Kevin Austin’s teenage daughter decided she wanted to know if the items she used in her daily life were the product of slave labor
Kevin Austin’s teenage daughter decided she wanted to know if the items she used in her daily life were the product of slave labor. Austin is a Free Methodist missionary who worked for many years with Not For Sale, a group that fights human trafficking and modern-day slavery around the world. He related this story as he spoke to the local anti-slavery group, McPherson Set Free Movement Monday at The Well. The teenager went into her room and began her research. When she emerged, she informed her parents, she would no longer be wearing Sketcher tennis shoes, and the family would no longer be eating chocolate. Seventy percent of the world’s chocolate comes from a region where slave labor is used. Austin’s family made a conscious decision not use products that were made using slave labor, including many brands of chocolate. Why? He gave the group the statistics. There are an estimated 27 million to 50 million slaves in the world today — more than at the time of the Civil War. Sixty percent of those in slavery are used in labor and the other 40 percent are in the sex trade. There are about 100,000 to 300,000 slaves in the United States, many of which are in the sex trade. Human trafficking is a $32 billion a year global industry. But Austin had personal stories to tell, as well. He said in his work overseas he has witnessed children being bought and sold for as little as 3 U.S. dollars. “You can buy a kid for the price of a latte,” he said. “You can buy a human being for the price of a latte.” Austin emphasized that slavery is not only a moral issue, but a global economic issue. “If you can buy a child for $5, it’s cheaper than drug or guns,” he said, “And you can make a huge amount of money from the time they are 8 to 20. These are disposable people. When they are done, they are thrown away just like that cup of latte.” If U.S. consumers continue to purchase products that are made by people who are held by force or under the threat of violence and forced to do things they do not want to do, slavery will continue to be a reality, he said. He encouraged members of the audience to take steps similar to his family’s in their consumer spending. “It’s a business problem, not just a moral problem,” he said. “The traffickers have so much money they can burn it to keep them warm at night. We will never have a enough money to fund freedom. We cannot rescue 50 million slaves.” He said the global community needs to look at the root causes of slavery in society, and individual voices can be powerful forces, Austin said. He gave the example of slavery in England. A group of Quakers gathered in an upper room and began to pray for the abolishment of slavery. They saw that slave labor was used in the production and transportation of sugar, so they stopped using sugar. The movement spread to artists, musicians, media and finally to law and government. “In one generation, Britain moved to outlaw slavery without bloodshed,” he said, “because a group of people got together and prayed about it.” As the Quakers were motivators for social change in Britain, he said so can church leaders in the U.S. be today. Members of all social segments go to church — teachers, judges, lawmakers, doctors, journalists, artists, parents and business leaders. “‘God and one makes a majority,’ Frederick Douglas said. “It makes no difference if it one or two or 10,” Austin said. For more information about combating slavery, go to www.notforsalecampaign.org or www.setfreemovement.org. To find more about products that are made using child or slave labor go to the Set Free Movement website, click on the “Learn more” button and go to “Resources.” There you will find a PDF of the U.S. Department of Labor’s list of goods produced by child labor or forced labor. This website also has Austin’s 26 ways to end modern slavery with reading resources and more free trade information. Among the links is free2work.org, which offers a downloadable app that will allow the user to scan a product’s bar code and receive the company’s rating on slave labor. The McPherson Set Free Movement meets at 8 p.m. the second Tuesday of the month at The Well in McPherson. The group’s next meeting is Tuesday.