One of the first things that I realized when I started my internship at IHTI was that there is a large misconception of what human trafficking entails. For many people it refers mainly to sex trafficking. This doesn’t mean that they ignore the whole signification of the term, but mostly that other forms of human trafficking aren’t talked about often. The very definition of human trafficking is the act of exploiting and trading another human being. This includes forced prostitution but also enslavement, forced labor, forced begging, organs removal, and more. It is more than necessary to identify all of the different sorts of human trafficking in order to be able to fight each form properly and, most importantly, to not participate in it. Most people can agree on the fact that human trafficking should be stopped, but they do not realize that through the items they consume, they often financially support different forms of human trafficking. This is why it is important to raise awareness concerning the importance of fair trade and ethical consumption.

According to the World Fair Trade Organization, the definition of fair trade is “a trading partnership, based on dialogue, transparency and respect, that seeks greater equity in international trade. It contributes to sustainable development by offering better trading conditions to, and securing the rights of, marginalized producers and workers – especially in the South.” (1) While fair trade is a set of rules that defines if an item can be certified fair trade or not, ethical consumption is a political statement. It is the realization that our everyday consumption affects the lives of people from all around the world, and that it is up to us to choose how it will affect them. Naturally, other forms of political statement, such as asking our politicians to introduce supply chain transparency legislation and enforce it, are equally important. But political statements are more than just the use of our political rights such as asking our politicians for change and using our freedom of speech to denunciate and criticize. Our actions, including the way we choose to consume, also and absolutely have consequences – our purchases themselves are political statements.

Amongst others, new technologies (such as smartphones, iPods, computers, cameras, etc.), food (chocolate, coffee, tea, bananas, etc.), and clothes are part of the items with the highest slavery footprint. Fortunately, there are more and more brands that have decided to join the fair trade movement and give people alternatives of buying. For example you can choose to keep the comfort of a smartphone knowing that it is certified Fair Trade with the Fair Phone (2). As for fashion, you can go on the website Ethical Fashion Forum (3) that lists different ethical brands of fashion. In a different way, you can also choose to send a letter to the brands where you often buy your clothes and ask “Who made my clothes?” in order to show them your concerns on the work conditions of people who make the items you buy (4). Another common alternative would be to inform yourself about companies that are known for their horrible work conditions and simply boycott them; you can start by visiting the ethical consumer and ethical shopping websites. (5 & 6)

In a broader sense, there is a wide choice of actions that can have impacts on the life of others – such as keeping yourself informed about the provenance of the items you buy and aware of the labels on them, talking about this subject with people around you, supporting political movements fighting against human trafficking, like IHTI, the Fair Food Program, or many others NGO’s, programs and student organizations. For those who are interested in this subject who would like to learn more, the International Human Trafficking Institute is organizing a few summer activities during July and August concerning ethical consumption and global fair trade in Atlanta. Contact us at ihti@civilandhumanrights.org to learn more.

References:

1. http://wfto.com/fair-trade/definition-fair-trade
2. https://www.fairphone.com/
3. http://www.ethicalfashionforum.com/source-directory
4. http://fashionrevolution.org/
5. http://www.ethicalshopping.com/boycott.html
6. http://www.ethicalconsumer.org/boycotts/boycottslist.aspx