A great moral calling
JONATHAN FOYE reports that slavery is still a booming business. But modern-day abolitionists are out to defeat it.
Kim Meston was a Tibetan exile living in India when her brother-in-law introduced her to a church minister visiting from the United States.
The minister offered to bring Kim to America, where he would provide her with a formal education and the chance at a better life. After convincing Kim’s parents to let her go, Kim’s brother-in-law made a financial arrangement with the minister, “selling” her.
When Kim arrived in the United States at the age of 16, she began attending high school and working as the minister’s servant, doing nearly all the housecleaning, cooking and tending to the church grounds.
The minister frequently sexually abused her, threatening to have her family in India arrested if Kim told anyone about her treatment.
After five years, Kim received word that her trader had trafficked two of her cousins into the United States to replace her. She took the risk of escaping the minister’s home and approached local police.
The minister was arrested, convicted and sent to jail.
Kim’s experience is not uncommon. While it is hard to determine exact statistics regarding slavery, Free the Slaves’ Kevin Bales estimates that 27 million people worldwide are sold into forced labour, half of them under 18.
Human trafficking is a lucrative industry, generating some $31 billion annually.
The sheer scale of this endemic has attracted the attention of governments across the globe. As former US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice has said, “Defeating human trafficking is a great moral calling of our time.”
David Batstone is among those responding to this moral calling. Dr Batstone, professor of ethics at the University of San Francisco, formed Not For Sale after reading that one of his favourite Indian restaurants in his local area was operating using trafficked women from India.
“This was happening in my country at a restaurant I frequented,” wrote Dr Batstone on the Not For Sale website. “My shock turned into a consuming passion that took me around the world to learn more about how slavery flourishes in the shadows.
“I also learned about the solutions. I met heroes; modern-day abolitionists fighting trafficking and slavery on the front lines. And I knew I had to do something.”
In July, Mr Batstone undertook a whirlwind tour of Australia, with speaking engagements and meetings in Brisbane, Canberra, Sydney and Perth. At the School of Discipleship in Canberra, he said that Genesis’ description of humans made in the image of God meant that people should not be bought or sold.
Dr Batstone’s Not For Sale movement works with governments and authorities to free slaves from their trackers. It provides safe houses and medical care for those that have been freed. It also works to educate consumers about the consequences of their purchasing choices.
Lobbying governments for effective laws in preventing slavery is another focus point. For example, Dr Batstone said that his organisation would work with local groups to defeat the proposed decriminalising of prostitution in South Australia.
Not For Sale believes that, if allowed to pass, this bill would make sex trafficking harder to prevent. Dr Batstone noted that the organisation had successfully lobbied to defeat a similar bill in San Francisco “by a margin of 60 (votes) to 40”.
The Slavery Map and Free2Work.org are two innovations that Not For Sale have developed to educate consumers. Using a Yahoo map, the Slavery Map allows users to record instances of people trafficking for others to read.
Free2Work.org features a rating tool that evaluates the ethical practices of companies and products and allocates a rating from A to F according to their adherence to anti slavery measures. After “marking” a company, Not For Sale contacts them and allows them to improve working conditions before a listing goes online.
According to Dr Batstone, the website had proved to be successful. “Two out of three companies that we talk to get back to us and ask us how they can change their product process,” he said. “That’s really exciting.”
Jonathan Foye is a freelance journalist and a Uniting Church Chaplaincy Associate at UWS.
Kim Meston’s story first appeared in David Batstone’s book Not For Sale. See www.notforsalecampaign.org. Image provided by www.sawso.org.