12 Years a Slave but What About Today?

by Rick Bretz

A few days ago, I watched the award-winning movie, “12 Years A Slave.”  It’s the kind of movie that punches you in the gut. You have to ask yourself, once the credits roll, what individual minds were thinking to inflict that much pain on one race of people.  Was it power? Was it money?  Or was it both? For some, sadly, the satisfaction of seeing someone in pain.  The learned treatment of people who are  weaker than you and the passing down of a culture  from one generation to the next doesn’t explain the lack of ethics and human decency.

Modern Slavery Map

Yes, it’s the kind of movie that stays with you for a while. The scenes in the movie force you to reflect on the ability of men and women to inflict suffering on other people.

You would think that evolution and self assessment would force our species to move toward a more civilized state of mind and moral standing. Most of us have, but there are people on the globe who still want to take advantage of the disadvantaged, the unlucky, the ill-fated and the unfortunate.

The United States Department of State defines modern day slavery under the following categories:  forced labor, sex trafficking, bonded labor, debt bondage among migrant laborers, involuntary domestic servitude, forced child labor, child soldiers and child sex trafficking. Estimates from different government and civilian agencies total between 12 and 27 million people forced to work without any avenues for escape. These are people who cannot walk away from their situation of their own free-will.

Even one person forced to work without any way to leave of their own free will is one more than should be tolerated. To have millions of people, many of them children, laboring under the threat of injury, violence, hunger or death is inexcusable in the age of instant communication from one continent to another. Where is the outrage?

These unfortunate people are forced to work primarily in mining, agriculture, sex trade, and textile industries. The products generated from this forced labor bring their immoral masters billions in profit. These products can find their way across the economic spectrum from computers, jewelry, clothing, phones to chocolate goods. The people used for generating this income live isolated lives under the threat of retaliation. They are subject to physical abuse, disorientation, and psychological stress. The survival instinct develops and they do what ever it takes to live another day.

However, there is some good news. Countries have been working to reduce forced labor and slavery if not at least put an end to it. Companies have begun to put policies in place to inspect their supply chain to see if any of the forced labor categories exist. Much like eliminating drugs, eradicating slavery and forced labor is a war on two fronts. The first attack should be to find the manufacturing and production sites and force the powers to change their ways. The other front should challenge the consumer to refrain from buying goods that rely on slave labor. It’s a difficult task but one that must be started and finished if we are to claim the better angels of our nature.   12 years a slave is a life time for anyone to endure but a person shouldn’t have to be one day a slave.

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