Slavery in the United States didn’t end with the Emancipation Proclamation and the Civil War. The United States might have more slaves today than it did in 1860.
Kevin Austin, a Free Methodist missionary working to end modern slavery, first learned about the issue when he was in Thailand. He learned that a child in Thailand can be sold for as little as $4, or about the cost of a cup of coffee.
Austin was teaching 13- and 14-year-olds at the time. When he traveled to a local village, he saw grown men soliciting girls the same age as his students.
“I would see guys who looked like me walking around with people who looked like my students,” Austin said. “I had to ask myself, what am I going to do?”
Since then, he has worked to understand modern slavery in order to more effectively fight against it. He spoke Friday afternoon at The Well about what people in McPherson can do to combat modern slavery.
Austin said current estimates put the number of modern slaves worldwide between 30 million and 50 million. About 40 percent are sex slaves, and the other 60 percent are labor slaves.
He said these numbers don’t count people in slave-like conditions that receive little pay for a day’s work and go home. Rather, these are people who are forced into work against their will.
Erik Anderson is a senior at Central Christian College involved with the Set Free Movement, an organization Austin started to end modern slavery. Anderson said slavery is more pervasive than most people realize.
“It’s a huge issue, and it’s so unknown,” Anderson said. “There are cases of things in Wichita. I think it’s important that people know it’s happening, it’s real.”
Austin said people first need to realize how their lifestyle choices can contribute to modern slavery in unexpected ways.
“If we only look at sex slaves, we can excuse a lot of our lifestyle choices,” Austin said. “Slavery touches so many industries.”
Austin said people can start by visiting www.free2work.org, a website that rates companies according to the efforts they make to prevent slave and child labor based on factors, such as worker policies, transparency and worker rights. He said people might be surprised at what they find.
For example, the site gives 92 out of 102 chocolate companies a D+ grade or lower, and only two received an A grade. Every item in the “Electronics” category received a grade of D or D-, as did every item in the “Beans & Grains” category.
Austin said people should adjust their lifestyles to avoid buying products made with slave labor. He said this will help change the system that makes slavery such a lucrative business, which is estimated to make $32 billion each year.
Page 2 of 2 - “This is a business, and we have got to have business solutions to solve it,” Austin said.
Micah Church, president of Central Christian’s business club, said he wanted to know more about what he could do as a businessman to combat slavery.
“It’s a huge injustice, and we’re so unaware of it,” Church said. “It’s intriguing to find out ways we can raise awareness about things that are happening around us.”
Austin said letting slave labor influence buying habits will decrease the profitability of slave labor. It also will create a culture in which slavery is not tolerated, no matter how distant.
“We can’t just rescue 30 million girls out of slavery,” Austin said, referring to the estimated 30 million underage U.S. girls currently sold into sex slavery. “They would just get 30 million more. We need to crate cultural change so that the demand for slavery goes down.”
Austin said people can use their interests, such as sports, to raise money and awareness of modern slavery. They also can ask questions about where products come from to avoid those made with slave labor.
He said everyone has a responsibility to be more aware of this issue and do something about it.
“We can’t just end modern slavery. We need to create new futures in its place,” Austin said. “It is a sin to steal another person’s destiny. Do we seek justice, or do we wait for it to come?”
Austin will speak at 10:15 a.m. Sunday at the McPherson Church of the Brethren. More information can be found at www.notforsalecampaign.org.
Contact Josh Arnett by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @ArnettSentinel.