Category Archives: Blog

Smuggling to Trafficking

On March 19, 2014, five men were charged with holding 115 people captive in a house in Houston.  The men were smuggling the victims into the United States, but instead of taking them to their desired locations, they trapped them in the 1300 square foot house and asked their family members for ransom.  The captors used guns and threats to hold the victims hostage and stripped them of their shoes and clothing to keep them from escaping.  Some of the victims were being kicked and beaten, and many of the women were groped.

Police found the victims when they received a tip from a woman who said that she paid the men $15,000 to have her daughter and two small grandchildren delivered to Chicago but was then ordered to pay another $13,000 or they would “disappear.”  The police had the house under surveillance when they stopped a car coming out of the house for a traffic stop.  There was a gun in the car which allowed the police to detain the men and check the house.  The doors were locked with dead bolts, and the windows were covered with plywood.  The police found 99 males and 16 females, one of which was pregnant, sitting on each others’ laps and living in filth.  Many of the hostages had been living in the house for two weeks, sharing one toilet and with no hot water.  For more on the article and a video by Fox News, click here.

Houston Smuggling Pic

What we need to think about is that it would be very easy for these men to turn this operation into a trafficking situation.  Many of the victims were from Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala.  If their families were not able to pay the ransom amount, what might the captors have turned to next?  This is how some people find themselves involved in labor or sex trafficking.  Many foreign national victims of trafficking do not know the laws in the United States or may even feel they cannot leave their situation because they do not know anyone besides their captors.  Their fear and lack of knowledge of our legal system often keeps them by their trafficker’s side, even if they would like to get away.  There is also the fear of being deported at stake because many of them have gone through a great deal in order to even get across the U.S. borders and do not want to go back to the life they came from.  Traffickers often instill false notions of what may happen to their victims if they are to escape from their captors.  Luckily, in this case, law enforcement was able to mitigate the situation before it got any worse.

–Jamie (Stop-It Intern)

Slaves in our Closets

The cotton pod pricks at his fingertips as the white clouds hold on tight to their captor.  He rubs his calloused palms against his pant leg to get feeling flowing back before starting again.  Sweat drips down his brow and his tongue rolls around like sandpaper in his dry mouth.  He looks over at his little sister’s sunburned cheeks and wonders when they will be able to go home and play.

One would think that picking cotton is a thing of the past, but it is a reality for many adults and children in South American and Asian countries.  Some children as young as 8 years old work making clothing or picking cotton.

uzbekistan-child-labor-cotton-1-537x402

Similar to food production, there are many different stages when producing clothing, so while one stage might involve trafficking another may not.  Even if a piece of clothing is made “fairly” in the United States, the textiles may have come from Argentina, where forced or child labor is common.  Free2work has put together a report that goes into detail on clothing production, which covers everything from wages to worker rights to policies of certain companies.  For example, companies like Disney, Good & Fair, and Timberland score high on the list for fair wages and worker rights while companies such as Abercrombie & Fitch, Forever 21, Lacoste, and Walmart scored low on the rating list.  Most companies scored low on the list when it came to raw materials like cotton.

cotton field in contrast with blue sky

What you can do:

Luckily, there is a way to find out if what you are buying meets your personal standards of production.  The free2work app allows you to see where your products are coming from and the conditions on which they are made while you are shopping.  You can scan the barcode of an item and instantly get information on the production process.

There are also many different websites that offer fair trade items.  One that I found that I like is Stop Traffick Fashion, which offers jobs to former sex trafficking victims making fair trade clothing and accessories.  There are a ton of different sites that sell fair trade clothing, which can be found with a simple Google search.

Jamie (Stop-It Intern)

Child Slaves Make Chocolate

With the chocolate hearts of Valentine’s Day behind us and the Cadbury eggs of Easter ahead we should all consider where our beloved chocolate is coming from and how it is being made.  There are few who don’t enjoy the smooth taste of chocolate melting on his or her tongue, but the truth is that much of the chocolate that we consume today is a product of child labor and slavery.

For the past few years, CNN’s Freedom Project (http://thecnnfreedomproject.blogs.cnn.com/) has been investigating the use of child labor on cocoa plantations that are utilized by some of the world’s largest chocolate companies.  The project’s quest began in 2012 when they aired the documentary, “Chocolate’s Child Slaves.”  This report takes you directly to the Ivory Coast, the producer of 40% of the world’s cocoa supply and the location of over 200,000 child laborers, and shows what life is like for the plantation workers.  The filmmakers chose this topic, not only because chocolate is so widely consumed, but because the entire chocolate industry signed a protocol in 2001 that would eliminate child labor in the cocoa fields by 2008.  The film proves that there was little to no reduction in child slavery on the Ivory Coast after the deadline of the protocol.  See the video below for a glimpse into the life of a child slave.

Click Here: View video clip from “Chocolate’s Child Slaves”

child slavery

 

Response from the chocolate companies:

Ferrero, who makes Ferrero Rocher, Nutella, and Kinder eggs, said that they hope to eradicate child labor by the year 2020.

Hershey pledged $10 million to improve West African cocoa farming by educating farmers on trading and ending child labor

Nestlé partnered with the Fair Labor Association to investigate the child labor issue by mapping which plantations their cocoa was coming from and whether there were children working at those plantations.  This allows the FLA to educate and sanction those who are not in compliance with the law.

CNN followed up with Nestlé on February 27th to take a look at their progress with their initiative in a documentary called “Cocoa-nomics.”  Although there is still much to be changed, Nestlé continues to assess their role in the child labor issue.  While there are still children working on the cocoa plantations, the company is working to educate locals and farmers.

What you can do:

One way to make sure that your chocolate is not made by children is to purchase fair trade products.  For a list of fair trade chocolate companies go to http://fairtradeusa.org/products-partners/cocoa.

As we put chocolate bunnies into Easter baskets and foil covered chocolates into plastic eggs, let’s remember that all children are not as fortunate as ours.  The cocoa that makes our chocolate does not have to be harvested by children, so let’s work towards making our chocolate child labor free.

 

–Jamie (Stop-It Intern)

cacao-tree

Not Just One Day

Everyday Awarness

When we hear about human trafficking sometimes we are so overwhelmed by all that has to happen for slavery to really be abolished. And we are then left with a helpless feeling, overwhelmed and sometimes debilitated by our fear.  (Think of the opossum’s response to fear in which it uncontrollably ‘plays dead.’) We often do not know where to start. So we don’t do anything. 

But today people have found something to do. Many individuals are participating in the Shine a Light on Slavery Campaign, by the End It Movement. Based on the number of pictures I have seen posted on social media, what a wonderful way to start the conversation, to raise initial awareness about the issue within our own communities. Great first step. But I hope that is truly what it is:  a first step. If we really are in it to end it, we must look at the next steps. Drawing an X on our hands for one day, in and of itself, is not going to do anything to impact human trafficking. If, however, we are willing to explore what else needs to happen in our communities, we can actually make a difference.   So I challenge those of you who have that red X on your hand to take the next step. Explore the organizations supported by the End It Movement. Ask more questions about the STOP-IT program. Figure out who is doing the work in your community and actually connect with them. Just get up and do something. Tomorrow. And the day after tomorrow. And the day after that. Don’t let this be a one time thing.

 

How Many Slaves Work for You?

When you wake up in the morning are you thinking, “How many slaves are working for me right now?”  Most people would say “no, and I thought slavery was abolished in 1865.”  Your morning may consist of listening to coffee percolating in its pot, trying to decide which outfit to wear, and pouring cereal into a bowl before you rush out the door.  You probably do not realize that your morning routine may employ several different slaves in other countries.

The truth is that the legalization of slave labor may have ended in our country in the 1800s, but it exists today in many other countries.  It is estimated that there are about 27 million people forced to work against their will under force, fraud, and/or coercion.  Some of these countries may have laws similar to those in the United States against slavery, but they go unenforced or the slave labor goes unnoticed.  Often these men, women, and children find themselves working in tough conditions with no pay with no way out.

 

  • I encourage you to take a look at your “slavery footprint” at http://slaveryfootprint.org, whereby you can see approximately how many slaves work for you.  You can get as detailed about your daily life as you like during the survey.  You will get the best results if you are honest about the products you use and the food you eat.  I took the survey and was shocked to find that about 44 slaves work for me.  The website then allows you to send a note to some of the companies that you may use, give you more information on your “footprint” and find out ways to help the fight to end slavery.

 

  • One way to ensure that you are purchasing products that do not involve slavery is through fair trade.  Fair trade products are produced ethically and promote sustainability in developing countries.  For more information about fair trade and a list of alternative fair trade products, visit www.fairtradeusa.org.

 

  • Normally, our program focuses on sex trafficking in the United States; however, throughout the month of March, I would like to explore different facets of slave labor around the world and the fair trade efforts posed against it.  It is important to delve deeper into the products that surround our lives.  We often forget that the food we eat and the clothes we wear do not necessarily come from this country and may not be produced in ways we would normally condone.  How many slaves work for you, and how can we all make that number decrease?  Let us discover new ways to help end slavery.

 

 

–Jamie

Stop-It Intern