By John Putnam on November 12, 2013—
“Even now, it’s hard to grasp the fact that millions of people are enslaved around the world, including in Texas and Oklahoma.
It shocks me to the think that one human being could enslave another through sex trafficking or forced labor. Since first learning about the issue in high school, I’ve never understood how that’s possible. Just thinking about it pisses me off, as it should.
I’m not going to bog you down with numbers that can’t actually be verified. The truth is, no one knows how many people are being enslaved at any given time. What we do know is that the number is in the millions, and hundreds of thousands of those slaves are estimated to be in America.
We know sex trafficking and forced labor don’t just happen to women and children. There are grown men forced into slavery everyday. And while slavery has taken a new form in human trafficking, it’s still slavery. Traffickers may not always use chains the way people did in the Atlantic slave trade, but lies, coercions and threats serve the same purpose.
In October of 2011, the dismembered remains of a woman were found in a field near a grocery store in Mustang, OK – less than an hour from Norman. It is believed that 19-year-old Carina Saunders was dismembered alive in front of witnesses of a human and drug trafficking ring to coerce them into obedience.
That’s certainly a gruesome scene, maybe an extreme case. But that’s exactly how human trafficking works. Fear and deceit are the newest forms of chains.
In less extreme instances, traffickers simply lie to victims. They promise jobs and prosperity and have victims travel far away, only to hold them in captivity. This happened to a group of workers from India who became enslaved in a factory in Tulsa, OK in 2002.
Sadly, the owner of the factory never faced jail time and even defended his actions. While this isn’t the norm for Oklahoma, its proof that forced labor can happen here – and we all should be aware.
The common thread in all instances of slavery is economics. Trafficking someone is about creating the supply for a demand. Children are drafted into war because militant leaders have a demand for soldiers. Foster children, immigrants and abused women are raped and forced into prostitution because there is a demand for sex. And millions are forced to work against their will for little or no compensation because there is a demand for cheap products.
If we aren’t buying fair trade, living wage or locally made products from trusted companies, there is a good possibility the products we buy are slave-made — especially if they’re cheap. The cocoa in your chocolate, the cotton in your clothing and the bricks that built our beautiful university are just a few of the many products commonly made through slave labor.
We live in a capitalist society that begs us to consume. Each day, we see hundreds of advertisements that pervert sex, humor and goodwill that try to convince us to buy products we don’t need. And as consumers, we demand cheap, quality products. Unfortunately, many producers have no problem abusing and enslaving workers to meet that demand.
If we’re going to keep our current economic system, we need to be conscious of the fact that we have a responsibility to the workers who make our products. By paying money to businesses that uses slave labor or don’t monitor where their resources are coming from, you’re are supporting slavery.
If we look back at institutionalized slavery in the South with abhorrence, then why are we content with another form of it? It’s the same beast with a different face, and we feed it.
So let’s do something about. Advocate for the voiceless, educate others, put pressure on your elected officials to create legislative solutions, and most importantly, put pressure on corporations to be transparent about how they make their products and where they obtain their resources – even if this means boycotting certain products. We owe it to the people we enslave.”
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