My anguish, my anguish! . . . I cannot keep silent, for I hear the sound of the trumpet . . . (Jer. 4:19)
A few years ago I thought human trafficking was something that happened in third world countries. The victims, I assumed, were mostly women forced into the local sex market, or illegal immigrants brought into the United States to work menial farm jobs. None of this had anything to do with me. Since then, however, I have learned that I use the services of these victims every day. And so do you.
Human trafficking is the illegal trade of humans into slavery for sexual exploitation or forced labor. The mention of human trafficking and modern-day slavery usually conjures up thoughts of the sex trade—brothels and pornography. Make no mistake; that is a despicable aspect of today’s slave trade. Tiny Hands International estimates that 20,000 young children, mostly girls, are abducted out of Nepal annually to be sold into the global sex market. As a Christian, I find such a practice abhorrent and recognize we have a moral obligation to condemn slavery and renounce any willing participation in its continuance. Ironically, as consumers, we fuel the rapacious engine that pulls this train of human exploitation. Human trafficking has grown into the second leading source of illegal profit, ranking behind only the illegal drug trade. It did not grow to such an extent because there are a few perverted people in the world conspiring to make a profit by exploiting a few innocent victims. No, it has grown to its diabolical size because you and I are voracious consumers: we want a lot of “stuff,” and we want it cheap.
It is estimated that there are between 22 and 28 million slaves in the world today, more than at any time in human history. Many factors have contributed to this increase with poverty, greed, and male chauvinism being leading factors. Victims are trafficked out of poor countries into rich countries. As the income disparity between the haves and the have-nots increases, this will only get worse. The have-nots want a better life, jobs, security, opportunities for their children. The haves want more—more products at low cost to maintain their comfort. The greed factor entices global competitors to reduce labor costs through forced labor, thereby increasing their profit margin. Our global economy is so complex that it hides the trail of the final consumer product from the source of its production. If we do not see the agony of production our consciences are spared any possibility of moral indignation.
Twenty-seven percent of all victims detected globally are children.
Trafficking for the removal of organs has been detected in 16 countries in all regions of the world.
The number of convictions for trafficking in persons is in general very low. Notable, of the 132 countries covered, 16 percent did not record a single conviction between 2007 and 2010.
(Source: UN Global Report on Trafficking in Persons, 2012)
The pervasive male chauvinism that exists at all levels of society, that unjustified sense of male privilege that arrogantly casts women into the role of servitude instead of divinely created equality, continues to blind man-kind from recognizing the role it plays in human trafficking. According to the United Nations Global Report on Trafficking in Persons, 2012, women and girls make up 75 percent of trafficked victims. They are the products used in the sex trade, pawns in political terrorism as seen in Nigeria, and tools to provide all of us with cheaper products through forced labor in manufacturing and service industries.
How many slaves serve you?
The average American consumer’s lifestyle is dependent on the forced labor of 30 to 60 slaves (see slaveryfootprint.org). The U.S. Department of Labor lists hundreds of common products that are linked to forced labor. These include such everyday products as cell phones, computers, cosmetics, seafood, poultry, fabrics, textiles, some teas and coffees, and even tomatoes. Here is one stark example of this connection. Cell phones and computers have components made of the rare metals coltan and mica. Coltan is mined in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and mica in India. Young children make up the bulk of the work force used to mine those metals. Their days are spent not in school but crawling in muddy mines dug along the rivers where these metals are deposited. Sometimes those mines collapse and the young miners are killed. Our cell phones and computers come with a human component buried not at the bottom of an invoice but at the bottom of a muddy hole. Mica is also the ingredient that adds sparkle to women’s cosmetics and automobile paint. Behind that sparkle that reflects our economic privilege lurks the darkness of slavery. We react in horror when we learn a sweat shop in far-away Sri Lanka burns down, killing dozens of laborers. What is our reaction knowing that a child has died for us to have a cell phone? We should all be concerned that, as Pope Francis so eloquently observed, “In this globalized world, we have fallen into globalized indifference. We have become used to the suffering of others: it doesn’t affect me; it doesn’t concern me; it’s none of my business!” (Homily, visit to Lampedusa, July 2013).
From awareness to action to abolition
In 2012, Randy Quate, then superintendent of North Carolina Yearly Meeting (FUM), became aware of the extent of human trafficking and was stirred by the Spirit to take action. Randy led our yearly meeting through a period of education, discernment, and prayer. We recalled how John Woolman informed Quakers of the link between the economy and slavery. We recalled how North Carolina Quakers in the nineteenth century combated the forces of legal slavery by facilitating escape through the Underground Railroad. We recognized that human trafficking challenges each of our five social testimonies. Adding to our moral anguish was the realization that North Carolina ranks well within the top ten states for human trafficking. We could keep silent no more. The response of North Carolina Yearly Meeting was to establish the Quaker New Underground Railroad (NUR). The New Underground Railroad seeks to achieve its mission through enlightened influence, advocacy, and the promotion of respect and compassion for all people by increasing public awareness, providing supportive services for victims, collaborating with similar ministries and agencies, making recommendations to elected officials, and prayer. This is its motto: “From Awareness to Action to Abolition.”
The New Underground Railroad seeks to relieve and prevent the enslavement, abuse, and exploitation of vulnerable people. With Spirit-led conviction, we feel called upon to respond to these words of Jesus Christ: “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40).
Our Peace and Social Issues Committee has overall administrative and financial responsibility for the New Underground Railroad. We began by writing a ministerial plan and followed that by appointing a volunteer coordinator to facilitate NUR activities. We have an online presence through our website, Quakernur.org. The website serves to raise awareness of the human trafficking problem and as a bulletin board for current activities. It also provides links to reputable resources and agencies that devote full-time services combating human trafficking. The New Underground Railroad has also been politically active. We have brought our concerns directly to former Democratic Senator Kay Hagan’s staff in Greensboro, North Carolina, and to Republican Senator Richard Burr’s staff in Washington, D.C. Furthermore, 37 different monthly meetings petitioned Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) to include human trafficking as part of its lobbying agenda for the upcoming 114th Congress.
The sound of the trumpet
The Young Christians in our yearly meeting respond to the sound of the trumpet with utmost determination to end human trafficking. While research has shown that some church views on such issues as homosexuality turn young people away from the church, the call to relieve the suffering of human trafficking victims has the opposite effect. This is a cause that has been boldly embraced by young college students of all faiths. Our Friends Campus Ministries led the yearly meeting’s incursion into the fight against human trafficking by creating Freedom For Infinity, a nonprofit project that raises money by selling infinity scarves woven from yarn guaranteed to have been produced in the free market. All proceeds from the sale of these scarves are donated to various organizations working to eliminate human trafficking. Our New Underground Railroad Coordinator, Logan Allen, comes out of the ranks of our Friends Campus Ministries. Logan brings resolute passion and commitment to her role as coordinator. When she is not busy in school or immersed in the work of Freedom For Infinity she is out giving presentations to monthly meetings and other groups.
What you can do
It is impossible to prevent our world from being a world in which innocent people are enslaved. We can, however, reduce the number of slaves. First, raise awareness—both your own and that of others. Go to Quakernur.org and review the numerous resources that cover various aspects of this crime. Raise the awareness not only of your monthly, quarterly, and yearly meetings but also among other Christian churches and organizations. Learn what organizations in your community are working to end human trafficking.
Research the origin of the products you use. This is easy to do with an online search. The products you purchase should be provided by companies that are members of a Fair Trade organization. Do not patronize those fast-food franchises, restaurants, or grocery chains that refuse to purchase agricultural products from Fair Food Agreement organizations. Know where your finances are invested. Your retirement fund provider should provide a statement of refusal to invest in any business that has links to forced labor.
Petition Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) to include human trafficking in its legislative agenda. Lobby your local, state, and federal representatives. While most law enforcement agencies are well aware of the human trafficking problem, most government officials are not, or do not care—and they will not care until you care! It is up to you to raise their awareness and keep this issue near the front of their legislative agenda.
Petition the Lord with prayer. Pray for the victims. The purveyors of human trafficking are too vicious to be stopped by human intervention alone. We need Divine help. We must ask the Lord for the strength and determination to answer the trumpet call.
Let us exchange ideas and activities on our Quaker New Underground Railroad website so that we can gain strength through unity. Contact us through the links on our website or directly at [email protected]. This struggle is far beyond the ability of any one group to win so we want to build an alliance with as many organizations, Quaker and non-Quaker, as possible.
If God asks, “Where is your brother [or sister]?” must you answer, “In a brothel, a muddy mine, or a sweatshop?” Or can you say you heard the trumpet and sought to take care of the least of His family? Surely, you cannot keep silent! God expects an answer.