When I started working in the anti-trafficking field at 11, I was convinced of two things. The first was morally obvious: that the $150 billion industry of modern slavery needed to be brought down. My second conviction was a little more misguided: that the only way to contribute to ending this lucrative, rapidly-growing global criminal enterprise was with a full-time commitment.
Driven by activist ideals and a martyr’s complex, I began my self-appointed mission to end slavery by working around the clock as an unpaid intern with a grassroots non-profit in the San Francisco Bay area and eventually as an anti-trafficking program manager in rural Cambodia. I aggressively believed I’d only make a difference through uninterrupted self-sacrifice.
And within two years, I burned out.
During my humbling season of recovery, I gradually realized how my narrow and, well, elitist approach to human trafficking was way off. We need committed frontline workers (particularly those who practice boundaries), but this work cannot be left to non-profits alone.
Human trafficking is deeply complex. It doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Rather, human trafficking is a symptom of a greater problem: the breakdown of community. Broken and abusive homes, fragmented communities, and dysfunctional systems all help create the conditions for exploitation to thrive. If we want to comprehensively address slavery, then we need to acknowledge the compounding issues of poverty, racism, homeless, abuse, inequality, addiction, gangs, and war, to name a few.
You can’t end slavery without responding to the refugee crisis and providing adequate support to immigrants. You can’t “fix” human trafficking without fixing the broken foster care system and improving global supply chain transparency. You can’t end exploitation if there are still people in our communities who have less political or economic power because of their race, gender, or sexual orientation.
And that’s a tall order—which is why we need people from all sectors to make even small but sustained contributions.
Two of my closest friends, a married couple with a toddler and another baby on the way, creatively find ways to counter human trafficking in their everyday life. They decided they would give a portion of their business profits to anti-slavery efforts. As runners and triathletes, they also buy ethically-made sporting gear and raise awareness for slavery whenever they participate in competitive racing events.
Like this couple, many of us are in no position to quit our jobs or leave our families to fight slavery full-time. But that doesn’t mean we don’t care, and it definitely doesn’t mean that we can’t use our skills, passions, time, or finances for the work of justice. These are a few ways we can do exactly that in our everyday lives:
Find out about the 25 types of modern slavery identified in the United States. Read the Global Slavery Index and stay informed about the latest campaigns from Freedom United. Learn how to identify and report suspicious activities in your area.
Ask for help.
Directly buying sexual services from a person in prostitution isn’t the only way to fuel human trafficking. Sadly, there is a strong interconnectedness between pornography and sexual exploitation: how pornography is frequently made of people while they’re in prostitution, how traffickers use popular trends in porn to inform the activities they force victims to engage in, how exposure to porn can normalize violence and make us less compassionate towards victims of sexual exploitation. If you or anyone you know is struggling with an addiction to pornography, it’s okay to ask for help.
Make informed purchasing decisions.
As comfortable as it is to grasp onto the cultural scripts that tell us we’re not part of the problem unless we directly contribute to it, our consumption habits would say otherwise. The unfortunate truth is that the coffee we drink and the food we eat, the clothes we wear and the electronics we use may be tainted by slave labour.
Buying fair trade products and supporting ethical companies is one of the best ways you can fight human trafficking in your daily life. Some companies, like Camano Island Coffee, not only empower their workers but they also donate a percentage of their profits to anti-trafficking work. Use resources and apps such as The Good Trade, Buycott, Better World Shopper, or Good On You to guide you in shopping more ethically.
Buy products that support survivors.
You can contribute to the restoration process by buying survivor-made products. Home goods and fashion items from To The Market, jewellery from NightLight, and body care products from Thistle Farms are just a few examples of social enterprises that employ survivors, giving them a viable and sustainable income stream.
Demand corporate accountability.
Companies like Nestle, Hershey’s, Walmart, and H&M are notorious for unethical practices, including the use of slave labour. But with the amount of published research and the availability of software programs and comprehensive audits, companies are running out of excuses for relying on slave labour.
Refusing to buy from companies like these is a good start, but consider taking your advocacy even further. Lobby global brands to be more transparent, eliminate exploitation from their supply chains, and improve working conditions. Call on corporations to stop spreading and normalizing sexual exploitation. Ask local businesses to use or sell fair trade products. Write to your political representative to put corporate social responsibility on their agenda.
Give or fundraise.
Traffickers can make six-figure salaries off exploiting human beings. Meanwhile, many non-profits struggle to pay their staff a livable wage as they work tirelessly to combat human trafficking. The instability or lack of consistent funding is often one of the greatest challenges of non-profits—which is heartbreaking, especially considering Americans spend more on their pets than they give to human services charities.
Financially supporting high-quality anti-trafficking organizations may not feel exciting, but it is one of the most impactful ways you can help. Donating undesignated funds—especially on a regular basis—gives a non-profit the autonomy to decide how to best support survivors or prevent human trafficking, whether that may be hiring a local trauma counsellor or starting a skills training program.
Invest in people.
Ultimately, intervening in human trafficking is about more than operating programs and building shelters. It’s about building up people, especially those living in vulnerable situations. When we help members of our community to have a strong sense of worth, healthy relationships, and access to education, employment, and stable housing, we’re helping to fight human trafficking.
What that might look like is simply being a good neighbor. Maybe it’s being a mentor to the teen girl at church struggling with self-esteem, or creating a safe space for the boy down the street whose parents are addicted to drugs. Maybe it’s welcoming the new immigrant family in the neighborhood into our home and supporting them in their job search. Maybe it’s forming relationships with people living at a local homelessness shelter or becoming a foster parent.
We can all participate in creating healthy, resilient, and compassionate communities as the foundation for ending human trafficking. How will you contribute?