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How am I Connected to the Slave Trade?

Monday, 7 March 2016  | Fuzz Kitto

It is the fastest growing illegal trade in the world. It has surpassed the illegal arms trade to become the world’s second largest illegal trade after drugs.

Most people think it is about sex and sexual exploitation – but human trafficking into the sex trade is nowhere near as big as the number of people caught up in factories, primary production, domestic servitude and fishing. People seem to think that, because trafficking happens out there in poor countries, they are not personally connected to it at all. Nothing could be further from the truth!

Due to Australia’s economic policies, much manufacturing has gone offshore. We have become a consumer society and we import so many products – many of which used to be made in Australia. Western countries want more and more and there are two major ways this can happen: either we make more money and can afford more things; or consumables become cheaper so that we can purchase more. Have you been listening to the adverts lately? ‘Down, down, prices are down, now you can get these for only X dollars.’ Items are on sale cheaper than last year and the year before. We want more for less.

To get products at a cheaper price there has to be a major breakthrough in the business model to make the supply chain elements cheaper. Alternatively, items are produced more cheaply by cutting costs in key areas. One of the key areas in which this is happening is in the cost of labour.

Slavery as defined by the United Nations is:

the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.

We are connected to slavery mainly through the things we buy. Slavery can be in the food we eat, the chocolate, the tea, the canned goods imported into Australia as well as prawns, fish and palm oil. It can be in the clothes we wear, from the ten top cotton producers (except Australia) and the spinning weaving of the cloth in Tamil Nadu in India, to the cut sow trim in Bangladesh, to the transporting of it. It can be in anything from the sugar drinks we swallow to the restaurants we eat in and the tea we drink from Assam in India. It can be in the cars we drive to the smart phones we make calls on, to the entertainment and communication technology we live on.

US President Obama, in one of his famous speeches at the Clinton Foundation, stated that human trafficking should be called what it is – modern slavery! He noted that some in the USA are well versed in the effects of slavery: it dehumanises people and one of its evil effects is that it causes false economies. People are using slave labour to undercut competitors, but this is not sustainable. What false economies do is that they collapse! And when they collapse they often take people who are powerless and poor and plummet them into an even worse predicament.

The absolute majority of people trapped in slavery are poor and are caught in the poverty cycle. Over 80% of people enslaved are females and 50% are young people and children. Slavery hits the powerless, the downtrodden and the most vulnerable.

It happens because of greed, selfishness and the wish to be powerful.

In the face of this, how do we hear and apply the words of Jesus and the prophets, and the heart of God – let alone the Kingdom of God which has come and is yet to fully come? Jesus asked: ‘And what does it profit a person if they could own it all – but lose their ‘self’ in the process?’ (Luke 9:25). The prophets sensitised the leaders, people and culture to the preference of God for the poor, the powerless, the downtrodden.

Slavery strikes at the heart of what it means to be made in the image of God, to be created free, to seek after God and God’s ways so that we can love God with our heart, mind, soul and strength, and love others as we love ourselves.

There is a spirituality to preventing, disrupting and abolishing human slavery. We visited a medium-sized Australian fashion company. It was Thursday morning and, on the Tuesday night at 10:30pm, the procurement staff had posted the last of the tractability element to show where their clothes were being made (part of the responsibility when they sign up to our STOP THE TRAFFIK Fashion Protocol). There was high fiving and whoops all around the room. They were still pumped two days later. ‘Isn’t it good to do good?’ I asked. ‘Yes Fuzz’, said the head buyer, ‘But it not only affected us but all the international office, and we had store managers ringing and saying ‘it is so good to be a part of a company doing good!’.’ So I asked: ‘There is something so deeply spiritual about this, isn’t there?’ There was a rapid eye movement as this hit her and she blurted out: ‘It’s about the soul Fuzz, isn’t it – it’s about the soul!’

In January we took a group of 12 people from Australia and the UK to visit with those working with enslaved people in India. In Mumbai, Carolyn Kitto negotiated for one of the people caught in prostitution in a bonded labour situation to do henna painting on the hands and feet of our group’s female members. The Christian NGO had been working with them to help learn skills to exit their situations. We enquired as to how much she had to pay off and were told it was 20,000 rupees. We worked it through with the group and they agreed to pay that amount and another 3,000 rupees to buy a ticket back to her husband and 10-month-old baby some 28 hours away by train. As the day went on her smile got bigger and bigger. At 4pm we handed over the money the group had paid. The NGO worker took her to the prearranged meeting to pay back the money and at 7pm she was on the train back home, where she was met by another NGO who will help make sure she is not trapped again. Is this gospel?

This raised key theological and ethical questions. We need to not only work on freeing people from slavery but also on preventing the situations from arising in the first place. It is better to build a fence at the top of the cliff than to run an ambulance service at the bottom. How do we prophetically challenge the world economic model that is not sustainable? Where do the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of humans interplay when it comes to slavery? In other words, what is God’s job and what is our job? How do we become aware of what is happening, and what do we as individuals, churches and communities do to prevent, disrupt and abolish this destruction of a person’s humanity? How do we bring God’s Kingdom on earth as in heaven?

Fuzz Kitto is an International Church Consultant, Mission and Youth Work Consultant, writer and with his best friend that he is married to – Carolyn Kitto - is Co-director of STOP THE TRAFFIK Australian Coalition campaigning against slavery - see www.stopthetraffik.com.au.

Fuzz listening to the stories of Cocoa growers in Cote d'Ivoire Africa where boys are trafficked to grow cocoa.

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