Who fished the prawns for tonight’s curry? Or – for that matter – who harvested the rice? When it comes to our food shop, we’re increasingly used to checking that the chicken is free range, but when the prawn label says ‘responsibly sourced’ it’s not the welfare of the prawn that we’re talking about. It’s whether people have been violently assaulted, starved – and sometimes even murdered – to put those prawns onto our plates.
Slavery still exists. In fact, there are more people in slavery today than at any other point in history. And it’s not a distant problem that doesn’t affect us. Most of us are unwittingly loading products into our shopping trolleys that have been produced by people in slavery.
It’s distressing to think that each of us has bought products made by slaves but as William Wilberforce famously said: “You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know”.
As Christians who worship a God of justice the growing problem of slavery is one we need to take seriously. How will you respond?
The image used at the top of this blog has a ‘spot the difference’ element to it – International Justice Mission’s (IJM’s) challenge to you is to see if you can find the nine items in the first picture that aren’t in the second. These are the items often made, or harvested, by slaves.
Did you find them all? Here they are:
Nothing says ‘I love you’ more than roses (except maybe chocolate). But of the 40 million slaves today, as many as one in four are children – many of them forced to work on rose farms, picking thorny flowers until their fingers bleed.
In the UK, we consume around 85,000 tonnes of prawns each year – many of them from Thailand. Forced labour slavery is widespread in Thailand’s seafood industry. Traffickers force labourers to work up to 20 hours a day, underpaid, and often subject to extreme violence.
IJM is backing the Thai government’s work to stamp out slavery in its fishing industry by launching a new programme to rescue people out of slavery and hold the traffickers accountable under local Thai laws.
Was the price of your necklace the price of someone’s freedom? Slave owners in the global mining industry trap entire families in slavery for generations. Conditions are so dangerous that the use of children in gold and diamond mining officially falls under the worst forms of child labour. Sadly that doesn’t stop it from happening.
Not an item we often associate with slavery, but thousands of children work in India’s carpet industry. Some have even been sold to traffickers by their own parents. The Indian government is cracking down on slavery across the country with the support of organisations like International Justice Mission – in fact, they are aiming to end slavery by 2030.
Slavery is a global industry generating an estimated $150bn a year.
Slaves trapped in wood-cutting facilities around the world can be forced to produce one tonne of wood a day. Kalpanna and her family spent four painful years enslaved in a tree-cutting unit. She remembers their hunger, as the owner left them without food for days. She had to watch her little boy fall sick and pass away due to lack of medical care. There was nothing she could do to save him.
Life for those who farm chocolate is often anything but sweet. Many cocoa farmers and workers live below the poverty line, earning less than $2 a day. Young children have been found working as slaves after being abducted or sold into slavery. Beatings are common and many will never see their families again. That’s enough to make us all think twice next time we pick up a chocolatey treat at the checkout.
What’s the true cost of our clothes? The International Labour Organisation estimates that 152 million children – more than twice the population of the UK – are engaged in child labour. In the worst cases, these children are slaves living in desperate conditions. Many child labourers are making textiles, shoes and garments to satisfy the demand for cheap, fast fashion in the West. Corners are cut, making serious injuries and fires commonplace.
Ajay was enslaved in a factory making high heels along with ten other teenage boys and young men. They lived, slept and worked in one room. When IJM and local police rescued them he said: “I thought of running away, but others who had run away were brought back and beaten with iron rods, tortured with long needles and locked in a room for several days.”
We drink around 70 million cups of coffee in the UK every day. The unpalatable truth is that some of that coffee has been produced by people in forced labour slavery; many are children who are being denied access to education and basic human rights.
Was the rice in your cupboard produced by sleep-deprived, starving families like Gopi’s, working 15-hour days in paddy fields?
IJM’s undercover investigators around the world are on the ground every day helping find slaves like Gopi and partnering with local police to rescue them so that they get their freedom back. Their teams of lawyers help convict slave owners and put them into prison where they can’t enslave anyone else.
What’s the solution?
IJM have found that slave-owners and traffickers aren’t especially courageous when they’re faced with the prospect of lengthy prison sentences. In fact, the levels of slavery have dropped dramatically when they’ve helped equip local police and courts to enforce laws.
Slavery is illegal pretty much everywhere and increasingly global governments are starting to tackle it. So here’s the good news: it is possible to end slavery in a generation.
But ending slavery needs each of us to be part of the solution. So let’s build on William Wilberforce’s legacy and fight for a world where all are free.
International Justice Mission is a global organisation that aims to protects the poor from violence and end slavery. Click here for more information about IJM's National Prayer Gathering on Saturday 4 November.