Human Rights Activist Robin Currie Speaks Out Against Human Trafficking
By Julie O’Melia
“MISSING” reads the papers laid out in front of me, each one containing the face of a missing child, the date they were last seen, and a description of where they might be. Some have been missing for weeks and months, others haven’t been seen in years. According to human rights activist Robin Currie, these are the faces of human trafficking.
When I walked in to listen to her presentation, I was overwhelmed by the notion that this would not be easy to sit through. My feelings proved correct when Currie announced the alarming statistics of the lucrative business that is human trafficking. It is Currie’s life’s work to bring as many children home as she can and bring awareness to this pressing issue that so often gets ignored.
According to The Polaris Project, the national human trafficking hotline, 26 percent of the 20.9 million people enslaved around the world right now are children. On top of that, this business brings in an average of $150 billion per year, more than the illegal weapons industry. Currie delivered these facts to the audience within minutes of beginning her speech, and I immediately wondered: Why isn’t anyone doing anything?
There are four main categories of human trafficking: labor, forced soldiers, sex trafficking, and human tissue and cells. Of the 20.9 million people enslaved in the world right now, 68 percent of them are in forced labor.
Currie instructed everyone in the audience to look at the tags on their clothes. Tentatively I looked at the tag on my favorite winter coat.
In bold letters the tag read “MADE IN CHINA.”
Audience members began to shout out where their garments came from: “Vietnam!”, “Bangladesh!”, and “Sri Lanka!”
Currie simply nodded her head and continued to her next slide; this was exactly as she had expected. Before starting her presentation, Currie told the audience that by the end of her speech, we will have all made a connection to slavery, and by simply telling me to look at the tag on my jacket, I realized that I had quite a few connections.
According to the Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report, some of the worst offenders for human trafficking are Burma, The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, and China. The main culprit of forced labor is the international garment industry, and though it can be difficult to think about, some of our favorite brands are produced by people working in inoperable conditions.
“We touch labor trafficking products every day,” said Currie.
The companies whose garments are made overseas are sometimes so detached from their products that they don’t even know where they are coming from anymore.
While many might have heard of forced labor in the garments industry, Currie discussed another industry with lesser-known ties to human trafficking.
As spring approaches, CVS and RITE AID prepare for the season with what else but candy?
February is a month dominated by Cadbury Easter Eggs, pastel M&M’s, and bunny-shaped Hershey’s bars. But after Currie’s presentation, I will never consume another Cadbury Egg in my lifetime.
The cocoa industry is a huge offender of forced labor. In a study conducted by Tulane University in 2014, 2.1 million children were discovered to be working as slaves on cocoa farms in Ghana and Ivory Coast. I don’t know about other people, but this fact alone is enough for me to give up a Hershey’s kiss.
Currie recommended several websites for consumers to use in order to check the humanitarian integrity of their food sources. One website, www.slaveryfootprint.org, shows consumers the conditions in which their favorite products are produced.
Unfortunately, chocolate and clothes are not the only product consumers should be wary of. According to Currie, coffee and palm oil are often produced by slaves as well.
Following Curries’ presentation, I walked into my dorm and went through my usual routine. I unzipped my heavy coat and laid my backpack down by my bed. I took off my shoes and slid into my slippers and sighed in relief that it was the end of a long day.
Before bed, I usually take time to leisurely wash my face and comb my hair.
However, that night was different. I switched on my lamp and logged onto www.slaveryfootprint.org. After taking a quick survey of my eating, shopping, and living habits, I was met with a number.
The number that I received was 48: the number of slaves who work for me.
These are the people who made my favorite coat, sewed together my backpack, assembled my Apple laptop.
When we buy these products, we think that we are just buying the objects. The reality is, we are buying the people who made them as well, but as Currie eloquently said: “No one should be for sale.”