How many of us have gone to a restaurant, past a nondescript warehouse, or stayed in a hotel recently? Chances are whether we knew it or not, we encountered a survivor of human trafficking during one of those moments. There is a misunderstanding surrounding human trafficking in that it only exists in developing countries or impoverished communities; however, it is far more prevalent than most might think. It encapsulates both labor and sexual exploitation surrounding the movement of individuals as an opportunity for profit; all of which can happen hidden in plain sight.
In reality, human trafficking is a violation of human rights, representing a modern-day form of slavery that persists globally. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), an estimated 49.6 million people were living in modern slavery in 2021, of which 27.6 million were in forced labor. With attractions such as Disneyland, sporting and concert venues, and an international airport and harbor it makes Orange County a prevalent hotspot for both labor and sexual exploitation. In a study conducted from 2021 to 2022, the Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force supported over 420 survivors of human trafficking, with 40% of sexual exploitation and trafficking survivors being under the age of 18. In addition, from 2015 to 2022 over 500 individuals under the age of 18 were identified as being survivors of human trafficking, with 70% being from within Orange County.
Trafficking and exploitation can range from stories of wealthy tourists providing false opportunities at their business in a foreign country, to forced labor in factories, inadequate wages, and dire working conditions in restaurants. This illicit trade exploits individuals and typically by threat or force; results in debt repayments and underpayment of wages. Forced labor has been found in countless industries such as textiles, agriculture, mining, manufacturing, and many more. Survivors work under strenuous conditions but receive little or no pay. It is a phenomenon that requires a comprehensive and collaborative approach. January being human trafficking awareness month, we want to focus on labor exploitation and ways to target this issue and ways to combat against this is by engaging and promoting fair trade.
Fair Trade is defined by Fairtrade America as “creating a system of trade where all people involved are able to enjoy the benefits of trade.” Some of the principles of fair-trade include creating quality working conditions for all workers, fair and comparable wages, no forced or child labor within the cycle of trading, and transparency on practices and sourcing. Many of us may wonder how we can support the cause. Shopping at places like Goodwill and wearing vintage clothing promotes the ending of labor exploitation in the prevalent fast fashion industry, while supporting a fair-trade coffee shop ensures smaller farmers are paid a proper wage from a supplier. You can join us here at Radiant Futures in raising awareness during Human Trafficking Awareness Month by shopping secondhand, promoting your favorite fair trade cafe, and even coming by one of our events we have scheduled during the month. Together we can create a lasting change and shed light on an issue so prevalent but well hidden in our community.