The darkest underbelly of human existence hides right in front of us – modern day slaves are the foundation of the third largest criminal economy on the planet.
As media consumption in the West is drawn to negative, sensational and explosive headlines, sinister realities escape our attention. This applies to reporting on human trafficking in the developing world, where stories center around organ trafficking, sweat shops and the sex industry.
The International Labour Organization estimates that 21 million men, women and children are enslaved and trafficked around the world today. Close to 70% of these people are exploited in industrial sectors like mining, construction, agriculture and domestic work, creating profits of $150 Billion annually.
3.7 million people are victims of of forced labour in Africa, but the Asia-Pacific region accounts for the largest number of modern day slaves in the world, at 11.7 million people.
In a digitally desensitized society, we fail to comprehend the scale of a problem that exists in plain sight.
According to the U.S. State Department, “human trafficking can be found in a favourite restaurant, a hotel, downtown, a farm, or in [a] neighbour’s home.”
In the United Kingdom, an estimated 136,000 people are exploited with poor wages and atrocious living conditions. The National Crime Agency finds victims predominantly from Eastern Europe, Asia and Africa, working in car washes, construction, farming and food processing. Disturbingly, it suggests that someone going about their normal day in the UK will come across a victim of human trafficking but will never recognize them as such.
A 2018 report by the Global Slavery Index found that almost half a million (403,000) people are trapped in modern day slavery in the United States – seven times more than previously reported. The index also highlights forced marriages, noting that women and girls make up 71% of people trapped in modern-day slavery today.
The persistence of this tragedy is at the root of its being addressed by the Sustainable Development Goals set by the United Nations. The Global Sustainability Network, an international consortium that works closely with the Vatican and Church of England, is one of many organizations attempting to bring a seismic shift in awareness and a willingness to act to save human dignity.
With individuals, educators, charity institutions, businesses and Governments each taking incremental steps towards realizing The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, it will be possible to curb this nefarious business.