People are cheap now; Cheap, and disposable

“Organized crime is starting to get really involved.  And the scariest thing about it, is that it’s starting to get organized.”  These improvements, however, are no improvement for the public good.  Crimes are becoming more violent, more profitable, and harder to stop.

The most recent Hennebach Lecture Series could have, and should have, made many people uncomfortable.  Prof. Claude d’Estree–Buddhist Priest and Monk, lecturer at Josef Korbel School of International Studies at DU, and director of the Human Trafficking Clinic– took this lecture opportunity to not only identify the problem, but to call others to action as well. 

The problem d’Estree addressed is human trafficking and slavery; two things that most people seem to try and convince themselves don’t exist. Both, however, are still alive and ‘well’ in the world and even our own country.  “Guess what’s back, people,” asked d’Estree, “slavery and piracy, and these pirates are nothing like Captain Jack Sparrow.”

The definition of human trafficking, according to d’Estree leaves nothing in question: “Human Trafficking is the recruitment and/or movement of someone within or across borders, through the abuse of power/position with the intention of forced labour exploitation, commercial or otherwise.” The question is, after defining trafficking in this way, do you still think that it’s not that common, even in the U.S.?  Most Americans may not work in sweatshops, but how many people work from day to day just to survive?
Sadly, the majority of those who end up being trafficked, do so willingly on some level.  All over the world, situations are dire, and there are no shortages of those looking to improve their lives.  But when resources are limited, the elaborate tales told by the traffickers start to sound like that silver lining in lives of clouds. “I don’t care what you’ve heard;” explains d’Estree, “parents do not simply sell their children to traffickers.”  But, when the lies have been told, parents often make a choice to let their children go and hope for that tiny chance that it will really lead to a better life. What makes the story even sadder, is that the living conditions in some parts of the world are such that, “If they had the choice between dying and knowingly selling themselves into slavery, they would sell themselves into slavery.”  For all intents and purposes, the traffickers often don’t even need to lie…

“The ancient slave states were Greece and Rome.  The two modern slave states are the United States and Brazil.”

Once in debt to the traffickers is when the terrible circle of circumstances truly begins.  The traffickers keep their “debtors” under tight control.  They seize their documents, and they force them to work to pay off what they owe.  But the “jobs” that the traffickers provide do nothing to make a dent in the interest, let alone the real “debt”.  Crop harvesting, the commercial sex trade, sweatshops and other inhumane jobs can all be done for virtually nothing by these 21st century slaves.

“Why can’t people get out of these situations?” This is the most common response to this predicament, but the stark reality is that if you manage to escape, you have no papers.  The traffickers convince you the police are corrupt.  They know where you live.  They know where you USED to live.  And, they know your family.  At least in previous generations of sweatshops, “you got to go home at the end of the day.  With the new sweatshops, you work on the 17th floor; you live on the 18th.”  There’s no longer any separation nor any opportunity for escape. 

“Twenty-seven thousand people die every day of malnutrition,” and many of these are forced situations.  And now, aware of the problems, you can no longer ignore them.  Every day, men, women, and children become ensnared in a vicious trap that destroys their lives, either by choice or by trick.  This is just a brief overview story of modern day slavery and human trafficking and d’Estree says it will get much worse before it gets better.  However, that doesn’t mean solving the problem shouldn’t start now.

If you’re interested in learning more and finding out what you can do to combat the problem of human trafficking and modern day slavery, check out these resources:

  1. “Disposable People” — [book] Kevin Bales
  2. “Slavery by Another Name” — [book] Douglas Blackmon
  3. “Traces of the Trade” — [book] Thomas DeWolf
  4. Human Trafficking Clinick: http://www.du.edu/humantraffickingclinic/

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