I meant to post this a few weeks ago but my computer crashed and I couldn’t access anything. The timing could be better but anyway, here goes…

A few weeks ago (on March 25th to be precise), the United Kingdom commemorated its 200th anniversary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act. In 1807 the UK became the first country in the world to outlaw the sale of human beings. Other countries soon followed suit and by the end of the 19th Century slavery had been abolished in nearly every country in the world.

So the UK’s abolition anniversary should be cause for celebration, right? Well…yes and no. The Abolition Act clearly marked a turning point in societal relations and human rights. However, the story of slavery doesn’t end there. Although most people think of slavery as a thing of the past, nearly all experts agree that there are more enslaved people today than at any other point in history. Conservative estimates place the number of slaves at 12 million worldwide; however, a more widely-accepted estimate is 27 million (www.freetheslaves.net). The Internatioal Labor Organization (www.ilo.org) says that human trafficking–the modern-day transport of people for profit–is the third most lucrative form of trafficking worldwide, behind only drugs and arms. The buying and selling of human beings generates at least $31.6 billion annually.

What does modern-day slavery look like? The most common forms include sexual exploitation (through prostitution and pornography), forced labor and bonded labor. Women and children (especially from poor regions and/or broken homes) are the groups most often affected. However, in a global economy that demands ever-lower costs and consumers who agree to turn a blind eye to the supply chain that creates these low costs, slavery continues to be a profitable activity. 

I began researching the human trafficking issue a few months ago and have also attended some recent conferences and events, including the UN’s launch of their new Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking (for more info, see http://www.unodc.org/unodc/press_release_2007_03_26.html). in preparation for AID’s upcoming Bringing the World Home conference in London (April 27-29), my next few posts will focus on different issues of trafficking: some of the causes, geographic trends, case studies, what actions governments and international organizations are taking to combat it and what we as normal citizens can contribute to these efforts. For those of you coming to the London conference, I hope these help prepare you for some of the issues we’ll be addressing then. For those of you who can’t make it to London, maybe they’ll help direct you to some resources about the scope and severity of modern day slavery.