Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Economic Lessons of Modern Slavery

Source: CNN Freedom Project
As we leave the month of February that honors African American history, we cannot help but be reminded of a shameful period in our country’s past. Slavery and lack of civil rights for all citizens took more than a century to eradicate; yet today, these same human rights violations have reared their ugly heads not just here, but around the world. Women and children are the primary victims of human trafficking. Some families sell their children, some are taken by force, and some just disappear, never to be seen again. Modern slavery has grown into a multi-billion-dollar business, and the perpetrators abound in the most civilized of societies, including the United States.

Source: CNN Freedom Project
The CNN Freedom Project to end modern slavery estimates that between 14,500 to 17,500 human beings are trafficked into the United States annually. The CNN infographics, illustrating the statistics on human trafficking based on 2005 reports from the U.S. State department, are eye-opening. Human trafficking since then has increased staggeringly, based on more recent government reports for 2011.

The infographic from We Are Chapter One also illustrates some startling statistics on human trafficking, including the percentage of suppliers from regions around the world. According to this visualization, approximately 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders, 1.2 million children are part of the slavery industry, and over 50% are under the age of sixteen.
Source: We Are Chapter One
This is not our first post on the issue of modern slavery. We also advocate for teaching our students about the topic across grade levels. Slavery occurs throughout history, beginning with the earliest of civilizations. Unfortunately, it continues today. Bringing the issue into the classroom can be done in an age-appropriate way. The topic is interdisciplinary, from language arts to economics, and many of our students are unaware of it as an industry. We cannot help but think that modern slavery has grown exponentially simply because of supply and demand, and some of the most affluent countries aid this expansion.
Source: Slavery Map
For example, the Slavery Map website seeks to record and display locations of human trafficking across the United States. It asks individuals to report incidents by calling the national trafficking hotline number, so that the proper law enforcement and service providers can be alerted. Incidents are mapped accordingly, and the findings in our country are not flattering.

While our efforts to teach children about a difficult topic seem daunting, the ideas of prevention, protection, prosecution, and partnerships are not. The website Not For Sale, like and the Products of Slavery, seeks to raise awareness about enslavement and vulnerable communities. In the age of technology, perhaps we could encourage our colleagues and students to use the Not For Sale app called Free to Work. This app allows individuals to scan product barcodes to find out the story behind how things are made and hopefully not buy these items if slavery was used to produce them.

Free2Work App from Free2Work on Vimeo.

It seems appropriate that this issue needs to be addressed with our students. As teachers, we can empower them to help, so that they can be the change needed to make a difference.


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  2. I am surprised to learn these numbers – around 800, 000 is a huge number! I hope steps are being taken to eradicate this human trafficking problem. It’s surprising that I have been going over economics literature and UN reports in search of Economics Dissertation Topics, and never came across these facts before. Anyway, I hope we are able to fight this curse.

  3. Put more information on your website like this one, I really like these types of blogs
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