[This article first appeared as a guest and lead article in the Intermission Special Edition called Beneath the Barcode by NZCMS – link]
This summer the world was treated to the long awaited Star Wars: The Force Awakens. It’s the story of the age-old battle of good versus evil, where evil is conquered once and for all – or so we thought – and the search for the last Jedi knight enchants a whole new generation into its spellbinding story. The movie included the rise of the First Order from the remnant of the Galactic Empire as well as the Republic backed Resistance, who help an unlikely bunch of ragtag heroes.
As I watched the movie it brought to mind another Order that’s thriving in our midst across the world today, even here in Aotearoa New Zealand, an order that we thought was conquered and extinguished over two hundred years ago. It’s an order that forces people into an activity, held against their will, by some form of control for the gain or profit of those in control of that person. What I’m referring to here is modern-day slavery, human trafficking and severe worker exploitation. This new order has bewitched governments, corrupted business, and enslaved men, women, and children in every country in the world. Worse, it has seduced you and I to be involved in ways we’re not even aware.
Thankfully this order has an enemy – the Abolition Resistance. The resistance has been fighting the Slave Wars for decades. However, the resistance is unsophisticated, poorly coordinated and under resourced. Where there is sophistication it’s very specific and only has the ability to help a few of the 36 million people trapped in slavery around the world. Where there is coordination, it’s often short-lived because of well-meaning but stubborn people and individualistic organisations choosing to go at it alone, diminishing the power of collective impact. Where there are resources, they’re either feverishly protected, or they’re given unrealistic return-on-investment criteria, without understanding and supporting the long and arduous task it is to successfully fight for a slave free world.
Those in the Abolition Resistance hang on to one belief: that it’s an inalienable right of every man, woman and child to be free. To achieve that right it searches to awaken the Abolition Force within each of us. Unlike Star Wars, this force is not confined to a special few; rather it sits deep within every single one of us and it needs to be awakened.
The fight for freedom is losing ground; the new order is growing and is predicted to become the most lucrative criminal activity in the world over the next few years. The International Labour Organisation estimates that slavery and human trafficking is a $150 billion industry, so we’re up against an incredibly well resourced order.
The driving force
So what drives modern-day slavery? Simply put, it’s the need for self-gratification and a relentless pursuit for more.
Sadly today there’s an unquenchable appetite for sex, and this is fuelled by our moral depravity as a species. There’s an unlimited supply of human beings – particularly women and children – to satisfy the demand of every imaginable sexual sin. Nothing is too saucy for the menu for predominantly men – but not solely – who think it’s their right to do whatever they want to another human being for a few moments of self-gratification. Even here in New Zealand, if you look in the right places, you can get exactly what you want, when you want it, if you’re willing to pay the price.
The pursuit of more is subtler. There are of course those who will do anything to make millions for themselves, but something is happening in the general populace that’s equally concerning. Much of the world seems to insist we all have a right to ‘get more for less.’ We demand higher quality while expecting to pay less for the products we buy and consume.
As an example, when we see a sign in a shop – 2 T-shirt’s for $10 – we immediately think of it as a bargain, or worse, think it’s about time. I’m a Director of a freedom business in India, and I know that to make a T-shirt ensuring everyone, including the factory worker, gets a fair deal costs around $6 to make. To import that T-shirt into NZ brings the cost up to around $12 and a retailer will put on their normal mark-up, selling the product to the consumer for around $20 to $25. So if you can buy two T-shirts for $10 something is wrong, isn’t it? Sure, you could say that volume causes the price per unit to go down, and you could say that the sale was a clearance or end of line, and there’s an element of truth in this, but often these types of products are always ‘2 for 10 bucks.’ This means that some of the cost variables have changed. The easiest variable to change in manufacturing is the labour cost, compared to the costs of plant and machinery or the raw materials to make the product. Therefore, if you buy 2 T-shirts for $10 it is highly possible you are contributing to exploitation because that garment was made by a slave. I know you don’t really want me to say this, but you and I perpetuate slavery by demanding more for less.
A God of justice
While we get more, someone somewhere is getting less. As the people of God this becomes an issue of justice. In his book, Justice Awakening: How You and Your Church Can Help End Human Trafficking, Eddie Byun states clearly that “God commands his people to do justice and to hold onto it with all their might.” When we read well known passages like Micah 6:8 (“and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with your God?”) it’s not a mix and match as you might fancy. It’s a collective statement that requires all three elements to happen at the same time. Buying 2 T’s for $10 is not doing justice; therefore it’s not walking humbly with God. Now that’s a sobering thought.
The most disturbing verses I’ve read recently are found in a passage in Revelation 18. The passage has sometimes been controversial, but regardless of how you read it there’s something we can all agree on. It describes merchants who have become rich because of the excesses of ‘Babylon’ (sound familiar?), and then offers a long list of products these merchants were selling. And what’s the last item these merchants are trading: “slaves, that is, human souls” (v13 ESV)! This verse is the closest description to modern-day slavery I’ve found in the whole Bible, and what’s abundantly clear from the passage is that God absolutely detests it. Human beings are not a commodity to be traded or exploited for profit!
Peter Mihaere is the CEO of Stand Against Slavery, a New Zealand Baptist Justice Initiative providing advocacy and consulting services on the issue of slavery, human trafficking and exploitation here in New Zealand and around the world. For more information firstname.lastname@example.org or phone (09) 526 6361.