One of the most appalling stretches of history saw 12 million people forced into slavery and carried across the ocean to be sold. We read their stories, watch movies about their lives and shudder at the thought that something so evil actually happened. The injustice is more than we can stomach, and somewhere along the way, we try to shake the weight of that truth by reassuring ourselves that, “times have changed.”
But not only have times not changed, the problem has grown.
20 to 30 Million
Experts estimate that there are anywhere from 20 to 30 million slaves in the world today.
Just sit with that for a minute.
In an age where the Internet serves as instant communication across borders and medical advancements explode past their limits, there are millions of slaves.
In a world that embraces compelling, moving works of art across mediums, there are millions of slaves.
In a world that protests injustice and fights for human rights in the streets and online, there are more than twice the number of slaves than existed during the entire trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. And they are hidden.
You have likely heard of the millions trapped in the horrors of sex slavery, but perhaps you would be surprised to also learn than 78 percent of the 25 million are in labor slavery. There are 60,000 men, women and children enslaved in the U.S. alone.
Around the globe, factories, restaurants, farms, stores and brothels are filled with individuals being violently forced to work without pay. Robbed of their freedom to leave, their voice has been lost in the world’s inability to see and respond to their circumstances. Maybe we don’t see because we haven’t been told where to look, but on some level, perhaps we don’t see because we choose to look past, believing that it doesn’t affect us or we can’t change it.
Business is booming for the slave trade. A report from the International Labour Organization estimated that slavery nets traffickers a jaw dropping $32 billion per year. If the products being produced by slaves were only sold to those knowingly and willingly involved in the industry, this number could not be possible. $32 billion is made because slavery is directly connected to each of our lives. The minerals used in the production of many of our everyday items, such as cars, phones, computers, clothes, coffee and chocolate, come from the hands of slaves.
And then there’s porn, which not only capitalizes on the selling of millions of women being held against their will, but increases the demand for a product traffickers are more than willing to meet and perpetuates the demoralizing idea that human beings can be sold.
The byproducts of slavery permeate our lives day in and day out, and while we can’t change everything over night, we can demand that the tide begin to roll in a new direction.
We are the free and the privileged. Our voice is strong, and we must choose to use it for those whose voice has been taken away from them.
When faced with the knowledge of slavery’s prevalence throughout our culture, many people experience one of two reactions. Either they become paralyzed trying to navigate around an issue that is too all encompassing to be avoided, or they throw up their hands in surrender because “it’s just too big.” Neither solution works.
But Bryson Vogeltanz, Chief Steward of the END IT Movement, says, “You just have to do the next right thing. Whatever you do, don’t do nothing.”
END IT is a grass roots movement mobilizing freedom fighters that want to shine a light on slavery and see it brought to an end. The team behind END IT is devoted to telling the world about the millions of people trapped by human trafficking and raising up modern-day abolitionists that will lend their support to the movement’s 10 Coalition Partners. These are organizations already on the ground, fighting to bring justice to the world’s most vulnerable.
Today, END IT is inviting us to help them tell the world that slavery exists and that we won’t tolerate it.
This is one of those rare places where religion, ethnicity and political affiliation do not determine what side of the issue we land on. As Vegeltanz puts it, “Slavery is a human problem. As a human, you should care about this.”
4 Ways to Help
Join END IT and tell your world about the problem
“I can’t tell the whole world,” Vogeltanz explains, “but I can tell my world. And you can tell your world.”
Imagine the force we could generate if we each stood, regardless of background, and passionately told our world about the trafficked in our midst. Let this be the story circulating our newsfeeds. Let this be the message that goes viral. Tell everyone you know that slavery exists and that those forced into labor matter to you. Learn more at enditmovement.com.
Develop a lifelong vision for justice
There is no instant fix for such a complex and far-reaching issue. Beyond the immediate push this week, adopt a lifestyle that is aware, compassionate and active. Educate yourself on what’s at stake and how you can change it, getting involved for the long haul rather than a one-time drive for support.
Get behind the organizations on the ground
Learn how you can support END IT’s 10 Coalition Partners and other organizations fighting injustice. Are there local justice organizations in your city? Ask how you can help. These are the hands and feet of those doing the patient, labor-intensive work of changing systems, bringing legal aid, rescuing the abused and prosecuting their oppressors. Back their efforts with your time, energy, money and influence.
Do the next right thing
Use your voice as a consumer. Choose one item you will only buy from companies that can verify slavery was not used in their supply chain. Take an honest look at how your money fuels slavery and be willing to make changes where possible. Stop looking at porn and feeding an industry driven by human trafficking. Do the next right thing. Then follow it with the next right thing after that.
Let’s tell the world about those still in slavery. We have more resources at our disposal today than any previous time in history. Let’s funnel our gifts, energy and influence in the direction of freedom, backing the organizations devoted to justice and choosing to no longer passively participate in a darkness we are now aware of. As abolitionist William Wilberforce once said, “You may choose to look the other way, but you can never say again that you did not know.”
This article has been updated from a version originally published in 2014.