Human Trafficking and Forced Labor

Talia Alperin, Columnist

“I don’t count how many trees we pass because I don’t count the things that don’t matter. 

I don’t count unripe pods. I don’t count how many times I’ve been hit for being under quota. I don’t count how many days it’s been since I’ve given up hope of going home. 

In the next grove, I heave the sack onto the ground and shake out my arms. Seydou stumbles a little as he shuffles up behind me. His thin shoulders slump. I can see how tired he is and it makes me mad because I can’t do anything about it.”

The Issue: 

Tara Sullivan uses vivid imagery in her book, The Bitter Side of Sweet, to illustrate the lives of children who work on cacao farms. The plot features the story of a fifteen-year-old Malian boy, Amadou, and his brother, Seydou. Although fictional in nature, Sullivan’s book reveals the terrifying story behind every delicious peanut butter cup you buy at the convenience store.

According to the Department of Homeland Security, forced labor is when “individuals are compelled to provide work or service through the use of force, fraud or coercion.” Coercion can range from workers being physically forced into accepting a job to being tempted by unreasonably high recruitment fees. Employers then brutally threaten and abuse them to prevent them from leaving, trapping them in a hellish cycle of servitude.

Traffickers and employers also prey on children. Between Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, 1.56 million children carry out dangerous labor on cacao farms. In total, according to the International Labor Organization, 25 million people served as forced laborers in 2016. This issue is even prevalent in our beloved nation. Living the American Dream? For many, it’s more like a nightmare. 

Inform yourself

There are ways you can help prevent forced labor and human trafficking (while acknowledging its vastness and complexity). 

For starters, learn more about forced labor. There are many informative resources out there, and it’s our responsibility to educate ourselves about forced labor; we cannot live in blind ignorance about the inhuman treatment of millions of people. Don’t forget to keep an eye on the news. Importing goods made with forced labor is illegal in the United States, but you should still be cautious of what you buy. 

The Consumer’s Responsibility

Most trading activities fall under free tradeinternational trade without any economic restrictions. However, this can result in the mistreatment of workers and farmers and human trafficking. The best way to stop this is to support fair trade. Fair trade is a system where suppliers are guaranteed a fair price for their commodities and forced labor is prohibited. Fair trade may have its critics, but UNICEF USA asserts that it helps stop forced labor and trafficking.

How does fair trade help? Well, fair trade farmers and workers receive better pay than free trade suppliers, allowing them to invest more money in their families. Also, the Fair Trade Premium, which is an additional price paid to the workers, may be used to improve their communities, such as by building community health centers or paying for teachers’ salaries. Not only that, Fair Trade standards ensure that farmers receive a fair contract, and workers are treated humanely and paid country-specific wages. Fair trade also bans discrimination and dangerous forms of child labor. To do so, fair trade producers are inspected for signs of child labor, and if convicted of doing so, their product will be stripped of its fair trade certification. 

Therefore, fair trade is one way means of attacking the problem of human trafficking. To know whether a product is certified as fair trade, look for the Fairtrade symbol on the packaging.

Spread Fair Trade

Once you’ve started buying fair trade, spread it throughout your community. There are multiple ways to do this, from starting a fair trade campaign to petitioning your favorite food or clothing brand to source fair trade to asking your favorite blogger to write about the benefits of fair trade. The bottom line: when you read about human trafficking and forced labor, remember that there are plenty of things you can do to make a difference.