Slavery is Alive and Well ... For Now

By Justin Fung 04-30-2010

100430-child-slaveryIt'd be nice if enacting a law would solve the problem, wouldn't it?

Sadly, despite slavery being declared illegal in nearly every country in the world, it persists-a blight and cancer on our communities, our consciences, and our common humanity. Indeed, slavery is ubiquitous and often goes unnoticed, particularly in the products we buy: our chocolate contains cocoa harvested by slave labor on farms in the Ivory Coast; our clothing contains cotton grown with slave labor in India, West Africa, and Uzbekistan; enslaved Haitian workers harvest sugar in Dominican Republic, who is the largest exporter of sugar to the United States; our cell phones, laptops and many other electronics require tantalum, known in its ore-form as coltan, a mineral that poor farmers are forced to mine in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In the words of Moises Naim, human trafficking is "the most sordid of the ways that labor moves around in the new global economy. Its victims end up in sweatshops and plantations, factories and family farms and as household servants" (Illicit, 91). Two hundred years after slavery was declared illegal in Great Britain, and one hundred and fifty years after the Emancipation Proclamation in the United States, up to twenty-seven million people remain enslaved around the world. And most people aren't even aware of this reality.

N.T. Wright says that we are "called to live at the overlap both of heaven and earth-the earth that has yet to be fully redeemed as one day it will be-and of God's future and this world's present" (Simply Christian, 161). Thus, on the one hand, there will be elements that we continue to battle against-our own imperfections, the monstrous crime of human trafficking, flawed economic and political systems, and a general ignorance of great instances of injustice. But on the other hand, as we seek to see God's kingdom come on earth, we can take heart that we are partnering with the Creator of the universe, the Redeemer of all of creation, the Savior of all that seems broken, irreparable and irredeemable. And we can take heart from the narrative which informs our action and belief: the gospel.

It is a gospel that recognizes the importance of Christ and of the kingdom he announced and inaugurated, a gospel that is centered not just on the salvation that his death and resurrection won but also on the kingdom of God whose values and characteristics he embodied in his life. It is a gospel that impacts deeply on a cosmic level-individual and societal.

So it will impact deeply on the issue of slavery and human trafficking, which "is exploitation, violence and injustice all rolled together in their most potent combination. If there is one fundamental violation of our humanity we cannot allow, it is slavery. If there is one basic truth that every human being can agree on, it is that slavery must end" (Kevin Bales, Disposable People, 262).

If there is one basic denigration of the image of God that lies in every human being, it is when he is treated as if he were not made in the image of God and forced into bonded labor, or when she is treated as if she had no value or dignity and made to offer her body for someone else to exploit and someone else to profit.

More than half of those in modern slavery are women or children, with an additional 2 million children being trafficked into sexual servitude or bonded labor every year. While there is much we can do on an individual and community level to be more vigilant and attentive to this problem, the issue of trafficking exists on a scale that also requires international cooperation.

One small part of this puzzle is the Child Protection Compact Act. The CPCA is similar to George W. Bush's highly-touted PEPFAR (The President's Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief) commitment, in that it prioritizes for assistance those countries that have the political will but lack the resources to tackle the problem. In this case, among other things, the legislation:

  • provides support to these "focus countries" to build public justice systems that effectively investigate crimes against children and prosecute perpetrators in numbers sufficient to deter and eventually eliminate the crime; and
  • authorizes increased assistance for care for survivors of trafficking.

(You can find out more on the CPCA here.)

The legislation has been introduced with bipartisan support in both the House (H.R.2737) and the Senate (S.3184), but it needs your help to get passed. Please ask your Congressperson and Senators to support this bill, and in so doing, to participate in the campaign to eliminate child slavery once and for all.

portrait-justin-fungJustin Fung is the policy and organizing assistant for Sojourners. A graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary, he also blogs regularly at Gershom's Journal.

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