Recently, a collection of world faith leaders and Andrew Forrest of the Walk Free Foundation formed a new organization called the “Global Freedom Network” and vowed to “eradicate” slavery by 2020. This will never happen. It is cavalier and misleading to claim human trafficking could be eradicated in five years. Human trafficking is a not a disease, like polio. There is no vaccine. There is no cure. Human trafficking is a crime committed against individuals made vulnerable by poverty and larger systems of exploitation.
Human trafficking is a chronic problem that cannot be easily treated like some minor infection. It is in the very bones of our global economic system. Any effective approach to combatting human trafficking must combine incremental steps toward its reduction with acknowledgment and reconsideration of the global and local systems that perpetuate, enable, and profit from it. To acknowledge these systems requires we admit our personal complicity in the conditions that fuel human trafficking. We all share responsibility for the rabid consumerism, misogyny, racism, homophobia, and indifference to the plight of the impoverished that drive human trafficking.
Recognizing the systemic and chronic nature of human trafficking and forced labor need not preclude any hope of progress. While we may not be able to “eradicate” human trafficking, there is a great deal more that can be done to prevent, combat, and remedy it. While the Global Freedom Network is promoting a wildly ambitious goal, they’re also promoting some decent strategies to fight human trafficking – in particular, that society should work toward ensuring the goods we consume, produce, and sell are free of forced labor. The Global Freedom Network provides multiple resources about how this may be accomplished through supply-chain auditing. However, does the Global Freedom Network’s advocacy of such a widely-supported strategy outweigh the potential damage of their quixotic goal?
Some might argue that while ending slavery by 2020 is completely implausible, it’s important to believe that it’s possible – that ambitious goals can motivate decisive action and create a sense of urgency. This may be the case, but we won’t know the long-term impact of this kind of framing until after 2020. When we have inevitably failed to “eradicate” human trafficking, will the anti-trafficking movement be deflated? Will society collectively decide to abandon the issue because it seems hopeless? And in the meantime, will this 2020 deadline for ending slavery skew anti-trafficking toward silver-bullet solutions that fail to recognize the systemic drivers of human trafficking and forced labor?
Effective anti-trafficking practices aren’t an easy sell. They don’t promise simple answers or quick results. They are messy. They are costly. And they take time. These are practices like academic research, economic development, reducing discrimination against marginalized communities, and creating legal pathways for migration. However, there are also some things we can do right now in the United States to prevent human trafficking and reduce the harms associated with it: vacate prostitution convictions for human trafficking survivors, increase funding for foster care services, enact California’s Supply Chain Transparency Act on a national level, and reform the guest-worker visa system.
None of these solutions will “eradicate” slavery, but they can have positive and immediate impacts on individuals. Above all, we need to recognize that human trafficking is a long-term problem and commit ourselves to the continuous fight against slavery in its numerous and constantly evolving forms.
*The views and opinions expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the position of the HTC
(Photo: Pope Francis was one of the many religious leaders who signed the Joint Declaration of Religious Leaders Against Modern Slavery at the Vatican on World Day for the Abolition of Slavery. Via Creative Commons)
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