Most of us support slavery: our purchases feed the black market of human trafficking. It’s not just something from movies like Blood Diamond. Most of us who purchase goods produced by slave labor do it in the proud name of frugality. We’re always seeking a good deal, and we boast in it when we find it. Frugality is a virtue, especially in a world of rampant consumerism. But sometimes, frugality can be just another form of materialism: the worship of the bargain, not a separation from stuff. It may be good to save money by buying from Wal-Mart, but we sacrifice more than we bargain for in the transaction.
The crisis of modern-day slavery is daunting. A look at the U.S. State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons’ 2008 report is enough to make anyone throw up her hands in despair, and not all of us are close enough witnesses to slavery in action to throw a child under each arm and storm out of the karaoke bar, like the woman I mentioned in my last post.
In fact, many of us unwittingly support slavery by buying products made by slave labor. Given the complexity of the manufacturing process in a global economy, when any given couch may have components from four different continents assembled in stages on two others, it is no wonder we would be unaware of it if we were. But ignorance is not innocence. Given the rapid growth of available information that has accompanied the rapid economic growth, we have the means to discover the origin of everything we buy. But we don’t.
We don’t want to know why we can get such bargains. We want things, we don’t want to give up a lot to get them, and we’ve baptized that desire in the name of Christian stewardship. The problem is, human trafficking thrives on our bargain shopping. It is the cheap labor provided by slaves that makes it possible for us to purchase many everyday goods at low prices. If our hunger for inexpensive products wasn’t so great, it wouldn’t feed the growth of human trafficking in the manufacturing and agricultural industries. And while seeking inexpensive goods isn’t a vice in itself, rampant, unthinking materialism is partially responsible for the explosive growth of this human rights crisis.
As Edmund Burke famously said, all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. We can’t afford to do nothing any longer, and those trapped in slave labor by our greed certainly don’t deserve it. We must take responsibility for our part in human trafficking, even when we play that part unintentionally and indirectly.
Nathan George, the founder of Trade as One, has a plan to help us do that. A citizen of Great Britain, George witnessed a phenomenon that transformed the British economy. In England, something like 4% of the population regularly attends Sunday services in the Church of England, but those 4% moved abolitionist mountains. Troubled by the fact that most of the world lives in extreme poverty, some parishioners took action. If a Christian follows the principles of Scripture, he will donate 10% of his pre-taxed income to charity. In the face of the fastest growing sector of the black market, 10% of worldwide Christian income isn’t enough, and all churches know very few parishioners are faithful to that level of giving. Instead, these British churchgoers created Traidcraft, an organization that partners western consumers with producers from the third world. It puts the other 90% of our income to work against slavery. Within two decades, Traidcraft received business from 76% of the British purchasing public.
Now Nathan George is here in the United States with a new company, Trade as One. If an anemic British church could change the economic activity of a nation, what could 100 million regular churchgoers in America do? George believes that by providing high quality consumer goods in daily demand, he can put American Christians’ income to work to fight slavery, rather than to feed it. And by taking on three simple disciplines: live simply (buy less), give generously, and buy ethically (be aware of who we fund with our bargain-hunting), we can join him in that noble work. Visit Mr. George’s website at http://tradeasone.com for more information on how to put your regular purchases to work in the noble cause of abolition.
We can’t claim ignorance on the issue any longer. As citizens of the planet, we have the responsibility to restrain our desires when they harm our fellow citizens. As Christians, we have the duty to be Christ to them. We cannot sit idly by, paying Jenny Craig to help us lose weight from the chocolate we couldn’t stop eating, while fellow believers were forced to make the chocolate for us. But the glorious thing about a free market economy is that the consumer rules the market. We need only become more conscientious consumers to render this aspect of human trafficking impotent. So get involved! Find out who makes your clothes, who cleans your hotel rooms, and who harvests your food. Alter your purchasing choices, and fight slavery every day by doing what you would do anyway: buy things you need.
For more information on slave-free products and to join the movement to encourage corporations to guarantee slave-free products, visit www.slavefree.us. ‘