Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Human Trafficking Awareness Month and the global scope of the problem

By Presidential proclamation, January 2014 is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Awareness Month in the United States.  One of the reasons for choosing January in the United States is that it's the run-up to the Super Bowl, which has become a focus for anti-trafficking efforts in the US, including this effort by the United Methodist WomenThis webinar by the General Board of Church & Society also relates to Human Trafficking Awareness Month.  I'm glad that this important issue is getting attention in the United States and proud that the UMW and GBCS are among the organizations involved in the fight against human trafficking.

Even though January has been proclaimed "National" Slavery and Human Trafficking Awareness Month in the US, one of the reasons this issue is so important is that it isn't just a national problem in the US.  Human trafficking is an international and even global problem, and our anti-trafficking efforts as Christians and as United Methodists should be sure to keep the scope of the problem in mind.  Some aspects of human trafficking in the United States, such as sex slavery and forced prostitution, draw upon primarily (though not exclusively) domestic sources of trafficked humans, but many others, such as the restaurant industry, cleaning services, and other manual labor jobs depend upon international flows of trafficked humans.  The issue of trafficking in the US is not distinct from the issue of immigration, nor is it separate from the broader economic and migratory flows of globalization.

If that is true for the United States, it's true for other parts of the world as well.  Human trafficking, in all its many forms in all the many places it happens around the world, is often connected to the global movement of money, goods, and people.  Whether it's Brazilians forced to produce rubber for international markets, sex slaves trafficked from Eastern Europe to Western Europe, child soldiers in international wars in central Africa fought for control of global commodities, forced prostitutes serving global sex tourists in Thailand, or debt slaves producing agricultural products for export in India, human trafficking is frequently an issue that extends beyond the borders of any one country.  That's why it's important for organizations like The United Methodist Church, which also have connections across countries, to use those connections to help combat this issue.

If you want to learn more about this issue, there are a number of good books out there.  I recommend Kevin Bales' Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy, E. Benjamin Skinner's A Crime So Monstrous: Face-to-Face with Modern-Day Slavery, and David Batstone's Not for Sale: The Return of the Global Slave Trade--And How We Can Fight It.  In addition to the UMC's efforts, Anti-Slavery International and Free the Slaves are among the best anti-human trafficking organizations out there.

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