He was just a stump of a person. Swept along by a surging wave of people, I nearly stepped on him as I descended an overhead foot bridge at one of the busiest hubs in the city of Dhaka, Bangladesh. He had no arms or legs to propel himself to safety. Left alone, lying under the merciless sun with only a begging bowl. Alone, in a city of more than 10 million, with no one beside him to give him a drink of water or relief from the sun. I wish I could say that I did something heroic that day, something that would have altered the course of his life for the better, but I kept walking, pulled by the throng around me, my stomach churning from the sight. It’s been years ago, but I’ve not been able to forget him. The lines of his face are but a vague memory, but the clarity of his dented aluminum begging bowl still haunts me. It screams at me, informing me that there is someone in his life, someone watching from the shadows, listening for the plink of coins dropping into the bowl; someone who would pick him up at the end of the day, empty the begging bowl of its takas. Hopefully this same person would feed him and give him some rest before dropping him off again in the light of another cruel sub-tropical sun. A person who is content to use the unbearable suffering of another soul to fill his own pockets.
They say that slavery ended with the Civil War. They couldn’t be more wrong. Today more that 30 million people are held in slavery, in one form or another. 30 million disposable people. That is more than all the slaves trafficked during the years of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Human Trafficking is second only to drug dealing, and is tied with arms dealing as the second largest criminal industry in the world, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services, netting a profit of over 32 billion dollars every year. Nearly everything we own and love is tainted by this industry. From the cotton in our clothes to the sweat shops they are sewn in. From diamond mines to florist shops. From cocoa plantations to sugar refineries. From covert transactions of forced prostitution to blatant pornography. Even components of the electronics that seem to define us in the 21st century, that mark our “progress” as humans, are tainted by the industry.
President Barack Obama said it well,
It ought to concern every person, because it is a debasement of our common humanity. It ought to concern every community, because it tears at our social fabric. It ought to concern every business, because it distorts markets. It ought to concern every nation, because it endangers public health and fuels violence and organized crime. I’m talking about the injustice, the outrage, of human trafficking, which must be called by its true name — modern slavery.
The CNN Freedom Project defines it like this:
Slavery occurs when one person completely controls another person, using violence or the threat of violence, to maintain that control, exploits them economically and they cannot walk away.
It reminds me of the garment workers killed in the recent collapse of the factory in Bangladesh. Though they sensed danger that morning, they could not walk away. Financially they had no other options. Twenty two cents an hour does not let you save up, should you need to take a day off if your building is condemned.
While the scale of modern day slavery is staggering, I firmly believe that each of us has a voice and an important role bringing an end to slavery. If the world has modern day slaves, it requires modern day heroes. In the coming pages of this blog, I want to introduce you to some of those slaves and some of those heroes, but for today, I want to challenge you to make one change. One change that will impact one of those 30 million people. One change matters. You could decide to find ethically sourced sugar or coffee. You could buy a fair trade product. You could write a letter to Hershey’s. You could search for agencies in your area working against trafficking – because human trafficking is not limited to other countries, it’s right here among us. If you need more inspiration, you could watch movies like Human Trafficking, Water, Slumdog Millionaire, or The Dark Side of Chocolate. Do a search and find countless sites working tirelessly to stem the tide. Take a survey to discover how some of how unwittingly you may benefit from slavery. Pick some spring flowers and put them on your windowsill as a reminder of those who lost their lives in the industry. Say a prayer for those still trapped. The options are endless. There are at least 30 people enslaved. Pick one thing. A place to start. A place where you dig your feet in and tell the world that there are no more disposable people.