“You know that moment when you read something, and then immediately have to re-read it because you cannot believe it is true? That happened to me when I read that the levels of slavery and people trafficking today are greater than at any point in history.” These words by Tony Maddox introduce the CNN Freedom Project, which two weeks ago won an Online Journalism Award (OJW) for its newly launched digital magazine combatting global slavery. CNN received honors in the Best Feature category for it series “Slavery’s Last Stronghold,” which followed the stories of slaves and slave owners in Mauritania, the last country in the world to abolish slavery but where it is thought between 10% and 20% of the population still live in servitude. The United Nations estimates the total market value of human trafficking at 32 billion U.S. dollars.
But slavery isn’t an abstract or far-away issue. California accounts for 25% of human trafficking in the US, with the cities of Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Francisco leading the list of slave cities. This November, California Ballot Initiative #35 would strengthen criminal penalties for those who gain from such exploitation.
While the total numbers in California and elsewhere are hard to specify, the International Labor Organization and other abolitionist groups put the global census of slaves at between 10-30 million worldwide. As stated on the CNN Freedom Project site, “Let’s remember the commodity here is not drugs or contraband; it is human beings. And usually the most vulnerable in society. Those unable to defend themselves, those who innocently trust the intentions of others, those who can easily be made to disappear. The cruelty and inhumanity of those who would profit from such a crime is truly shocking. In previous centuries, when slaves were captured and traded each had a significant market value. Although their ill-treatment was often horrific, the reality was that it made economic sense to keep a slave alive and functioning, to protect what was usually a significant investment, made with a view to long term. That is not so today. Many girls and women, who are trafficked, particularly for the sex trade, are done so with a view to high rate of return over a relatively short period of time. Then they are switched from the steady supply of replacements. And what do you suppose happens to those who are seen to have maxed out their usefulness? Often addicted to drugs they have been forced to take, almost certainly in the country illegally, with no support, and with no record that they ever existed. A bad outcome is more or less assured.
“It is also difficult to see any hope for the people who trade in people. They have reconciled themselves to the awful crimes that they commit, and are unlikely to stop because others tell them to. No, to stop this shameful trade takes the will of governments. First in the countries where people are either abducted or forced into labor. These are often nations that are facing many problems, with tough economies, poor infrastructure, and sporadic and ineffective forces of law and order. People in rural and remote regions are often the targets, people who can be easily misled, or just kidnapped, with next to no chance of the crime ever being properly investigated. For local and national governments it is just one more of a series of pressing problems they must face. The international community has a role to play in forcing it higher up each of these countries to-do lists.This is not a problem that can be ignored.”