Slavery was one of the most horrific institutions in the history of our country and the world. There is only one thing wrong with that sentence; the word “was.” The practice has found new ways to adapt to our laws and restrictions, and has remained a horrific institution.
Youth in particular are easy prey for slave-traders and traffickers, and an abundance of minors are being used as migrant laborers, sex workers and everything in between. And, yes, governments are trying to fix it, but slavery remains, as it has for thousands of years.
Is there something that we, the aforementioned youth, can do? How far into our everyday lives does the influence of slavery go? That’s what I wanted to find out.
Though it might not be apparent to those of us safely in the U.S., the continued existence of slavery has long been known in the realms of politics, activism and the media. Innumerable articles, reports and statistics have been published detailing nearly everything about it.
A 2013 Washington Post article shows a map detailing the distribution of slaves worldwide — poor, rural regions like West Africa have the highest percentages of slaves, while urban, highly populated regions like China have the highest total numbers. The same article states that at that time, there were about 30 million slaves living in the world.
Another article, released by Time this past year, says that there are 40 million people in forced labor. A quarter of them are children. These are incredibly distressing figures, but the big shocker is in the comparison between them — the fact that the number of slaves is shown as being larger than it was six years ago.
Is the practice of slavery growing? To find out, I decided to talk to someone who has firsthand experience of fighting against slavery.
Margaret Wurth is a senior children’s rights researcher for Humans’ Rights Watch, an organization that collects data on, raises awareness for and pushes governments and companies to change policy on human rights.
She explained how slavery has adapted to the changing times by evolving into other institutions, like trafficking, and the use of child labor, a subject that Wurth specializes in. And, according to her, it is a lot more prevalent than we realize.
Across the globe, including in America, forced and poorly managed child labor exists, in much the same venue that slavery did — agriculture. Children as young as seven years old grow some of the fruits, vegetables and grains that some of us eat every day. They also do provide most of the manpower for the extremely dangerous growth of tobacco — they are given axes, and no instructions, and are sent into fields brimming with deadly tobacco fumes. These kids are as old as us — and younger. Think about that.
But, as in everything, there is something we can do. Wurth says that one of the biggest ways to make a difference in this issue is the incredible tool we keep in our pocket — social media. Spreading awareness is one of the HRW’s biggest goals. You can donate to the cause, call your congressman — do any number of things. And, it’s not like no progress has been made.
Margie Mason is an award-winning Associated Press reporter, who recently participated in an acclaimed project on slavery’s place in the fishing industry. She is also a West Virginia native. She explained how widespread and simple the practices of forced labor and trafficking can be; you simply lure someone in with a lucrative job, drug them and take them onto a seabound vessel.
If you eat seafood, there is a fairly good chance that it can be traced back to slaves — their catches are sold in Walmart, Kroger, Dollar General and many more of our biggest retail companies. But it is just simple to combat this. In Mason’s words, “Consumers have a choice. They can demand transparency and accountability from the companies they buy from or they can take their wallets elsewhere.”
This applies to all industries, not just seafood — a small amount of digging can help you avoid putting money into the practice of slavery, as used in the production of clothing, electronics, cosmetics and even chocolate.
So that’s slavery — it still exists. In nearly every country, in nearly every industry, in people of all kinds. That’s how it’s been, all through history. But like Mason and Wurth said, there are very easy things the average person can do to fight it. You’re not alone — lawmakers, journalists, researchers and activists are all working with you to end it. These kids getting hurt are our age. Let’s show them that Gen Z fights back.