Saturday, April 25, 2015

Inflated human trafficking statistics serve nobody

     Found myself making a long, ranty comment on a Facebook thread this morning and realized, hey, that could be a blog post. Those of us who write for food appreciate writing that lends itself to more than one application. 
     So here's the article that started everything, a Washington Post piece on the vast and profoundly misleading inflation of human-trafficking figures around the world, and why that has happened. 
     Posting it on Facebook brought out some interesting comments from people I don't usually interact with, but in the end I feel like we had the chance for a good conversation, each of us writing in our little boxes one after the other. Here's the thread if you want to take a look at how it went. 
     Talk of human trafficking has become something of a flash point for me in the last couple of years, as it was wrongly used and amply abused to justify the terrible injustice enacted against adult sex workers last year in Canada when their customers were criminalized for the first time in the country's history. I am all about rights for sex workers, and it has been devastating to see the number of otherwise thoughtful Canadians who can't get beyond the word "trafficked" to consider the actual impact of our poorly considered laws on the lives of tens of thousands of rational, informed and unvictimized Canadian adults earning a living in the sex industry. 
     Somewhere around the 4th-comment mark in the Facebook thread, I weighed back in with these comments below. Would love to keep this conversation going, so I hope you'll share your own thoughts on this. 

Even when you look at what drives human trafficking, it's largely the demands of the developed world for cheap goods and services. You'll hear some people going on about the maquilas in Central America, for instance, but who do we think those internationally owned clothing factories are making clothes for?? In countries like Nicaragua and Honduras, where there are loads of maquilas, people there are actually forbidden from buying those clothes, made by them in their own country!
      Nobody can get snippety about issues like human trafficking without fully understanding that our easy way of life totally depends on the labour of poor people. Like everything else in this world, it's all about demand. As long as a market exists for something, there will be people somewhere who will have to do the work of that. We can't morally object to that fact while at the same time happily enjoy the products of that labour. 
     And we are way beyond boycotts of one product or another - the labour of poor people is completely integrated into the lifestyle of North Americans, from the clothing we wear to the vehicles we drive, food we eat, cost of our cellphone service. And that's not even counting the labours of poor people from other lands in our own countries - the farm workers, construction workers, nannies, etc, legal and illegal. The people who we have decided should live by different rules than the rest of us in the same country because we want to reap the benefits from cheaper labour right here at home. 
     Meanwhile, poor people of the world would be completely hooped if the developed world suddenly decided to quit exploiting them and close down all the international operations and genuinely crack down on illegal migration. 
     A fifth of the Honduran GDP is generated by migrant Hondurans working in the U.S., a vast number illegally, and sending money back home. When you leave home to do the long, hard and horribly dangerous scrabble from Honduras to the US, and pay money for somebody to get you through that final bit across the river, are you being trafficked or are you just trying to dig you and your family out of poverty by doing what you see as your only option? I mean, it is a COMPLEX subject. 
     But we do it a huge disservice when we try to make it about good and evil, heroes and villains. A whole lot of money gets thrown around on buzz about "human trafficking," and the fundamentals go untouched as always.


Janice said...

A problem can’t be solved unless it’s identified so I believe these attempts to define human trafficking are a positive step even if they are perfect. There are no easy solutions and people will suffer if nothing is done and if something is done. Perhaps an approach of how to do the least harm while benefitting people the most is the way to go. Recently, California allowed illegal immigrants to apply for a driver’s licence making assurances that applicants will not encounter problems with their illegal status. This helps many people in a small way (well, perhaps a rather big way for many in terms of having a job, etc.) without doing harm. Many of us buy into the idea of fair trade practices and are willing to pay more for things. But, we also have to keep in mind that the poor in developed countries, illegal immigrants and others, rely on cheap goods to feed and clothe their families. Perhaps we need a “Fair” movement like the “Green” movement. A lot of the world has bought into individuals doing their small part to save the planet by recylcing, etc. and doing the big thing with the carbon tax idea and reducing greenhouse emissions. So, we act locally by supporting fair trade practices in our buying as much as possible and we act big by having a “fair tax” on the cheap goods we consume that will go to helping the developing world.

Janice said...

I meant "not perfect"...

e.a.f. said...

What constitutes "trafficking" is a good question. if people take the inititative to "move" I don't consider it trafficking. I consider "trafficking" where people are bought and sold or hold against their will.

Using the word "trafficking" works for politicians and police who have an agenda. Not so much for the human beings they may be targeting for other reasons.

When a person is offered a job and it turns out to be in the sex trade and can't get out. That is trafficking. If some one decides to go into business for her/himself in the sex trade and the money remains their own, that is not trafficking, in my opinion. Its not an occupation I would enter, but I came from a middle class family, with a good education and went into the job market when there were lots of well paying jobs around. Were I young, with a couple of kids and no way to provide them with a decent living? I don't have a real definitive answer for anyone.

If people are brought from one country to another to work in "sweat shops" and can't leave, that is trafficking. We in the west don't think too often about where the product came from and under what conditions did it get made. Personally I'd like to know. Wages and living conditions vary around the world. I'd like to know a product I purchased provided the worker a living wage, that includes in the G-20 countries. I'd like to know if the workers had a right to organize and ensure they had decent working conditions, in which loosing life and limb wasn't an everyday occurance.

One of the problems with free trade, its never free. People in poor countries pay a high price. Only the merchants make the money. We need to understand, that if the world is to survive we need to scale back on what we want and look at what we need.

opit said...

When a 'mainstream media' whore ( gives sex workers a bad name ) complains about perversion of statistics, it is time to take a hard look at the source.

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