Pathways to Modern Slavery


by Michelle Palmer



The reality is that most victims of modern slavery and human trafficking are not abducted or kidnapped. That can happen, and people should exercise reasonable precautions to keep themselves and their loved ones safe, but there are factors that create higher risk, or vulnerabilities, to enslavement. Many of these factors can only be fully alleviated by ending global inequality and extreme poverty, but don’t let that discourage you. While ending global inequality and extreme poverty is a noble pursuit that will take years, understanding these vulnerabilities will help us to understand more ways to fight back against traffickers in the meantime. These factors intersect and overlap and several can be present at once, but because each one can be tackled in different ways, each deserves its own look.


“A bonded laborer named Haresh in West Bengal, India, once described to me how he took a loan of approximately $110 from the local landowner to get married to his beloved wife, Sarika. Two decades later, Haresh told me, ‘My entire family is still in debt to the landowner.  Sarika and I work in the fields, my sons and their wives work at the brick kilns.  One day my grandchildren will work for the landowner.  There is no way to repay these debts.  We will only be free when we die.’” – Siddharth Kara, CNN Freedom Project

Poverty overlaps with almost all of the other risk factors. Debt bondage, or bonded labor, is when a person exchanges their labor for a loan but ends up trapped by the employer, coerced into working long hours to pay off unreasonable interest rates. Often, the employer will provide minimal food and shelter and add these costs to the worker’s debt, resulting in a never ending cycle. 


What happened to Haresh is not wholly uncommon in South Asia. Kara estimates “18.5 to 22.5 million debt bondage slaves in the world today, almost 90% of whom are in South Asia.” The ILO gives a more conservative estimate: 11.7 million slaves in the region, most of whom are bonded laborers. This form of debt bondage is illegal, but extreme poverty leads people to fall prey to these dubious lenders in times of desperation. Many of my examples are from developing regions, but this isn’t something that only happens “over there.” There are people in extreme poverty in the West, and their desperation could lead to situations of enslavement and various forms of forced labor.

Lack of Opportunity

“Nartey is the oldest of 10 siblings. His mother, Maria, is disabled. She cannot work in farming, the traditional and predominant occupation of the family’s indigenous people in a village in the Central Tongu District of Ghana. She had no way to provide for her children and could not afford school fees, so Nartey had to abandon his education at just 13. That is when Nartey was trafficked to a fishing community along Lake Volta.” – Anna Bengel, Free the Slaves

Thankfully, Nartey’s story doesn’t end with his enslavement. Because of Free the Slaves’ efforts alongside partners in Ghana, Maria learned about slavery and is working towards learning a trade so she can be financially independent despite her disability.

In 2015, I worked as a volunteer on a literature review for Free the Slaves on sex trafficking in Nepal. One of the recurring themes I came across was the lack of opportunity for women and girls in rural areas. Their desperation led them to seek work outside of their villages, and in some cases, women were trapped in sexual exploitation in Kathmandu or trafficked into India.   

rgq8JnWhen I was in grad school, I quoted Captain Jack Sparrow at the start of a paper on the concept of freedom. It was risky, I know, but I don’t regret it. In the first film, he tells Elizabeth Swann, “Wherever we want to go, we go. That’s what a ship is, you know. It’s not just a keel and a hull and sails; that’s what a ship needs. Not what a ship is. What the Black Pearl really is, is freedom.”  You see, if the Black Pearl is freedom, then a keel and a hull and sails are the tools needed to escape poverty and desperation. One of the primary tools people need for freedom is opportunity.

Lack of Access to Healthcare

“Impoverished and faced with impossible challenges, Setsofia’s sick mother arranged for him to be trafficked to a fishing village along Lake Volta. It was a desperate bid to get money for treatment for her protracted illness.” – Anna Bengel & Theodore Atsu Ameme, Free the Slaves


As I said, many of these factors overlap. Anna and Theodore (quoted above) tell a story about Setsofia (spoiler: it has a happy ending!), and it sounds really similar to the story about Nartey. Nartey’s mother didn’t have opportunity because of her disability, and Setsofia’s mom was bedridden due to a sudden illness. The difference is that access to quality healthcare may not have helped Nartey’s mom, but it would certainly have made a difference for Setsofia and his family.

Lack of access to healthcare can also lead to debt bondage. “Lenders” prey on those who can’t afford a life-saving procedure or treatment for a loved one, and family members can become trapped by the debts obtained paying for medical expenses.

Violence/Lack of Law Enforcement

Millions of the world’s poor are trapped in slavery, because there’s no one there to protect them. In many places, the laws against slavery simply aren’t enforced by the police and courts—so slave owners and traffickers know they can prey on the poor without fear of any consequences at all.” – IJM

On duty

Anti-slavery laws are on the books everywhere, but those laws must be enforced. The American anti-slavery organization, IJM (International Justice Mission), focuses its efforts on this particular weakness. In fact, IJM CEO and founder, Gary Haugen, wrote an entire book on the issue; in The Locust Effect, Haugen argues that ineffective justice systems are hindering poverty alleviation worldwide. “While the world has made encouraging strides in the fight against global poverty, there is a hidden crisis silently undermining our best efforts to help the poor. It is a plague of everyday violence.” In regards to slavery in particular, whether law enforcement officers are not trained to spot human trafficking or they’re being bribed by the traffickers, effective law enforcement is a key component of ending the practice altogether.

War and Unrest

“Armed conflict and a weak government allow slavery to flourish in eastern Congo. Forced labor and sex slavery are widespread in mining regions—as is forced marriage.” Free the Slaves, Congo

121123110824-congo-crowds-fleeing-horizontal-large-galleryWar and unrest in a region create vulnerabilities to modern slavery in a number of ways. In Democratic Republic of Congo, which is remarkably rich in natural resources that are used in our modern technologies, men and children are forced to mine for these resources by groups of armed militants to fund their war. In other regions, children are forcibly recruited into the conflict. (See Channon’s post on Child Soldiers.) Refugees are also at a higher risk of being trafficked, simply because of the desperation of their situation. Without a home, seeking asylum, people may come to rely on traffickers to help them escape to what they hope will be a better, safer life.  


“‘I’d seen a lot of women in my village go abroad. I thought I could earn enough money and do something with it.’ Instead, for attempting to access the basic human right to a decent job, Seema was trapped as a domestic slave for more than two years.” – Survivor Stories, Free the Slaves

This particular vulnerability is closely connected to poverty, lack of opportunity, and war and unrest. Not all immigrants are vulnerable to trafficking. For example, Channon and I both immigrated to the UK for our studies. The difference is that we chose to leave our homes to study, not to escape a desperate economic situation or violence in our home countries. Migrant workers are particularly vulnerable to being trafficked.migration1-537x350.png

I took the quote above from Seema’s and Kamala’s Survivor Story from Free the Slaves (another happy ending!). It’s a story I’ve come across all too often in my research (but not always with a happy ending):  No opportunity at home. Recruited for a job overseas. Arrive in a foreign country. Passports and visas taken by employers. Trapped and abused as a domestic slave. (Or a construction worker. Or a farmworker.)  

Runaway and Homeless Youth

“…people who may not be financially stable because of homelessness or a lack of job opportunities may be susceptible to manipulation by traffickers who promise safety, stability, a job, or a better life. Runaway and homeless youth, as well as victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, past violence or abuse, or social discrimination are also frequently targeted by traffickers.” –  Stay Safe, Polaris Project


Many of the examples used previously have been about factors that are more common in, but not confined to, developing regions. However, this particular issue affects young people both at home and abroad, particularly those identifying as LGBTQ. According to Covenant House, “40% of homeless and runaway youth in the U.S. identify as gay or transgender.” If they are rejected by their families after coming out, LGBTQ youth may end up on the streets and be targeted for sexual exploitation. To a slightly lesser extent, this is true for other homeless and runaway youth as well. Without a home or a family, there is a desperation for stability and belonging.

I’m ending this section with another quote because it’s incredibly important in combating this particular risk factor.

“Sociological research shows that what makes people most vulnerable to being victims of trafficking is the same thing that makes people most vulnerable to being perpetrators of trafficking: an extreme need for belonging. Actual, sustainable trafficking prevention at its most foundational is, therefore, loving yourself, being yourself, loving others, and encouraging others to be themselves. Creating community and being connected is the safest way forward.” – Zhaleh Boyd

Lack of Rights Awareness

“In the Congo, for example, we support the broadcasting of anti-slavery messages over a network of community radio stations. In Nepal, we explain the risks of labor trafficking and how to migrate safely. We work with communities to organize anti-slavery committees that act as a neighborhood watch against slavery and as a bridge to the police and other authorities.” – Free the Slaves FAQs

00532006701_20150525Simply put, people just don’t know their rights or the dangers of modern slavery. Many who are trapped in debt bondage don’t realize that the lenders are violating the law. Seema and Kamala, whose story I mentioned earlier, now work to educate other Nepalese women about the dangers of migrating for work and help them determine if they are being tricked by recruiters. Rights education is an essential component of prevention.


This is by no means an exhaustive list of the causes of modern slavery, but I hope it sheds some light on the ways in which traffickers prey on people in desperate situations. By tackling these areas of vulnerability, we can begin to prevent slavery before it happens.

For More Information…

Chocolate’s Impact on Modern Slavery

Most of the world’s cocoa beans come from West Africa, specifically Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire. In 2015, Tulane University released a report that estimated that over 2 million children were involved in “hazardous work” in the cocoa industry in that region. Not all child labor is technically “slavery,” but “hazardous work” is one of the worst forms of child labor as outlined by the ILO. Exploitation is exploitation, and our duty to be conscientious consumers remains the same whatever form it takes.

REMEMBER: The blue underlined bits that lace all our posts (this one even more than most) are links to statistics, background information, examples, and other helpful info on the topics we cover. If you’re curious about something, click the surrounding links and dig deeper!


Recently, a friend asked me to do a post on chocolate and slavery, a topic I wrote about years ago for my old blog. In that post, I discussed, without much research, the use of slave labor in the chocolate industry. At the time, I felt the only solution would be to boycott any chocolate unless it was certified some way as slave-free or fair trade. Over the years, as I’ve learned more about the complexities of the market, I’ve come to recognize that it’s really not that simple. Furthermore trying to avoid every item that may have been tainted by slavery or exploitative labor would be nearly impossible. I learned that slavery may have been used to build my cell phone, make my carpet and my clothes, harvest my shrimp, and mine my gold. And I also learned that “fair trade” isn’t always fair. carpet

In this post, I’m going to focus on chocolate and the complex nature of exploitation within the industry. But I will also focus on the hopeful side: what’s being done and how you can help.

Child Labor in the Cocoa Industrynino-cacao

Most of the world’s cocoa beans come from West Africa, specifically Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire. In 2015, Tulane University released a report that estimated that over 2 million children were involved in “hazardous work” in the cocoa industry in that region. Some of these children may be the children of cocoa farmers; others may have immigrated voluntarily from neighboring countries to seek work. This is where it gets complicated: Not all child labor is technically “slavery,” but “hazardous work” is one of the worst forms of child labor as outlined by the International Labour Organization (ILO). These distinctions are important when it comes to laws, law enforcement, data, and research, but exploitation is exploitation, and our duty to be conscientious consumers remains the same whatever the form of exploitation is.

What about Fair Trade?

cacao2In that years-old blog post about chocolate, I put a lot of faith into chocolate that was fair trade or otherwise certified to be made without exploitation. Unfortunately, the truth is that the ideals of fair trade are much loftier than their realities. Fair trade isn’t bad, nor is it the cure-all I thought it to be. In a review of The Fair Trade Scandal: Marketing Poverty to Benefit the Rich by Senegalese development economist, Ndongo Samba Sylla, The Economist sums up two major problems with fair trade:

“Among the problems has been a proliferation of labels and organisations that make a living from certification and licensing use of the labels. There are over 600 labels in Britain alone. This has blurred the definition of what qualifies as fair trade.

Worse, there is little evidence that fair trade has lifted many producers out of poverty, not least because most of the organisations that are certified tend to come from richer, more diversified developing countries, such as Mexico and South Africa, rather than the poorer ones that are mostly dependent on exporting one crop. […] According to Mr Sylla’s calculations, for each dollar paid by an American consumer for a fair-trade product, only three cents more are transferred to the country it came from than for the unlabelled alternative.”

chocolate-pour_wide-48aea73792ce34715bdb1ab4dd058f99a649b9a5-s900-c85Mr. Sylla goes further to explain the thesis of his book in an article for The Guardian: “The unequal distribution of the gains of Fairtrade (FT) derives in a large part from the characteristics of certification. The certification system presents a twofold bias against the poorest developing countries. First, there are considerations related to the costs of certification. These being the same everywhere, they are relatively more expensive for the most disadvantaged countries, all other things being equal. Then, due to its sliding-scale price structure, certification is less costly for large producer organisations than for smaller ones. Finally, the cost of compliance with FT standards (changes in agricultural and administrative practices that often lead to an increase in working hours) is higher for small organisations due to their lower productivity and lower economies of scale.”

(You can find another robust explanation of the flaws of fair trade, particularly in relation to coffee — but the principles carry over — in Colleen Haight’s article for the Stanford Social Innovation Review, “The Problem with Fair Trade Coffee.”)

So, what do we do?

If fair trade isn’t the answer, what is?

  • Do some research, find out which brands are committed to cleaning up their supply chains and/or operate on a direct trade (bean-to-bar) model, and share their stories. Many of them source their beans from South America; encourage them to expand their model to Africa.
  • Reach out to your favorite chocolate companies. Engage with them via social media. Hound them relentlessly about their corporate social responsibility and what they’re doing to ensure their supply chains aren’t tainted by exploitation and that they do their part to alleviate poverty in the places where they do business. Do the same with the International Cocoa Initiative and the World Cocoa Foundation. Remind them that voluntary self-regulation isn’t enough!  slavefreechocolate-300x300.png
  • Ethical Chocolate Companies, a list by Slave Free Chocolate – Some of these companies rely on certifications that may or may not be fair. Encourage them to reevaluate their methods and pursue direct trade models with more farmers in poorer countries.  
  • At the heart of the problem is poverty. Alleviating poverty and global inequality is key to ending many forms of labor exploitation. Support organizations who are working to make a difference, specifically in West Africa:

And if this seems overwhelming and you need some extra help or direction, contact me! Seriously, get in touch, and we can work on solutions together!

For More Information….


Fair Trade:

Supply Chains:

Modern Slavery: A Collection of Stories

by Michelle Palmer

After my post on Forced Labor and Channon’s post on Sex Trafficking, my own dear dad suggested I write a post with some examples to show what happens and how it happens. I agreed it might be helpful to demonstrate the various ways people are tricked, trapped, and exploited so that we can build a more robust understanding of the forms slavery takes today. I have taken these examples from various anti-slavery organizations. Please consider visiting the links attached to each story for more information and how you can help end slavery.

*Stories marked with an asterisk are excerpts. Follow the link in the title for the full story.

Time for electronics industry to end supply chain slaveryApple-Getting-Rid-of-Potentially-Dangerous-Chemicals-in-the-iPhone-Assembly-Line-Video-AP-455080-2_opt*

“One such story goes like this. In 2011, a Nepali man named Bishal (not his real name) applied for a job with a Malaysian electronics company. He was told he could only be employed if he first paid a $1,266 fee — about double the average annual income in Nepal. Since Bishal didn’t have savings, he borrowed the funds from a moneylender at a monthly interest rate of 5%, using his family land as collateral. After calculating the promised monthly salary, he was confident he would be able to pay back the loan and save money to send home for his family. When he arrived in Malaysia, Bishal was faced with additional fees and realized he’d been deceived about his salary. After purchasing food and transport, he had about $90 left over each month to pay down the loan and send home to his family. This will be Bishal’s reality for the two years that he estimates it will take him to pay off his loan. The debt isn’t the only thing keeping Bishal in Malaysia. He was also forced to surrender his passport to his Malaysian employment manager. He cannot leave. He is a modern-day slave. And he is not alone.”

From CNN via Verite

Restavek Slavery in Haiti: Evelyn’s Story

Evelyn.jpg“Evelyn Benèch was only 10-years-old when her parents sent her from their remote rural community to live with a family in Port-au-Prince. Although an urban family promised to care for her and send her to school, they instead forced her to work nonstop and regularly abused her. Evelyn became trapped in restavèk slavery.

Fortunately for Evelyn, her mother participated in a child rights training sponsored by Beyond Borders. As she learned about the great risks facing children who live apart from their families, Evelyn’s mother decided to do all she could to find and retrieve her daughter. It wasn’t easy, but eventually Evelyn’s mother found her and brought her back home where Evelyn, now 16, goes to school.”

From Beyond Borders

Eric from the Philippines: Trafficked to Palm Plantations in Sabah

“Eric was a 23-year-old farmworker from the Philippines who decided to pursue employment as an Overseas Foreign Worker in Malaysia. Eric’s recruiter offered him a plantation job that paid US$444 per month, including meals and accommodation, with potential for overtime. He was told that his work visa would be given to him at the job site. Upon arrival, Eric’s passport was taken. He was housed with 9-12 workersPalm-oil per bedroom and charged US$10 a week for food, which amounted to almost two days of work. Workers had a quota of 150 fruit bunches a day. If workers didn’t meet the quota, they had to continue working, miss their ride and walk 1.5 hours home through dense and dark thickets. Food and water were inadequate. Eric had to buy canned food on credit and boil rain water for drinking and cooking. Eric never received his work visa. He was not paid at all at the first plantation and left after two weeks for another plantation with even poorer living conditions. When work conditions did not improve at the second plantation, a group of workers objected. In response, the labor contractor had the workers arrested for improper work visas. Eric was taken to a detention center for deportees, where he spent almost ten months. Eric’s total loss was US$2859, and he received no pay during his stay. He was unable to pay off the loan he took to pay the recruiter’s fee.”

From Verite

Grace’s Story*

“As a 10-year-old girl, Grace was abused at the hands of a trusted family member. In her words she says: ‘This abuse changed the way I saw myself in the mirror, and in the way I presented myself to other people. My self-esteem deteriorated, and my relationships with men were completely skewed. As I grew up I fell into a battle with drugs and an eating disorder.’

Her life was spiraling out of control so she decided to make a change and move in an effort to start over. One day, she met a man who befriended her in her new town. He offered her a job providing massage services out of his home. In her vulnerable state, Grace accepted the job, but it wasn’t long before she discovered she had been lied to. Unknowingly, Grace had fallen into the trap of human trafficking.

Held against her will and forced to sleep with multiple men a day, Grace was sold as a sex slave in the middle of one of the wealthiest and  ‘safest’ places in the United States. As time went on, the abuse and conditions became worse and she desperately longed for a way out. Every threat imaginable was thrown at her– threats of violence, withholding of the drugs to which she was now completely addicted, and harm to her family.”

From A21

Brick Kiln Owner Guilty for Trapping 12 People in Bonded Labor Slavery*

“On Friday, justice was served for 12 former bonded labor slaves, as the wealthy brick kiln owner who had once trapped and abused them was found guilty for his crimes.

Back in 2010, this kiln owner had personally recruited impoverished women and men from small villages several hours outside Bangalore. He promised the families good wages to work in his kiln, but instead forced them to labor more than 12 hours a day for only a fraction of their promised pay.

The families were constantly supervised, could never leave the1920_survivors-on-the-day-after-rescue.jpg kiln, and could not even talk to one another as they toiled all day in the hot sun making bricks by hand. If any laborers escaped, the owner and his henchmen tracked them down and dragged them back.

In August 2014, IJM partnered with anti-trafficking police, local police and district officials to conduct a rescue operation at the facility and bring all 12 laborers and their young children to safety.

‘They were so ready to leave,’ remembers IJM’s Esther Daniel. ‘When we walked into the facility, I motioned to two women holding children. They just ran toward us. We could physically feel their desire to be free and out of that horrible situation.'”

From IJM

Eleven Boys and Young Men Freed from a Shoe Factory

“Proactive government officials, police and IJM staff rescued 11 laborers from an urban shoe factory last Wednesday, including three teenage boys and many others who had been trafficked from northern India.

The workers told authorities they had followed the traffickers under the promise of a well-paying job, but instead were heavily controlled and forced to work in harsh conditions.

The men toiled from 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m., seven days a week, making women’s high heels. They worked with scalding-hot machinery and breathed harsh chemicals all day. They ate and slept in the same room where they worked. Some had been enslaved this way for up to four years.

One young man later explained, ‘In four years, I was never allowed to visit my home in Bihar, although I requested it many times. I thought of running away, but others who had run away were brought back and beaten with iron rods, tortured with long needles and locked in a room for several days.’

IJM Bangalore discovered the shocking abuse in the factory and alerted local officials. Together, they coordinated the rescue operation that brought these young men to safety and gathered evidence to arrest their abusers. One supervisor is currently in custody, and police are searching for the other alleged traffickers.

After the rescue, government officials granted each of the rescued laborers Release Certificates, which break the false debts and other claims the traffickers used to enslave these men. They also ensured each worker had food and medical care, then arranged for them to travel home to Bihar by train. IJM staff accompanied the men to ensure they returned safely.

The three teenage boys rescued during the operation are under protection with the Child Welfare Committee, who will determine when it is safe for them to go home.”

From IJM

Tricked and Trapped By a Traffickerf6iWfk-P*

“Tina bounced through more than 20 foster homes before being adopted by loving parents at age 12. She was insecure and vulnerable when a guy in his 20s approached her one day as she was heading to a neighborhood store in Chicago. ‘I didn’t know what trafficking was,’ Tina says. ‘I didn’t know what a pimp was. I didn’t know what slavery was. I had no idea.’ The older guy struck up a friendly conversation. He wasn’t threatening. Tina thought she had nothing to fear. The guy began to buy her gifts and drive her to school. He was building up trust, while secretly planning to snatch it away. On her 14th birthday, Tina accepted a ride from the man, but this time he trafficked her to Cleveland, Ohio, where she was raped and trapped as a sex slave. For more than a year, Tina was forced to serve up to 18 men a day. She was beaten and burned with cigarettes if she failed to earn enough money for the trafficker. She was warned that calling for help would be futile.”

From Free the Slaves

Brothers in Slavery*

Screen Shot 2017-03-27 at 10.16.12 PM.png“Elias Vieira da Silva and Nerisvan da Silva Elias survived day by day. Housed in a dilapidated shack, sleeping on hammocks, pelted by rain. They had no clean drinking water. There was no bathroom. They were responsible for clearing brush and applying pesticides to control weeds in pastures at a cattle ranch— with no personal protective equipment. ‘I once asked for a cape to protect me from the poison,’ Elias recalls. ‘The boss told me to use an old bag, so that’s what I did.’ The brothers were totally dependent on a ranch hand for all their food. When Elias asked for money to buy meat himself, he was told: ‘The poor were born to be poor, and rich to be rich.’ The São Lucas farm is just six miles from the city of Araguaína, but the two could not escape. The farm boss threatened they would never be paid if they tried to leave. Still, Nerisvan was worried about his older brother’s exposure to toxic chemicals.”

From Free the Slaves

For more information….

The Worldwide Problem of Sex Trafficking


by Channon Oyeniran

“The brothels are incredibly lucrative. The girl who ‘cost’ $150 can be sold for sex up to ten times a night and bring in $10,000 per month. The only expenses are payments to the police [bribes] and a pittance for food.” – Kevin Bales, Disposable People


As previously mentioned in posts here on Tuesday Justice written by Michelle and myself, modern slavery and human trafficking are not new phenomena. Rather, there is a growing understanding of just how complex these systems are. Modern slavery comes in various forms such as chattel slavery, debt bondage, forced labour, sex trafficking, etc., to name a few. However, as Michelle mentioned in last week’s post about forced labour, she, and I too, “[…] noticed that sex trafficking/sexual exploitation gets far more exposure than labor trafficking/forced labour…” While any form of slavery is wrong, in this week’s post, I want to discuss sex trafficking, what it is, downloadexamples of where it is happening (spoiler alert: everywhere) and what WE can do to help victims and fight against sex trafficking.

Defining Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking:

I think that it’s important that we define and know exactly what some of these terms and definitions mean. This will help in understanding and being able to spot modern slavery and human trafficking situations when we may see them.

(Note: It should be noted that there is some debate surrounding these terms, but we are using the most common and leaving the debate to the scholars, for now.)

Modern Slavery

4bb5e79cff3b44e186cdb670a1625cfb_7When defining what modern slavery is, I believe we need to look at defining it in comparison with historical slavery. Historically, slave owners and masters legally owned enslaved people, thus making them their legal property. However, the perpetrators who participate in modern slavery do not legally own the people they enslave and exploit; rather they use tactics of manipulation, fraud, trickery, force and violence to ensure that people remain in their control. In 1926, the member states of the League of Nations (a predecessor of the United Nations) came together for the first time, creating the Slavery Convention, defining a single definition for what slavery is and establishing global, compulsory rules to abolish it. The League of Nations defined slavery as this: “Slavery is the status or condition of a person over whom any or all the powers attaching to the right of ownership are exercised.” (Emphasis added.) This definition of slavery shows us an absence of legal ownership in the master-slave relationship. The similarity in both historical and modern slavery is that an enslaved person is forced to work through fraud, deception or the threat of violence for no pay beyond receiving basic things like food and clothing. Another central aspect of slavery found in both the historical and modern is the loss of freedom and choice that the enslaved person experiences.

Human Trafficking

human20trafficking20definition20boxAccording to the US Department of State, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, passed in 2000 and which aims to punish traffickers while protecting their victims, whose status might otherwise make them vulnerable to arrest or deportation, defines human trafficking as: “The recruitment, harbouring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labour or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.” This is just one definition of human trafficking and is sometimes used in law to enforce and prosecute perpetrators when they are involved in this aspect of modern slavery.

One major factor that can contribute to people being trafficked is their economic situation. Trafficking often directly relates to economic circumstances, which can directly contribute to the continuance of human trafficking and modern slavery. Many people around the world are living in bondage based on their financial situation. The current economic crisis in various countries worldwide is certainly contributing to the vulnerability of those victims who are susceptible to forced labour, debt bondage, and sex trafficking.  In 2009, Luis CdeBaca, who presented the annual Trafficking in Persons Report said, “Persons who are under economic stress are more likely to fall prey to the wiles of the traffickers who often get their victims through promises of a better life, promises of better earnings.” Consequently, poverty, economic stress and a lack of opportunities are all underlying contributors to people becoming victims of human trafficking and ultimately modern slavery.

Sex Trafficking:

imgAccording to the Polaris Project, an organization fighting to eradicate modern slavery, sex trafficking is “[…] a form of modern slavery that exists throughout the United States and globally. Sex traffickers use violence, threats, lies, debt bondage, and other forms of coercion to compel adults and children to engage in commercial sex acts against their will.” (It’s important to note here that sometimes this happens gradually. Someone engaging in sex work voluntarily may end up in a situation from which they cannot escape, and the line can be difficult to discern.) The ILO also states that, “[…] out of 8.7 million […] people that are in forced labour, 4.5 million (22%) are in forced sexual exploitation[…],” and half of those people being trafficked are children. Sex trafficking is not just limited to developing countries or countries riddled with poverty; sex trafficking can happen anywhere and at any time. It’s happening here in Canada, in motel rooms across the United States and even on farms in Sicily. The Polaris Project mentions on their website that sex trafficking can occur in a variety of locations and venues including but not limited to the following:  “fake massage businesses, via online ads or escort services, in residential brothels, on the street or at truck stops, or at hotels and motels.” Sex trafficking can happen to young children, teenagers, and of course adults. Although more prevalent among females, men and boys can also be victims of sex trafficking. 

Case Study: Sex Trafficking – Nigeria to Italy

_84507113_human_trafficking_north_africa_624_v2This article came through on my Facebook newsfeed about two weeks and its headline caught my eye with the words “Trafficked”, “Nigerian” and “at crisis level”. “Uh-oh, this looks serious,” I thought, and as I read through the article, I realized the intensity and how massive human trafficking and sex trafficking are in Europe and in countries like Italy. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the number of Nigerian women who are traveling to Libya and then to Italy for the sole purpose of being exploited and sex trafficking is increasing and doubled in number in 2016. Of the 11,009 Nigerian women who registered at adding points in Sicily in 2016, the IOM believes that 80 percent of these women were trafficked and will be forced to live a life of forced prostitution, in Italy and other European nations. 

Simona Moscarelli, anti-trafficking expert at the IOM, had this to say about what is happening to Nigerian women traveling to Italy:  “What we have seen this year is a crisis, it is absolutely unprecedented and is the most significant increase in the number of Nigerian women arriving in Italy for 10 years. Our indicators are the majority of these women are being deliberately brought in for sexual exploitation purposes. There has been a big enhancement of criminal gangs and trafficking networks engaging in the sexual exploitation of younger and younger Nigerian girls
.” Moscarelli also points out that many of these Nigerian women are already victims of trafficking before they reach Italy and that the reception centres they go when they first arrive in Italy do not help them, but are used to the advantage of the traffickers.

This article was really eye opening for me in the sense that, even in the places that appear to be fine and lovely, horrendous things, like sex trafficking, are taking place and are increasing. This article was also a reminder to me to maintain being diligent within my own small town east of Toronto to look out for potential signs of human trafficking and modern slavery in all of its forms. 


What you can do:

  1. Get Educated – Read up on as much as human trafficking and modern slavery as you can so you will know what it is about, how to spot it and how to help end it!
  2. Support the organizations that are working to end sex trafficking, human trafficking and modern slavery! Below are some organizations that are doing their part to end it. But a simple Google search will help you identify what organizations are doing something in your local community!

For more information:

An Introduction to Forced Labor

Where does it happen? Everywhere. Yes, even in the United States. The U.S. based NGO, KnowTheChain, estimates that in the U.S. 5% of farm workers are victims of forced labor. There are also Filipino domestic workers enslaved in the Middle East, Cambodian fisherman exploited in Thailand, Brazilians trapped deep in the Amazon making charcoal…

by Michelle Palmer

When I tell people I studied modern slavery studies, it usually goes something like this: They give me that look — the look that says, “Modern what?”– and I say, “You know, like human trafficking,” and they say, “Oh, like sex trafficking?” and then I say, “Yes, and other types of slavery, like forced labor.” And then there’s kind of a blank stare after that.b0ef92632a63e0b664efab34b2eba94c

Even before I got my degree, I noticed that certain forms of slavery get more attention than others. I’ve particularly noticed that sex trafficking/sexual exploitation gets far more exposure than labor trafficking/forced labor, while in fact, it is generally thought that more people are trapped in forced labor than in forms of sexual exploitation. Free the Slaves estimates that 78% of slaves are involved in forced labor compared to 22% in sex trafficking. We could debate the causes and effects of this attention disparity, but we’ll save that for another Tuesday. Also, it must be said that sexual exploitation and forced labor are not mutually exclusive and there is overlap amongst all the various forms of modern slavery. For now, I just want to focus on doing my part to close the information gap and provide an introduction to forced labor.

The What, Where & How? of Forced Labor

“Forced labour refers to situations in which persons are coerced to work through the use of violence or intimidation, or by more subtle means such as accumulated debt, retention of identity papers or threats of denunciation to immigration authorities.” ILO

Like sexual forms of slavery, labor trafficking can begin voluntarily. Not everyone who is trafficked is stolen away like the daughter in Taken. Sometimes, people agree to take jobs and find themselves in a situation from which they cannot escape.

lk-brickThis happens in a variety of ways, and one of the most vulnerable groups of people to trafficking is migrants. It goes something like this:  There’s the promise of a good job, with high wages, in a foreign country. An individual may apply for this job and may even pay the recruiter or employer for taking care of visa requirements. Upon arrival, the employer takes the visa and the passport and says, “If you leave, the police will arrest you for being here illegally.”

Or maybe like this: There is a health crisis in the family. There’s no money for healthcare. The family borrows money from a lender and puts themselves up as collateral. The idea is that they will pay off the debt through their labor, but the debt will never be paid due to exorbitant interest rates.

Where does it happen? Everywhere. Yes, even in the United States. The U.S. based NGO, KnowTheChain, estimates that in the U.S., 5% of farm workers are victims of forced labor. There are also Filipino domestic workers enslaved in the Middle East, Cambodian fisherman exploited in Thailand, Brazilians trapped deep in the Amazon making charcoal. One of the challenges of fighting forced labor is that in comes in so many forms. Here are few stories of how it happens and what it looks like:

ap060330027560_immokalee2Florida –  “In the most extreme conditions, farmworkers have been held against their will and forced to work for little or no pay, facing conditions that meet the stringent legal standards for prosecution under modern-day slavery statutes. Federal Civil Rights officials have successfully prosecuted seven slavery operations involving over 1,000 workers in Florida’s fields since 1997, prompting one federal prosecutor to call Florida ‘ground zero for modernday [sic] slavery.’ In 2010, federal prosecutors indicted two more forced labor rings operating in Florida. Modern-day slavery operations do not take place in a vacuum. Rather, they occur at the far end of a spectrum of labor abuses faced by farmworkers, including sub-poverty annual earnings, the denial of common workplace protections, and the prevalence of sexual harassment, verbal abuse, and wage theft. As U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders has explained, ‘The norm is a disaster, and the extreme is slavery.’” – Coalition of Immokalee Workers

80ee93dc-ae36-4d1f-a079-0093b9981e7bScotlandAbul Azad left Bangladesh for a chef’s job in London – so how did he end up enslaved in a remote Scottish hotel? “‘[The employer] had a contract and a visa, everything was official,’ Azad says. ‘I didn’t know it could be abused. I showed it to my father and said, “Give me a chance, I want to go. Here, you can see the contract. It is good pay, good working conditions, a proper salary.” Is it my fault for believing this? All the time he [Arefin] gave me great hope. He said, ‘What’s your life like in Bangladesh? What is there for you? Think about your son.’ I fell into his big hope trap. And I couldn’t get out again.’” Read the whole story here.

InCarpet factorydia – “Their story is tragically common. The boys are from impoverished communities in the Indian states of Bihar and West Bengal. Relatives, working secretly as trafficking recruiters, promised the boys’ parents that their children would have better lives if they travelled to work at a carpet factory in the city of Bhadohi in the state of Uttar Pradesh. Each parent received an advance payment of $70. Initially, for a month, the boys were paid and their families received $40. But then, the factory owner claimed the boys weren’t productive enough to be paid at all. When the boys complained, they were beaten. They were fed, kept alive to work day by day, but they were not allowed to leave.” – Free the Slaves

congo-miningCongo – “The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC or Congo) is rich in resources that make modern life possible—minerals used by industrialized nations in manufacturing, jewelry, and many other industries. Gold and the ‘Three Ts’ (tin, tungsten, tantalum) are used in everything from cars to medical devices, household goods to high-tech electronics. Mineral resources have the potential to help the DRC’s economy expand and diversify. But instead, much of the profit benefits groups engaged in armed conflict. Ore mined by slaves is smuggled into global supply chains for metals, tainting products we use every day.” – Free the Slaves

What  YOU can do about it:

  1. Buy responsibly! Research which companies are committed to slave-free supply chains and shop accordingly. Learn more about consumer responsibility at
  2. Support the organizations that are working to end it!


Signing up for AmazonSmile and Shop & Support are great ways to support without even thinking about it!!

For more information:

2017: “But what can we do?!”

Some days it doesn’t feel like enough. In fact, a lot of days it feels like the little things I do aren’t enough to make any difference at all. But if none of us do anything because all of us feel like it’s not enough, then nothing will ever get better. We need EVERYBODY to play a part: liberal, conservative, Republican, Democrat, independent… EVERYBODY. If we ALL do what we can, I promise we can have #ABetterNextYear.

by Michelle Palmer

On the second to last day of 2016, I was eating dinner with friends, and we were talking politics (I know, I know…it’s against the rules, but we did it anyway). I’m not sure we were so much talking politics as we were lamenting them. And eventually, inevitably the question came: “But what can we do?!?!”

I’ve been thinking of that question a lot ever since. “But what can we do?!?!” Turns out, there’s quite a lot.

(SIDENOTE: If you don’t lament the current state of politics as I do, you are still absolutely and unequivocally invited to join us in our quest for justice & freedom for all! I know several people who voted for the incoming administration for very specific reasons but are not necessarily on board with every decision and position, and if that’s you, you are ESPECIALLY invited! Please continue to use your voice. We don’t have to agree on everything to work together.)


Immediately, my friend Sarah’s December project came to mind. She called it #ABetterNextYear, and every day she did something to end 2016 on a positive note and set up 2017 to be BETTER. (So inspiring!!) Her own words are better than mine:

“I knew there were a number of things I wanted to do to bring my life more in line with my values, like moving from a large bank to a local credit union, subscribing to more media publications, increasing our charitable giving, and connecting more with neighbors and friends. […] It was also a way to push me out of my comfort zone: I connected to a local anti-racism group and committed to deeper work with them in the year ahead, I made calls to voters and elected officials to advocate for progressive causes, and I put my children’s book manuscript back out in the world in hopes of finding a publisher.

[…] I especially valued that it gave me a reason every day to think about how my actions impact those around me. It showed me how easy it can be to work for the world I envision, step by step, even through the smallest of acts.

I love that! “It showed me how easy it can be to work for the world I envision, step by step, even through the smallest of acts.”2017.jpg

Okay, I get it. Some days it doesn’t feel like enough. In fact, a lot of days it feels like the little things I do aren’t enough to make any difference at all. But if none of us do anything because all of us feel like it’s not enough, then nothing will ever get better. We need EVERYBODY to play a part:  liberal, conservative, Republican, Democrat, independent… EVERYBODY. If we ALL do what we can, I promise we can have #ABetterNextYear.

In addition to all of Sarah’s ideas, here are a few based on our topics here at Tuesday Justice:

Race & Multiculturalism

Check out Channon’s Multiculturalism Primer

Remember that Black History matters, and figure out ways to learn more, share more, celebrate more this February than ever before!

Join us in fighting racism through empathy and experience: White People, Let’s Fix This, Part I and Part II.

Join in or support a peaceful protest for civil rights.

Modern Slavery:

Join Free the Slaves in recognizing Slavery & Human Trafficking Prevention Month: “New Year, New Congress, New President, New Possibilities”

Learn about modern slavery with our Modern Slavery Primer

Find out more and get involved with an anti-slavery organization like International Justice Mission or Free the Slaves.

Social Justice:

Watch 13th, and then read our Companion to 13th to find out about several organizations doing work to end mass incarceration.  

And if criminal justice reform is dear to your heart, here’s an excellent resource!

LOUISIANA FOLKS, this is for you! Make Louisiana better for women →

Even as I type out this list, it feels painfully inadequate. But I have to tell myself what I told you already…We need everybody to play a part. I hope and I pray and I believe that you, dear readers, can find something either here or in your heart that you can do to make 2017 #ABetterNextYear.

Here are a few more links about what you can do to resist, protest, and fight for what’s right:


Human Trafficking in Ontario


by Channon Oyeniran

Hello friends! As we draw nearer to Christmas and the new year, I just wanted to do a quick summary of an article I read the other day in The Globe and Mail. It was titled, “Police find 16 human-trafficking victims in cross-Canada investigation,” and it talks about human trafficking in Canada (Ontario specifically), a country where many people think modern slavery and human trafficking doesn’t happen. This article shows that in fact human trafficking does exist and is a big business here in Canada.

rcmp-logo1In the article, Tavia Grant discusses a cross-Canada human trafficking investigation in which police rescued 16 victims from human trafficking situations. Police also charged 32 people with 78 offenses relating to trafficking in persons and child luring. This human trafficking bust was the fifth time that Canadian police, under the name “Operation Northern Spotlight,” organized an investigation that sought to help vulnerable people in human trafficking and more specifically, the sex trade.

This article gives a lot of informative stats concerning human trafficking in Canada and the province of Ontario as well. One stat that stuck out to me was that the province of Ontario has approximately 65% of the human trafficking cases reported to police in the Canada. That’s more than half of the cases reported amongst 10 provinces and 3 territories! That tells me that Ontario has a lot of work to do concerning fighting human trafficking and modern slavery. Another aspect that the article discusses is that over the next four years, the province of Ontario will be investing $72 million dollars in a new anti-trafficking strategy. This proves to be significant because Ontario is only the 3rd province in Canada to create a plan to fight trafficking.human-trafficking-in-ontario_5541983806fee_w1500

Another thing that this short but informative article does is provide the readers with a definition of human trafficking and some signs to look out for to spot someone who may be a victim of  trafficking. This article also touches on the age range of these victims – the youngest being 13 –  and that majority of them are female. The mention of how lucrative this trafficking business is for perpetrators who exploit more than one girl is also noted in the article. Not only does it give current and up-to-date information about the business of human trafficking, it also provides some solutions on what the city of Toronto, the province Ontario and Canada are doing to fight and hopefully end human trafficking and modern day slavery.

Similar stories/articles:

Below, are some links to similar articles on this topic:

Methods used to help fight human trafficking in Ontario:

There are various methods used in the fight to stop human trafficking. Different organizations such as Free Them and Covenant House in Toronto are fighting human trafficking and modern slavery. Some methods used to help fight human trafficking that these organizations and others use and that are also mentioned in the article are:

  • Education for hotel staff in the city of Winnipeg, Manitoba provided by the police
  • Raising awareness about human trafficking and modern slavery 
  • $72 million invested by the Ontario government for an anti-trafficking initiative. (The money will be used to bolster support for culturally appropriate services for indigenous survivors of trafficking, create a provincial anti-trafficking coordination centre and lastly, create a specialized prosecution team for human-trafficking crimes.)

Ways to get involved: