A Day of Awareness

INTERNATIONAL DAY FOR THE ABOLITION OF SLAVERY MORE TIMELY THAN EVER

By Dinizulu Gene Tinnie

It is a fair guess that most Americans consider slavery to be a thing of the past, officially ended in the US in 1865, although more thoughtful minds among us are keenly aware that “the peculiar institution” of slavery, which defined most of this country’s history, lives on today in many forms, such as the prison system, sharecropping, migrant labor camps, under the cover of the foster care system, and among the millions of workers who are not paid a living wage. 

And perhaps most Americans are vaguely aware of global worker exploitation to produce everything from raw materials and components for our most sophisticated technological gadgets to the cheapest novelties and trinkets possible, but few dare call this system of production by its truthful name of slavery.

It may also be easily forgotten that slavery, as we will recall from the history of the Middle Passage which forcibly brought millions of Africans across the ocean, also includes human trafficking, and the brutal, exploitative practices of that barbaric business, such as extortion of the wages of the survivors who find illegal employment in wealthy nations, not to mention those, often children, sold into sex trafficking.

A Day of Awareness

It is with such concerns in mind that the United Nations, has designated December 2 (a date known in American history as the anniversary of the 1859 hanging of Abolitionist John Brown) as an International Day of awareness to call global attention to the pervasive crimes of slavery in our time.

According to the UN, “The International Day for the Abolition of Slavery, 2 December, marks the date of the adoption, by the General Assembly, of the United Nations Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others (resolution 317[IV] of 2 December 1949).”

The UN further explains:

Slavery is not merely a historical relic. According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) more than 40 million people worldwide are victims of modern slavery. Although modern slavery is not defined in law, it is used as an umbrella term covering practices such as forced labour, debt bondage, forced marriage, and human trafficking. Essentially, it refers to situations of exploitation that a person cannot refuse or leave because of threats, violence, coercion, deception, and/or abuse of power.

In addition, more than 150 million children are subject to child labour, accounting for almost one in ten children around the world.

Facts and figures:

• An estimated 40.3 million people are in modern slavery, including 24.9 in forced labour and 15.4 million in forced marriages.

• There are 5.4 victims of modern slavery for every 1,000 people in the world.

• 1 in 4 victims of modern slavery are children.

• Out of the 24.9 million people trapped in forced labour, 16 million people are exploited in the private sector such as domestic work, construction or agriculture; 4.8 million people in forced sexual exploitation, and 4 million people in forced labour imposed by state authorities.

• Women and girls are disproportionately affected by forced labour, accounting for 99% of victims in the commercial sex industry, and 58% in other sectors.

(Further information from the UN is available at these links:

On the Homefront

While the International Day is welcomed for calling attention to the many forms and magnitude of modern slavery, it is even more important as an occasion for awareness of actions and solutions, as those who are victimized, directly or indirectly, find ways to address the problem.

For example, in a timely fashion, the regular “Building Bridges” program on independent nonprofit New York radio station WBAI-FM, shares this notice via the Internet:

Farmworker women launch their “Harvest Without Violence” campaign to end sexual violence in Wendy’s fast food supply chain featuring The Coalition of Immokalee [Florida] Workers

Now, amidst the stories that are surfacing about sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape against women, too often low-wage woman workers have been subjected to sexual violence against their person in their workplace, but their voices have oftentimes been eclipsed.  And, we barely think about the workers who are responsible for the bounty of food on our tables. 

So, “Building Bridges” is off to join the formidable farmworker women leaders of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (“CIW”) for a major “Harvest without Violence” march.  The CIW Women’s Group traveled to the Big Apple to demand a meeting with Wendy’s Board Chairman and major shareholder Nelson Peltz to share their powerful stories and demand Wendy’s do its part to end sexual violence in the fields. Join the farmworkers in their Boycott Wendy’s march through Midtown Manhattan to Trian Partners, the multi-billion dollar asset management firm founded by Nelson Peltz, the non-executive chairman of The Wendy’s Company, based in New York.  Declare that farmworker women should not have to surrender their dignity for the right to put food on their families’ tables!

 

Year-Round Awareness, Action, and Support

This single example, like the single day dedicated to the Abolition of modern Slavery, serves as a reminder of how many similar situations exist and how many more days of the year there are which demand awareness and resolve by thoughtful citizens everywhere to abolish all forms of modern slavery and ensure social justice, as articulated in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

In America, these concerns become increasingly timely as traditional jobs are increasingly lost to automation or shipped overseas, real wages remain flat while living costs increase, graduates enter limited job markets burdened with student loan debt, and the great divide between the wealthiest few and the vast majority continues to widen, aided and abetted by complicit political leadership, all of which threaten us with new, much broader forms of actual slavery by other names.

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