Ending Human Trafficking: We Must Change Our Economic System

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January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Awareness Month. The Jewish Women’s Foundation of New York joined 29 Jewish organizations around the country to issue a statement of guiding values on ending human trafficking—also known as modern-day slavery—throughout the U.S. and abroad.

 

For the final eight days of National Slavery and Human Trafficking Awareness Month we invite you to read our series of blog posts highlighting each of the Jewish values included in the statement and how they motivate us to work toward the end of slavery and human trafficking.
 

 

Value 8: We must commit to changing the dynamics of an economic system where the constant demand for cheap goods and cheap labor directly contributes to modern-day slavery.

Forced labor happens in the context of a global market pace where major corporations drive down the price paid to suppliers, who then cut costs by gutting wages and worker safety. We must support the only proven method for preventing slavery in supply chains, which is a worker-driven social responsibility model. This includes workers at the head of the table, clear mechanisms for workers to speak up and exercise their rights without fear of retaliation, comprehensive and independent monitoring, binding enforcement mechanisms, workplace specific codes of conduct developed by the workers themselves, market consequences for human rights violations, and corporate accountability for worker exploitation.

 

by Jamie Allen Black

 

There is an estimated 35 million people held in slavery today. Ludwig “Tarzan” Bainberg, a convicted trafficker said,

 

“You can buy a woman for 10,000, make your money back in a week if she is young and pretty, then everything else is profit.”

 

Labor trafficking is a form of human trafficking where victims are forced, coerced, or tricked and made to perform a task through force, fraud or coercion. Labor trafficking is typically distinguished from sex trafficking, where the task is sexual in nature. People may be victims of both labor and sex trafficking. As you will see in the video below, there are three types of forced labor: bonded (the most common), forced labor, and child labor.

 

 

The human trafficking industry is estimated to generate around $150 billion annually. Trafficking persists because there is great profitability with minimal risk. The demand for cheap labor, coupled with little to no risk of criminal prosecution, this makes it a lucrative business. And demand is high for trafficked humans. Because globalization allows for greater openness in trade, the trade of human lives becomes easier for traffickers. These are the basic laws of supply and demand. The international Organization for Migrations states:

 

Reducing the demand for trafficked humans means decreasing benefits to employers of employing trafficked labor, whether onsite or through subcontracting. Increasing costs to human traffickers is the main way to affect the supply side of the market.

 

The supply of trafficked individuals can be reduced by providing vulnerable populations with better economic opportunity which starts with their education and the awareness of those around them.

 

Traffickers typically employ the victims or gain a profit for selling them into slavery. These include employers of domestic workers, factory owners and corporations, labor brokers, and their own intimate partners or family members. Within the U.S., slavery is rampant in factories, homes, small businesses, and farms where people are forced to work as domestic servants, farmworkers, factory workers. Those enslaved also work in door-to-door sales, carnivals, healthcare, and salons. They are everywhere. We all need to recognize the signs.

 

The garment industry is particularly susceptible to labor trafficking in part because of a highly immigrant work force, low profit margins, and a tiered production system. The production of garments is often divided into several parts. Major retailers will often subcontract work to different companies, which will subcontract to other smaller companies. The limited number of contracts will often go to the cheapest subcontractor. The largest cost is often human labor, so subcontractors that pay their employees the least are often the ones that get the contracts. Because of the tiered nature, it is difficult to regulate and there is little incentive to verify that subcontractors are obeying the law. Coupled with a worker population that is vulnerable because of their visa status and unfamiliarity with American laws, this creates a system that is ripe for human trafficking.

 

Forced labor is different from sub-standard or exploitative working conditions found in some factories and employment opportunities worldwide. Victims of unfair or low wages – like those in sweatshops – are not enslaved because they do not work under the threat of a penalty or without volunteering their employment. Their employment is a different form of exploitation, though related to the similar desire to generate a profit.

 

Forced labor happens in the context of a global marketplace where major corporations drive down the price paid to suppliers, who then cut costs by gutting wages and worker safety. We must support the only proven method for preventing slavery in supply chains, which is a worker-driven social responsibility model. This includes workers at the head of the table, clear mechanisms for workers to speak up and exercise their rights without fear of retaliation, comprehensive and independent monitoring, binding enforcement mechanisms, workplace specific codes of conduct developed by the workers themselves, market consequences for human rights violations, and corporate accountability for worker exploitation.

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