Hello, all. This week Keturah asked us to write about what we think the abolitionist movement, as it stands today, needs to succeed. So here are my thoughts on the matter. I still have very little political savvy of economic knowledge, so take them for what they are worth.
1. The abolitionist movement needs commitment. We need to build up the same sort of long-lasting enthusiasm about the anti-human trafficking movement as has been built up about the environmentalist movement. This crime is far too complex and far too entrenched for us to be able to conquer it in the course of the year. The anti-human trafficking movement cannot be one of those causes that becomes “sexy” for a season, and then fades from public prominence. It will take more than just occasionally throwing some money at it, and then, feeling like one has done one’s duty as a philanthropist, letting it fade to the back of one’s consciousness. The abolitionist movement needs strategic, periodic reassessment and constant vigilance. It can never become a fad.
2. The abolitionist movement needs sacrifice. I mentioned the environmentalist movement above. One of the differences between the environmentalist movement and the abolitionist movement is that being green often can save you money. More energy efficient heating, more fuel efficient vehicles, avoiding disposable dishes, taking shorter showers—all of these are financially wise as well as environmentally wise.
The abolitionist movement, on the other hand, may require a greater degree of financial sacrifice. Although Fair Trade items are not always as pricy as one might initially assume they are, they do represent a greater financial investment than non-Fair Trade items (Fair Trade is, of course, only one example of a more ethical purchasing option, but I use it here as an example). And once you start asking people to make greater financial sacrifices, they sometimes stop listening. But the fact is, if we are going to eliminate forced labor, we as a consumer force need to create a demand for ethically produced goods. And I know it’s hard for everyone to commit to buying all-Fair Trade products. Believe me—I am a fresh college grad who is working in an unpaid internship. I am pretty good about buying Fair Trade coffee and chocolate, but I can’t necessarily afford to also commit to only Fair Trade sugar, tea, produce, clothing, etc. So please do not think I am pointing fingers. What I am saying is that strategically, little by little, we as a consumer force need to make the commitment and the financial sacrifice and choose more ethically-produced goods whenever we can. The more people who consciously make this sort of choice, the more we will drive up demand for consumer goods that are not the product of forced or child labor.
The abolitionist movement also needs sacrifice in terms of the willingness to go without a good or a service if it is not provided ethically. Sometimes Fair Trade chocolate is hard to find. The best response in that case—the response that will best further the abolitionist cause—is to go without, and not purchase chocolate at all that day. Or, for those who wish to purchase sex, if they have any suspicion that they might be buying the services of someone who is forced into a life of prostitution, the best response would be to go without, and not risk funding the operations of a trafficker. (In this comment, I do not mean to offer my opinion on prostitution when it is a choice. My thoughts on the morality of prostitution, the legalization of prostitution, etc., are irrelevant for the question at hand. My hope is simply that someone who does not believe it is wrong to buy sex from a consenting adult would recognize that it IS wrong to force someone to sell sex, and that such a person would, if he/she had any doubts about the willingness of the seller, choose to go without the purchase for the time being, rather than risk funding sex slavery.)
Essentially, I am here saying that we need to get over our sense of entitlement—the idea that as long as we can pay for it, we deserve whatever we want, whenever we want it. The abolitionist movement needs people who are willing to sacrifice getting what they want at the moment they want it, because they know that making that purchase could perpetuate the demand for goods and services that are cheap and instant, rather than ethical and socially beneficial.
I think these two attitudes sum um my analysis of what the abolitionist movement needs. If everyone were to approach the movement with an attitude of commitment and of sacrifice (this is, of course, a best case scenario), we could en this crime. Whether a person were to sacrifice $1.50 by buying a Fair Trade chocolate bar, or a night at a strip club because they recognized the risk of funding sex trafficking, or a successful career as a business executive to pursue the development of social enterprises, all these different types of sacrifices would add up to the momentum we really need to turn the tide of an economy that allows the exploitation of human beings.
Unfortunately, it is difficult to create this kind of deep seated social attitude shift; it can take centuries. It is much easier to pass a law. But clearly, passing laws is only minimally effective if it is not accompanied by this kind of attitude shift—slavery has been illegal in the U.S. for almost 150 years, and yet it still happens. So the task of the abolitionists of today is to find ways to foster this kind of attitude shift, through education (educating law enforcement to recognize human trafficking, pressuring law makers and judges to take legal action against traffickers, providing information about ethically made consumer goods to the consuming public) and by cultivating the desire to act on this education.
We have to change culture, and that starts by disseminating the necessary information about the reality of slavery, providing steps for action against slavery, and convincing our society that the cause is important and merits the action.