You’re listening to Episode 26 of the Trafficking Dispatch, a biweekly podcast that briefs you on human trafficking issues in a brief amount of time. I’m your host, Victoria Erdel. In this episode, we’ll learn more about supply chain labor trafficking and what we can do to end it.
Back in our Survivors’ Summer Season, we interviewed Hanna Kit, the daughter of a labor trafficking survivor. Hanna’s mother came to the US from Ukraine for work, only to find out that she would be forced to work multiple jobs day and night for little to no pay. We’ll include a link to this interview in our shownotes if you want to hear more of Hanna and her mother’s story. I’m bringing up Hanna and her mom because it highlights the type of labor trafficking that directly benefits the trafficker and client, but doesn’t necessarily connect to any supply chain.
There is another type of labor trafficking, though, that does connect to a supply chain. But before I go any further, let me explain what a supply chain is. Supply chains are officially defined as, “the sequence of processes involved in the production and distribution of a commodity.” To put this in plain English, I’ll provide an example.
Let’s pretend that your favorite clothing store just released a new line of clothing, and you absolutely love one of their long sleeve t-shirts. You go out and buy it, and later read the clothing tag when you need to wash and dry it. The tag says, “Made in Vietnam”. Unless you’re from Vietnam, you might wonder how the t-shirt made it all the way from that country and into your hands. Well, the t-shirt was probably sewn in a factory in Vietnam, but it’s unlikely that the cotton fabric the t-shirt is made out of was woven there too. The Vietnamese factory probably got the fabric for the shirt from a factory in China where they weave cotton into textiles. But the supply chain for this shirt still isn’t over. After all, someone had to grow the cotton. So let’s assume the cotton was grown in Uzbekistan, shipped to China to be woven, then shipped to Vietnam to be assembled, and finally shipped to your country so that you could buy it.
But this is just the production side of a supply chain. There’s also the distribution aspect, which I’ve referenced a few times already. While someone has to make and assemble the materials for your new t-shirt, someone else had to transport these materials all around the world. Someone had to ship the cotton from Uzbekistan to China, then someone had to transport the textile to Vietnam, and then someone else had to bring it to your country. This chain of events in producing and transporting your t-shirt is a supply chain.
So where does the labor trafficking come in? Well, you would hope that your t-shirt was made ethically, but sadly, this isn’t always the case. It’s possible that at some point in creating or transporting your t-shirt, someone was exploited for their labor. It could have been cotton growers in Uzbekistan who were forced to work long hours in a field for little to no pay. If it wasn’t them, it could have been people in China or Vietnam who had to work long hours in a sweatshop with little to no pay. Of if it wasn’t any of them, then it’s possible that the people who transported all of these materials between countries were also working for little or no pay. Maybe even the cashier who sold you the t-shirt wasn’t being compensated fairly for their work!
Supply chains show us one uncomfortable truth: when creating and delivering the products we use in our daily lives, there are a lot of opportunities for labor trafficking. And because there are so many opportunities along the way to exploit people for their labor, it can be very hard to monitor all of the steps that make our favorite clothes, food, and electronics. This uncovers an even more uncomfortable truth: even if you’ve never sold anyone for sex, never recruited a child into a dangerous conflict, never forced anyone to work in your home for free, or participated in any other form of human trafficking, supply chain labor trafficking is the one form of human trafficking that we have all probably contributed to at some point in our lives.
Now, I know that the typical person doesn’t want to perpetuate supply chain labor trafficking. Most people don’t want to buy unethically made products, and most people don’t even know that they are. So I’m not pointing this out to make us all feel bad. It can be hard to know if a product we want to buy is made ethically if the company who made it isn’t clear about their labor practices. But I’m also not pointing this out to make us feel as if we have no control over this situation. There are things that we can all do today to ensure that the products we buy and use in our daily lives are ethically made. The most popular method is to buy fair trade products, or products that are supposedly made with fair labor practices all along their supply chain.
There are other things we can do too. If you have a particular brand of clothing, food, or whatever, that you really like, you can often go on the company’s website and browse around until you find their labor policies. If you can’t find them, then you can email or call the organization repeatedly until they answer your questions about their labor practices. If they still don’t respond, one of the most effective ways to get their attention is to comment on their social media posts. On such a public platform, the company will be forced to answer your questions. Otherwise, they’ll look bad to the rest of their customers. If you do find a company’s labor policies but don’t like what you see, you can again contact them and advocate for better labor practices. If you get your friends involved, you’re more likely to have an impact. Letting companies know that you’re paying attention to how they treat their workers is one of the most effective ways to keep companies accountable.
But if direct advocacy isn’t your thing, there are more indirect ways you can fight supply chain labor trafficking. The first is to just buy less. If you don’t absolutely have to buy something, especially if you don’t know how it was made, then challenge yourself not to buy it. If you do want to buy something, see if you can find a very durable version of it so that you only have to buy it once. For example, I recently bought a reusable cup so that I don’t have to use disposable paper or plastic cups every time I buy hot chocolate from my school’s cafe. While most people might see this as an environmental move, it also stops me from using cups that will have to be replaced by new cups that may not have been made ethically. You can also buy locally-made products so that you’ll have a better idea of who made them and how they were made. Finally, you can always repurpose old products, or buy secondhand. For example, let’s say you find a really great brand-name coat at a thrift shop. Even if the coat wasn’t originally made in an ethical manner, buying it secondhand at least ensures that you aren’t giving your money directly to that brand. You’re using the coat to its fullest extent instead of letting it go to waste.
While it is difficult to monitor all of the steps in a product’s supply chain, there are organizations out there that do this complex work. We’ll hear from a representative of one of these organizations in our next episode. More importantly, there are things that we can all do today to contribute to the fight against this form of human trafficking.
And in speaking of things that we can do, it’s time for our next Audible Audience segment! For this episode, we’ll hear from Dan Goldman, a graphic artist that I had the chance to interview for an article I got published in NYAToday. We’ll include a link to that article in the shownotes. Now let’s hear from Dan and how he uses his artistic abilities to fight human trafficking.
Dan: Hi, my name is Dan Goldman. I'm a 44-year-old writer and visual storyteller at Kinjin Story Lab in Los Angeles, where I develop media with socially conscious narratives. My comic series, "Priya's Shakti" follows a survivor of sexual violence who becomes a super hero determined to dismantle the patriarchy. I'm also working on a new Instagram comic serial, "Wolves in the Streets", with the trafficking prevention organization, UNITAS, that tells US-based stories about C-SEC [Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children], how young people get trapped in the life, and how they can avoid it.
This has been the Trafficking Dispatch with Victoria Erdel. You can subscribe to our SoundCloud channel and tune into our next episode which will be released on November 11th at 5 pm. Or, if you would like to interact with us before then, you can visit our website at thetraffickingdispatch.com, follow us on our social media accounts – our handles are below – or email us with any questions or suggestions at email@example.com. Thank you for tuning into this episode, and we hope you’ll tune in again to join the fight against human trafficking.
Hanna Kit's Interview: https://www.thetraffickingdispatch.com/single-post/2018/06/20/SURVIVORS-SUMMER-SEASON---INTERVIEW-WITH-THE-FOUNDER-OF-HEARSPEAKFREE
Fair trade episode: https://www.thetraffickingdispatch.com/single-post/2017/12/10/SEASON-1-EPISODE-9-HOW-FAIR-IS-FAIR-TRADE
NYAToday article: https://www.nyatoday.com/single-post/2018/10/27/Meet-the-Team-Using-Digital-Comics-to-Fight-Human-Trafficking