If you want a sex slave all you have to do is go to Craigslist. It’s easy. And it may become easier. Yes, slavery is not physically sitting on the street corner between the old Episcopalian church and saloon as it was 200 years in the old Georgia town where I work. Only the church stands today (even after Sherman poured syrup in the pipe organ and accidently blew up half of it before beginning his seaward march). But freeing our society from sight lines does not void Webster’s active use of the word. Cleaning your room, I tell our children, is not stuffing your toys under your bed; it’s putting them up where they go. And slavery has gone underground; it has not gone away. Humans are trafficked in a frequency that looks as busy as a bird’s eye map of airplane activity.
Stop the Traffik hopes to end human trafficking in the spirit of British politician Wilberforce who singlehandedly abolished the slave trade 80 years before the United States ever took action. His story gives legs to the possibility that the world can change and that faith must see beyond now and into the land of then, where woman and child are not tools, too weak to tear the mask off their oppressor and say “You lie and you will be punished.” Simon Chorley and the Stop the Traffik movement likes to pull off masks. Little by little the depth of these slave trenches is being uncovered. I recently talked with Simon.
MHP: Explain, for those who are unaware, how Stop the Traffik began and who is behind it. (Is there a story that really hallmarks the beginning point?)
Simon Chorley: Three years ago a worker for the Oasis charity called Phil came across some street children in Mumbai, India. He befriended them over several weeks until they went missing. On asking their parents where they were, he discovered that they had been sold into slavery to pay for their father's alcohol addiction. Phil then talked with Oasis founder Steve Chalke, who gathered a network of influential individuals and organizations to launch the Stop the Traffik coalition campaign in Brussels in March 2006.
MHP: What happened last year during the 200th anniversary of the Slave Act? What were the notable victories and challenges?
SC: 25th March 2007 marked the 200th anniversary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act. Around that time, Stop the Traffik coalition member organizations and individual supporters ran hundreds of awareness raising events around the world to tell others about the modern-day slave trade. These raised public awareness, pressure on authorities, and resources for frontline projects working with victims of human trafficking. The media were slow to catch onto the continuation of the slave trade however, preferring to focus on events in the past.
MHP: Where is the hope that "when people act, things change"? Aren't the last 200 years testimony that they just move underground or find a new population group to ravage?
SC: Huge achievements were made 200 years ago in turning what was the acceptable status quo of the slave trade into a criminal act. It drew from all sections of society and brought them together in a common cause. Yet they only succeeded in criminalizing the slave trade, not abolishing it. The modern-day slave trade that is human trafficking is indeed more underground, and has moved to new population groups, such that men, women, and children from every country are now both vulnerable and implicit in this trade in human beings. This demonstrates how human trafficking can be tackled though. By mobilizing men, women, and children from every country, both the supply of and the demand for services provided by human trafficking can be reduced.
MHP: How has the global economy exacerbated the slave trade?
SC: So-called 'globalization' has presented new challenges to combating human trafficking. Human beings are now treated as commodities, their value being bartered over. The mafia are turning from trafficking drugs to trafficking people, as people can be re-used, and are thus more profitable. Increasing movement across borders and the increasing sophistication of criminal networks has also increased the illicit trade in people. Yet just as the globalized economy has exacerbated the slave trade, so it can also be harnessed to combat it, utilizing social networks and technology to spread awareness and information quickly, and enabling enforcement agencies to cooperate across the globe to apprehend traffickers.
MHP: Chocolate is highlighted on the website. Is this one of the major industries? I thought the sex industry was huge... that what we hear in the states most often.
SC: There are few reliable statistics regarding human trafficking, due to its subversive nature. The best figures estimate that around 80% of trafficking victims are female and around 80% experience sexual abuse. Thus trafficking for sexual exploitation is the main concern of most agencies, and Stop the Traffik are conducting a global inquiry into tackling sex trafficking, before launching a grassroots campaign on the issue. Yet trafficking into other forms of exploitation has received far less attention, and more research needs to be done in these areas. Regarding chocolate, with the UK public spending over a billion pounds on chocolate in the Christmas period alone, this issues connects with everyone - men, women, and children. Nearly half of the world's chocolate comes from Cote d'Ivoire in West Africa, and various UN agencies have reported on the trafficking of children into the cocoa industry in that country. Chocolate companies cannot guarantee that their products have not been made using trafficked children, which is unacceptable. This is an issue that everyone can do something about, not just politicians or police forces. We can all change what we buy and tell the suppliers why, we can all tell others about this, and we can all affect consumer patterns wherever we are.
MHP: What is the difference between slave labor and the trafficking of people? Shouldn't your numbers be added with the huge problem of slave labor that is disguised by brand labels?
SC: Slave labour involves the commercial exploitation of human beings against their will. Human trafficking means the movement of people by deception or coercion for exploitation, either commercial, sexual, or otherwise. There are many high-profile organizations and campaigns against slave labour, but few on the specific element of trafficking. By focusing specifically on this issue, we can present real actions that can bring real change. Although slave laborers are often trafficked, there are many who are not, and Stop the Traffik are therefore dedicating their limited resources to this specific aspect of slavery.
MHP: On the website the way to get involved seem easy and don't really effect my person too much. Is it designed that way? You have several examples of creative initiation of involvement. What are a few that stand out?
SC: Everyone will involve themselves at different levels. Some will sign the petition and do no more. Some will go a step further and sign up their organization, or do some fundraising. Some will go further and speak at local events, or represent Stop the Traffik in their region. Others will commit wholeheartedly, and look for careers in anti-trafficking projects. We aim to equip everyone to act at every level of engagement. The most creative initiatives continue to be around the Chocolate Campaign. See our website for examples.
MHP: Is there any religious or spiritual motivation behind Stop the Traffik the way, say Bono is perceived with his fight for Africa?
SC: I don't know about Bono, but a lot of Stop the Traffik's supporters are spiritually-motivated. About a third of our member organizations are faith-based, but that leaves two-thirds that aren't, from corporates to societies to individuals. In the same way, about a third of supporters for the “Make Poverty History” campaign were also faith-based. It seems that religious communities as a proportion of the societies they are in are more active on issues of social justice, and that their faith is the main motivation for their action. Stop the Traffik works with people from all faiths and none who are active in the fight against the modern-day slave trade.
MHP: Where do you see the project in 2 years... 8 years?
SC: Stop the Traffik in two years will hopefully have successfully implemented a Global Fund to resource anti-trafficking projects in South Asia, and in 8 years will have replicated this in West Africa and Eastern Europe. The chocolate industry will be presenting consumers with Traffik Free products - there is positive movement in this direction already - and public awareness and community involvement across the globe will be substantially higher.
For more information, sign on as a participant, and watch for new developments visit www.stopthetraffik.org. Interview and opening comments by Zach Kincaid.