US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Fighting slavery for 10 years

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The U.S. State Department released the 10th annual Trafficking in Persons Report today. It approximates that there are 12.3 million adults and children in forced labor, bonded labor, and forced prostitution around the world.

On a press phone call, Luis CdeBaca, Ambassador at large for Trafficking in Persons, called the word trafficking "rather unfortunate," when the reality is that it really means slavery. Translating trafficking rather than slavery into Spanish also causes problems when trying to raise awareness in Latin America.

The common image of trafficking is women forced into prostitution in Third World countries, though trafficking for labor is more common. The good news is that many developing countries have improved by enforcing laws and assisting victims, including Bosnia & Herzegovina, now a tier 1 state (the best) after years of being a tier 3 state (the worst).

The bad news is that even tier 1 states, like the United States, have a trafficking problem. Trafficking comes as close to home as the dinner plate in the United States. "The victim population in the U.S. has been majority Latino," CdeBaca said, mostly because of farm workers (this year it skewed to Thai farm workers in Hawaii because of a few large raids there).

He described the shift from African American to trafficked Latino farm labor in the Southeast as just a different type of slavery. The old plantation model has easily transitioned into industrial agriculture's factory farms--and these certainly aren't only in the Southeast.

It also hits the U.S. when you look at our foreign military aid. According to the New York Times, Somalia is using its U.S. funding to conscript child soldiers. As the U.S. military has learned in Afghanistan and Pakistan from Greg Mortenson, education works better than guns in fighting extremism, but Somalia still cannot offer its children an education. Sadly, the U.S. joins Somalia as the only two countries not to have signed the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which prohibits child soldiers.

But what can we do about trafficking, besides advocate for just immigration, farming, and foreign aid policy. Certainly awareness is important to uncover this issue that is so often "Hidden in plain sight," as we called our feature on it a few years ago.

I was surprised to see an ad against trafficking (pictured) on the el on my way home from work last week. It tells people to keep an eye out for those who might be victims, saying that you might be the only person he or she gets to talk to. There's an image, cut off in my picture, of a hotel worker making a bed. So are we supposed to asked hotel workers and others if they're a victim of trafficking? Sadly, this issue isn't solved that easily.