Sunday, March 18, 2007

Modern Day Slavery

A week from today marks 200 years since the abolition of the slave trade here in England. Oh, wouldn’t it be nice if slavery were a thing of the past? We often think of it that way, and yet the trafficking (buying and selling) of people all around the world is much worse now than it was then. Here is a website with some clearly alarming statistics. To cite just a few:

~At least 12.3 million people are victims of forced labor worldwide. Of these, 2.4 million are as a result of human trafficking.
~600,000-800,000 men, women and children are trafficked across international borders each year. Approximately 80% are women and girls. Up to 50% are minors.
~An estimated 1.2 million children are trafficked each year.
~Trafficking is the fastest growing means by which people are caught in the trap of slavery.
~Human trafficking is the third largest source of income for organized crime, exceeded only by arms and drugs trafficking.
~It is the fastest growing form of international crime, already generating 7 billion dollars per year in criminal proceeds. There are even reports that some trafficking groups are switching their cargo from drugs to human beings, in a search of high profits at lower risk.

Our daily lives may seem far removed from the reality of human trafficking, but if Keith Green was right and “this generation of Christians is responsible for this generation of souls,” we need to ask ourselves what we can and should be doing, right where we are, to stand against it.

Two hundred years ago in the British empire, slave labor was primarily used to work sugar plantations. In order to stand against slavery in their time, some English women refused to buy sugar produced by slaves. Not a convenient choice -- after all, sugar is a staple in the kitchen -- but it was something within their power to do, and in the end it made a difference.

Back then, it was sugar. Today, among other things, it’s chocolate. No, I’m not kidding. Is there any food product more dear to the modern woman’s heart than chocolate? But did you know that nearly half the world’s chocolate is made from cocoa grown in the Ivory Coast, West Africa, and that cocoa plantations in the Ivory Coast rely on the slave labor of children who have been kidnapped and forced to work there? Click here to learn more.

So what can we do? Besides educating ourselves and praying diligently, I mean. Surely I’m not suggesting a boycott on all chocolate? (May it never be!) But how can we be sure that we’re not inadvertently contributing to the problem, that the chocolate we’re eating has been made without victimizing anyone in the process?

It’s called fair trade. Look for the fair trade stamp when you buy cocoa powder or a chocolate bar. If the stamp isn’t there, there’s no guarantee that your chocolate is traffick-free. I realize this may not be the most welcome news as we gear up for the chocolate-fest that Easter has become in the West, but now may be as good a time as any to make the switch. Fair trade products are becoming increasingly available in stores in the US as well as here in the UK.

I’ve been impressed by the ordinary English believers I’ve met here who make fair trade choices as part of their everyday lives. Like Mary who gave our kids fair trade advent calendars at Christmas, and Nicola who brought a bar of Marks & Spencer organic fair trade chocolate to share with me last night while we watched The Queen on DVD (honestly, it was the most amazing chocolate I’ve ever put in my mouth).

There isn’t much I can do (besides pray!) for the women and girls who are forced to work as sex slaves in Europe and Asia or for the children who are captured, drugged, brainwashed and trained to become merciless soldiers in conflicted parts of Africa. But choose to buy one kind of chocolate over another? That I can do.

In Matthew 5:13,14 Jesus said that His followers are to be salt and light, living purposefully and righteously as His ambassadors in the world. My friend and former RVA student Michelle Collins raised some provocative points about social responsibility in her blog entry of March 13th called reflections on a thought. From her I borrow this quote by Jewish theologian Abraham Heschel:

There is an evil which most of us condone and are even guilty of -- indifference to evil. We remain neutral, impartial and not easily moved by the wrongs done unto other people. Indifference to evil is more insidious than evil itself; it is more universal, more contagious, more dangerous. Man's sense of injustice is a poor analogy to God's sense of injustice. The exploitation of the poor is to us a misdemeanor; to God, it is a disaster.

Let’s not remain indifferent, ladies. Instead, let’s make intentional choices (and teach our children to make intentional choices) that will speak loudly on behalf of the voiceless ones in our generation. Let’s do what we can to put an end to slavery once and for all.

* * * * * * *
Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter... and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear. (Isaiah 58:6-8 NIV)

With God's power working in us, God can do much, much more than anything we can ask or imagine. (Ephesians 3:20 NCV)

Live adventurously. When choices arise, do you take the way that offers the fullest opportunity for the use of your gifts in the service of God and the community? Let your life speak. -- from the Quakers in Britain website

Recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world. -- Preamble, Universal Declaration of Human Rights


Anonymous said...

I'm so glad you posted on such a pressing, but sadly invisible crisis. Traditional slavery is still widespread in Saharan nations - Niger, Mauritania, Chad, and Sudan - but new forms of slavery are also prevalent. Here, men, women, and children are forced to work in sweatshops or bulding roads and pipelines for big corporations. There is also an enormous international traffic of girls and young women who have agreed to a job contract only to find themselves in the shackles of prostitution. The statistics and stories go on and on.

I will be working with the International Justice Mission this summer in DC. They are an active group in fighting modern day slavery. In conjunction with the new film out about William Wilberforce and the British Slave Trade, Amazing Grace, (see it if you haven't) they have organized a movement called "Amazing Change." Check out their website at to get more information.

Thanks again for writing on this - it is encouraging to hear how others have a heart for this issue.

Dani said...

Is it wrong to still think of you as Miss Berge???? =)

Hi - it's Danielle, I found you through Michelle. I've just read through your posts quickly and am so encouraged by your words. This one in particular, about slavery/etc, impacts me in that God has been impressing on me lately how much my small choices in life really to affect society, if only seemingly insignificantly.

See you around...

Sharon Brumfield said...

First I have to say Keith Green--It is so good to find someone who knows and loves him. I listened to his music in high school and was so hurt when he died.A month ago I found one of his c.d's in a Christian book story and bought. The last thing I had of his was So You Want To GO Back To Egypt on a record. Those all went by the way side a long time ago. Thanks for the article. Does all chocolate have the fair trade stamp? I sadly have not heard of this before. Thank you for bringing this to my attention. I am from the states so maybe chocolate is not marked the same way?