A couple of months ago, two different people sent me this link and asked me what I thought. How lovely to be asked!
The article questions why American Christians, in particular, are so focused on stopping human trafficking within the sex industry, yet neglect to focus on labour trafficking which is a far larger problem by number of victims. According to the piece, 79% of global trafficking victims are enslaved for labour exploitation, whereas ‘only’ 21% are working in the sex industry (figures from the ILO).
The author is correct, compared to the UK (which is the only other country on which I can pass comment), there is a glaring lack of fair trade items available in supermarkets in the US and no one I have met speaks about how trade can be used to benefit producers in poor countries. There has been a small amount of action following the collapse of the Rana Plaza clothing factory (aka large sweat shop) in Bangladesh, but this action has been led by left-wing activist groups and not Christians. It is odd that the USA, the country that most champions and values free trade and the benefits of the marketplace, does not see how carefully considered purchases and large scale buying actions by the big retailers could help to eliminate child labour and end human trafficking in the labour chain.
Within development circles, the USA’s preference for military intervention overseas, rather than using soft power, such as poverty reduction, is well documented. The consequences of such policies, executed by successive governments, are that the American people have come to believe that human trafficking can only be quashed by might. This is in opposition to a belief that small actions add up, and that by purchasing fair trade and avoiding buying from producers with poor trade practices, positive change will occur within the labour market. Within in the UK there is a far larger understanding of how our actions and habits impact others overseas. There simply is no concept within the general American population that if sizeable numbers of them switched to fair trade it might lead to sustainable development and stability elsewhere, and that in turn may lead to a reduced need for military intervention. In the American psyche they each act as individuals and deny any group think or that actions taken together add up, particularly when the results of their collective actions may be on another continent.
Having said all this, within the USA itself sex trafficking is the largest form of enslavement and makes up 75% of all reported cases according to the Human Trafficking Resource Centre. It is no wonder then that Christians are being called by God to oppose and prevent sex trafficking, it is happening on their turf. For this reason American Christians can and should be acting to stop evil locally.
The author of the article also points out that some Christians are using the fight against sex trafficking to further the ‘Purity cause’. In my time living in the US I have found myself becoming almost envious of American Christian’s moral certainty and in my view we Christians from the UK could learn a lot from their reverence and commitment to the Bible. It is this value and high regard they have for the Bible that drives many of their moral missions. There is a desperate lack of moral certainly within non-Christian culture which can be well demonstrated by the case of Amnesty, who recently voted in favour of supporting the legalisation of prostitution. Christians are being called upon to oppose what God opposes, and God most certainly is against human trafficking within the sex industry and does not want to see it legalised
Sadly, I have also noticed that for some American Christians their commitment to the Bible supersedes their devotion to Christ and knowing him more – to use a Nicky Gumbel metaphor, too often they are still reading the manual rather than driving the car. In the case of much overlooked labour trafficking victims, this can lead to a belief that all work is good and consequently to a failure to see and love the victim as Christ would.
The good news though is that it is possible for American Christians to act against sex trafficking globally and locally, as well as making their purchasing decisions count in the fight against slave labour. Actions to stop sex or labour trafficking are not mutually exclusive. What is needed is more attention in the US media to the small actions each of the American people can take to influence trade so that it protects all those many people who work to produce what the all powerful American consumer wants. If American consumers want fair trade, they will get it.