Thanksgiving has come and gone and into the Christmas season I go. Outside lights already adorn the eaves. Inside will soon sparkle with lights and glitter. Most days, the sky has taken on a wintry look. Only a faint dusting of snow adorns the cold, hard ground and only a light skim of ice is on the pond. I wistfully sigh and wish for a white Christmas.
Baking and shopping for holiday foods and gifts has begun. Overall, it’s been a good year, but the thought of friends and family suffering losses of health or employment wreaks havoc with the will to be joyful and jolly. The wheel of life turns down, even as it goes up and is sometimes cause for confusion and unhappiness, along with contentment and bliss. During these times, the value of community support and understanding cannot be understated. Most of my friends and family have that support to see them through challenges and share in celebrations. Today I am thinking of those people I meet through my work for whom there is no support with life challenges and rarely a celebration.
I had a phone conversation recently with a woman named Gigi. Gigi was friendly, with a passion for work and life. She asked me what I do for work. After telling her of my work fighting human trafficking, she shared her experience of reporting a sex trafficking situation in the Midwest, which was subsequently, successfully prosecuted. As she shared stories of agricultural situations where she lives, she wanted to know what to do about food industry related human trafficking. I directed her to the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, who have successfully assisted in federal prosecutions and work for protective laws for agricultural laborers. Otherwise, can we really do anything? The feeling of helplessness looms large.
Human trafficking is the recruiting, transporting, or harboring of persons through fraud or threat for the purpose of exploitation. Human trafficking is big! It’s an industry that worldwide makes $150 billion each year. In nearly every country, dishonest brokers buy people cheaply, as though they are animals. They are not animals, they are people who have hope, but lack power and stability. They may be living in a foreign culture with no knowledge of protective labor laws or trustworthy services. Refugees and children are bought or abducted to work on coffee, chocolate and fruit farms, fishing vessels, factories and restaurants. Slave owners confiscate identification; use psychological coercion; brutality; and withhold food and money. Educational opportunity is non-existent. Healthcare access is limited. Family photographs or other memoirs, most likely don’t exist.
How do we keep human trafficking off our dinner menu? There are several options. We can choose to be aware of how our food is sourced and be judicious in buying fairly sourced food. When given the option of buying inexpensive seafood or more expensive seafood, ask why one is cheaper. If slave-labor was a factor, ask if buying that product is really necessary. Then envision the people behind our purchasing choices. Are they people who have been deprived of education, family, and freedom? Now decide if we can live with what we see.
Look for “slavery-free”, “Fairtrade”, or “sustainably sourced” certification on chocolate and coffee and the “fair food” label on produce. Use these as “moral guideposts” when making purchasing decisions. While organic is no guarantee, it’s less likely human trafficking was part of the supply chain. The best food producer efforts can be thwarted by poor supply chain management, but these certifications give you better assurance.
As an example of purchasing power, consumers insisting on fairly sourced products have caused positive changes by companies such as Hershey’s and Nestle who are supporting cocoa communities’ efforts to generate their own income; farmer education; locating children’s birth certificates; and recognizing families at higher risk. In the long run, these efforts will help end trafficking. Consumers can further increase influence by stepping up efforts to buy foods that have less risk to laborers and greater benefit. If we’re a food producer, we should be aware we are also consumers and choose sustainable ingredients. We can donate to survivor programs to lessen the chance of victims being re-victimized. Can we be perfect in our choices? Hopefully, that day will arrive. In the meantime, we can definitely do better. Meanwhile, we can make it a priority to choose to learn about human trafficking and where to buy slave-free products. I invite you to visit my website for resource options.