country-men for nothing, / refusing to give them their wages” (Jeremiah 22:13).
“But people who are trying to get rich fall into temptation. They are trapped by many stupid and harmful passions that plunge people into ruin and destruction. The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. Some have wandered away from the faith and have impaled themselves with a lot of pain because they made money their goal” (1 Timothy 6:9-10).
While the transatlantic slave trade—Africans kidnapped and taken to work as slaves in the United States, Latin America, and the Caribbean—was abolished around 1807 (Ngwe, Job Elom and O. Oko Elechi. (2012). Human Trafficking: Modern Day Slavery in the 21st Century. African Journal of Criminology and Justice Studies: AJCJS, Vol.6, #s1&2), modern-day slavery has become the fastest-growing transnational criminal enterprise, earning an estimated $150 billion (U.S.) in illegal profits annually while enslaving 21 million people around the world (International Labour Organization, www.ilo.org). “[T]here are essentially three aspects of modern slavery according to Craig, et al (2007), namely, that they involve (1) severe economic exploitation; (2) the absence of any framework of human rights; and (3) the maintenance of control of one person over another by the prospect or reality of violence” (p. 12) (Ngwe, Job Elom and O. Oko Elechi. (2012). Human Trafficking: Modern Day Slavery in the 21st Century. African Journal of Criminology and Justice Studies: AJCJS, Vol.6, #s1&2.)
Slavery exists in several forms, including the “descent slavery” (slaves and children of slaves passed down as property to one’s descendants) practiced in some African countries such as Mali and Mauritania; “bonded labor, serfdom, debt bondage, sexual slavery, child labor and enforced participation in armed conflict” as noted by Craig, et al (2007). Slavery has endured despite its abhorrence by … societies because of the critical role of labor as a factor of production. Some governments have either actively or tacitly participated in the exploitation of other peoples’ labor (or even their citizens’ labor) for economic benefits” (Ngwe, Job Elom and O. Oko Elechi. (2012). Human Trafficking: Modern Day Slavery in the 21st Century. African Journal of Criminology and Justice Studies: AJCJS, Vol.6, #s1&2).
Due to globalized communication, currency exchange, migration, and trading, human trafficking has become the predominant means by which people are enslaved. The United Nations defines trafficking to be “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring, or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labor or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude… .”
One of the challenges in the abolition of modern-day slavery is that “[t]here is no consistent face of a trafficker. Traffickers include a wide range of criminal operators, including individuals, small families or businesses, loose-knit decentralized criminal networks, and international organized criminal syndicates” (Polaris Project, www.polarisproject.org). In addition, trafficking is low risk and high profit because victims are isolated and often deemed “disposable” (Stop the Traffik UK, www.stopthetraffik.org). It is estimated that 95 percent of trafficking victims experience physical and/or sexual violence while trafficked (The Health Risks and Consequences of Trafficking in Women and Adolescents. (2003). London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine).
A report from the Australian Institute of Criminology referred to reports of Chinese female migrants who, under the control of traffickers, were raped while family members were listening on the phone in order to persuade families to pay off debts (The Health Risks and Consequences of Trafficking in Women and Adolescents. (2003). London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine).
Industries where people are trafficked include: agriculture, domestic labor, hotels, landscaping, forestry, day labor, garment factories, manufacturing, warehousing, nail salons, meat/sea-food processing, mining, brothels, massage parlors, construction, canning, door-to-door sales/street vendors, restaurants and bars, tourism, entertainment, carnivals, disaster cleanup, strip clubs, sex trade, child soldiers, pornography, and fishing.
The majority of source countries of trafficking are on the continents of Africa and Asia, and the destination countries are often in Europe and North America. Colonization and an increasing globalized economy are two leading factors promoting human trafficking. As large groups of people were removed from their land in order to grow cash crops and mine, urban centers became overcrowded, joblessness increased and poverty swelled. People were no longer able to sustain themselves because economic and trade policies that allowed raw materials and resources to move from the continents of Africa, South America, and Asia did not allow the people of those same lands to move with the resources. This transfer of wealth continues to destabilize governments, as do wars seeking to return indigenous peoples to leadership and fighting among tribes or factions to gain control of lucrative natural resources. Failing economies and resulting budgetary constraints often inhibit the enforcement of national and international anti-trafficking laws and can lead to corruption of new governments and law enforcement entities who benefit from money earned through trafficking enterprises.
Jesus’ ministry focused on standing with people who were most vulnerable. The reasons that children and adults fall prey to traffickers rest at individual, cultural, institutional, and governmental levels. There is a significant gap in wealth between urban and rural areas that creates a deep yearning to escape poverty. Abusive interpersonal relationships and unfair treatment, cultural practices and norms, institutional policies, and business practices at country level and beyond continue to deny the sacred worth of women and girls, and perpetuate gender inequality resulting in a disproportionate percentage of women and children living in poverty around the world. The United Nations Development Program reports that in many places women lack access to paid work and/or the ability to get a loan; thus, women make up 50 percent of the world’s population but own only 1 percent of the world’s wealth. Parents and children, who are often deceived by promises of education, citizenship in a more prosperous country, or love, send their children or leave with traffickers without knowing of the exploitation and abuse awaiting their children or them, respectively. This disparity in wealth and opportunity is mirrored in the percentages of women (70 percent) and children (50 percent) who are victims of trafficking. Human trafficking is particularly dangerous to children in disaster zones. Eva Biaudet of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said: “When there are catastrophes—when the state fails, when there are no systems—children are extremely at risk for not only being abandoned … but also for abuse and exploitation. It’s a very good place for traffickers to be when the state fails” (http://www.humantrafficking.org).
According to the Polaris Project, “Human trafficking is a market-based economy that exists on the principles of supply and demand. It thrives due to conditions that allow for high profits to be generated at low risks.” International conventions have been ratified and country-level laws have been passed by numerous countries around the world. The laws provide necessary tools for governments, law enforcement, and nongovernmental organizations to raise awareness about trafficking, prosecute traffickers, and require governments to ensure the rescue and rehabilitation of trafficking survivors. These initiatives primarily focus on reducing the supply side of this economic equation. People of faith must lead the efforts to decrease the demand for cheap labor, goods, and services that drive modern-day slavery.
Jesus’ ministry recognizes the sacred worth of every person and directly challenges the exploitation and abuse of people. In John 10:10, Jesus says, “I came so that they could have life—indeed, so that they could live life to the fullest.” John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, condemned slavery as wrong and incompatible with Christ’s teachings in numerous instances, including a tract entitled “Thoughts on Slavery” and a sermon, “The Use of Money.” Like all people, women and girls are promised the abundant life offered by Christ. Far too often, experiences such as these are recounted by trafficking survivors:
“Constance” was trafficked from the Middle East to the United States by a family that kept her as a domestic worker. She was a survivor of female genital mutilation and was physically, sexually, and emotionally abused by her employer. By the time she escaped and found help from a service provider, she was vomiting blood, experienced daily headaches, and suffered from severe stomach pain. Eventually, her pelvic pain was mitigated with the use of hormonal contraceptives (Trafficking in Persons Report, US Department of State ).
People of faith must work to change attitudes, beliefs, policies, and practices at all levels of society that dehumanize and promote the exploitation and abuse of women and girls. “Women with equal rights are better educated, healthier and have greater access to land, jobs and financial resources” (United Nations Development Program, Gender and Poverty Reduction, www.undp.org).
The United Methodist Social Principles state; “Consumers should exercise their economic power to encourage the manufacture of goods that are necessary and beneficial to humanity . . ,” and call “[c]onsumers [to] avoid purchasing products made in conditions where workers are being exploited because of their age, gender, or economic status” (¶ 163D). Through the United Methodist Committee on Relief’s partnership with Equal Exchange, individuals and United Methodist entities are able to purchase chocolate, cocoa, coffee, tea, and other goods that are fair trade, guaranteeing that no slave labor is involved in the production of such goods. Economic pressure and advocacy by United Methodists and other people of faith has led some major chocolate companies to commit to removing child slave labor from their supply chains in coming years. This is an important step; however, there are many more industries that need to eradicate slave labor from their business practices. For example, “Children from ages four to 14 are subjected to forced labor, working as many as 18 hours a day to weave rugs destined for export markets such as the U.S. and Europe” (Trafficking in Persons Report, US Department of State ).
In order to eradicate modern-day slavery, we call on United Methodists, local churches, campus ministries, colleges, universities, seminaries, annual conferences, general agencies and commissions, and the Council of Bishops to:
affirm human rights and dignity of all peoples who are on the move, asserting the right to freedom of movement, and resisting violations and curtailments of such rights through forced migration, including trafficking in persons;
advocate for economic and trade policies that facilitate job development that is accessible to all sectors of societies, with wages that allow all persons to thrive according to God’s will;
actively champion anti-slavery efforts by petitioning the United Nations and the legislative bodies of all countries in which The United Methodist Church has an organized ecclesiastical structure, to demand the freeing of all persons subjected to modern-day forms of enslavement and bonded labor;
petition the United Nations and governments around the world to abolish slavery through the use of nonmilitary options such as negotiations leading to agreements with binding obligations and corollary sanctions;
encourage swift resolution to civil strifes and armed conflicts and engage in coordinated responses to mitigate disasters to prevent traffickers from preying on children;
officially support stock/mutual fund divestment campaigns that urge people to remove funds from organizations and corporations whose actions profit from and contribute to slavery’s existence;
create environments that model safe, healthy, and violence-free communities in order to raise children who do not accept violence as normative;
implement children’s ministries that bolster self-esteem and provide educational and economic opportunities for women and children who are especially vulnerable to traffickers;
build a new generation of male leaders across the Church who model nonviolent, emotionally healthy masculinity, serving as positive change-makers in society.
educate pastors, lay leaders, children and families, teachers, health-care providers, and outreach workers about fraudulent promises of traffickers and the resulting exploitation and abuse;
advocate for local, regional, national, and international laws and funds that ensure trafficking victims have access to services that enable them to heal from the trauma, including counseling, reproductive health care, education/job training, legal services and shelter;
commit to interrupting the demand for slaves by purchasing fair trade products, including coffee, tea, chocolate, T-shirts, athletic equipment, and other goods for personal and ministry-related activities; and,
demand that corporations eliminate exploitative labor in their business practices and use their influence to eradicate all slavery from their supply chains.
As Ambassador Melanne Verveer of Global Women’s Issues 2009-2013 implores in the documentary Not My Life, “[I]f we address women’s needs in terms of accessing education, being free from violence, being economic participants, our world will be better for everybody.”
See Social Principles, ¶ 165.
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Copyright © 2016, The United Methodist Publishing House, used by permission