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Bulletin for the Naïve: Slavery is Alive and Well in 2014


JUST SAYIN’-I think many of us have been under the misguided or mistaken impression that slavery ended with Emancipation and the 13th Amendment.  How naïve we have been and, perhaps, still are. 

With on-the-spot international news, the Internet, and a broad variety of social media, we are obtaining a better sense of the persistent realities that exist around the world.  We are certainly aware of how Boko Haram (Nigeria) kidnapped hundreds of girls and women, many of whom have been or will be sold into slavery.  Boys and men are being kidnapped as well and are being “conscripted” as fighting soldiers, responsible for gruesome actions for groups like Al Qaeda (worldwide), ISIL and Khorasan (Syria and Iraq), Hamas (Palestine), Hezbollah (Lebanon), the Taliban (Afghanistan)—to name the major ones. 

But, are you also aware of the thousands of enslaved people around the world (of all ages—male and female) who are doing hard labor (without pay or receiving an insubstantial and inadequate amount) in industries that produce the clothing we wear and the food we eat?!  Consider the diamonds (blood diamonds) from Africa, bricks from Brazil, and shrimp from Southeast Asia.  What about chocolate, soccer balls, and even flowers from other nations?  

In fact, modern slavery produces a profit of $32 billion a year for the owners.   Can you believe that in the 21st century we are still talking about owners and slaves?  Incredibly, Slave labor (including children as young as 5—kindergarteners if they could go to school) produces 122 goods from 58 countries.  We might assume that most of these statistics pertain only to the so-called third-world countries when, in actuality, “nearly half the total, an estimated $15.5 billion, is made in wealthy, industrialized countries.” 

And what is more, “there are more people living in slavery today than the total number of people taken from Africa to America in the vast trans-Atlantic slave trade between the 17th and 19th centuries”! 

This article will concentrate, however, on the horrors taking place (even as you read this article) in Thailand (formerly Siam).  People are literally sold into slavery for as little as $420.   One victim bravely proclaimed, “They sold us like animals, but we are not animals—we are human beings.”  Worldwide, nearly 30 million people have been stripped of their freedom and forced (on pain of torture or even death) to become modern-day slaves whose output gives the rest of the free world the products it obliviously consumes.  

It is ironic that, legally, slavery has been abolished across the globe, yet it still very much exists and is gaining numbers each and every day.  Babies are being born into such slavery, and old people are dying in the morass in which they per chance found themselves years earlier. 

The Thai fishing industry often forces its workers to labor 20 hours a day.  What is even worse is that they are subject to beatings, torture, and execution-style killings” if they do not comply to orders or complain.  I know it is hard to believe (it reminds me too much of the then newly formed proletariat during the French Revolution when the masses were angry, vengeful, vicious, and compassionless) that many of these Thai slave owners are responsible for inflicting unimaginable and reprehensible torture on their human property.  

In order to make an example that leaves a lasting impression on the powerless, these overseers sometimes draw and quarter uncooperative slaves by attaching their arms and legs to four boats and then pulling them apart limb from limb!  Just imagine how such practices engender ultimate fear in each and every hostage?!  Some (who have lost all hope) take their own lives before they can be subjected to that kind of brutality. 

Among the major conglomerates, Tesco from the United Kingdom and owner of the Fresh and Easy (non-union) stores in America, and, just recently, Walmart (USA) have answered the call (issued by many organizations that are working to end slavery).  These two enterprises have agreed to take steps to stop supporting any fishing industry in Thailand which uses and exploits slave labor.  

Those in the movement, however, are also asking the rest of us to let Costco (USA) and Carrefour (France and the 4th largest retailer in the world—convenience and discount stores, supermarkets and superstores) know that we consumers want these two mega-businesses to make the same commitment. 

These and all companies doing business in Thailand are being urged to support Project Issara whose purpose is to “eliminate modern slavery from the Thai seafood industry and enforce zero tolerance policies on forced labor.” 

Now that we know the truth about these “business practices,” we can no longer look the other way.  We must make our phone calls and do our letter-writing to convince our local fish markets, mom-and-pop stores, supermarkets, and big-box stores to divest from any connection with those Thai fish, shrimp, and prawns companies that engage in such practices.  Use your dollar in a meaningful way—boycott any business unwilling to commit to putting an end to slavery (in all its modern forms). 

Let’s begin with Costco, a company that is usually on the cutting edge of progressive thinking.  Then consider other ways we can make a difference. 

Just sayin’. 

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(Rosemary Jenkins is a Democratic activist and chair of the Northeast Valley Green Alliance. Jenkins has written Leticia in Her Wedding Dress and Other Poems, and Vignettes for Understanding Literary and Related Concepts.  She also writes for CityWatch.)







Vol 12 Issue 79

Pub: Sep 30, 2014

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