There are more slaves now than any time in history. If that surprises you, it shouldn’t. If you are shocked by that, you should be. It is illegal everywhere and yet found in every country around the globe.
You may have thought slavery ended with the Civil War, Lincoln’s “Emaciation Proclamation” and the collapse of legal slavery in the Antebellum South. It did not. The old scourge of slavery never left. It has remained around the world in the form of forced labor and human trafficking. Estimates range from 20 million-27 million people having been trafficked into slavery worldwide at any given time. A 2012 International Labour Organization report notes that 20.9 million people are in some form of forced labor, with 10 percent as state-sponsored and the other 90 percent in the private sector. Of that 90 percent in the private sector, 68 percent are in labor and 22 percent trafficked into the sex industry. And of the 22 percent in the sex industry, 98 percent are women and girls.
We tend to think of human trafficking and forced labor as a foreign problem, as an issue in the developing world but not our own. Unfortunately, that is not true. The U.S. is not only a destination country with people coming from Eastern Europe, Mexico, Central and South America, Asia and Africa, but we have our own, homegrown problem as well.
Humans are being trafficked into brothels, massage parlors and spas, but the larger problem in the U.S. and Colorado is in other areas of labor. They are found caring for our children as au pairs or house cleaners. They are picking oranges, lettuce and strawberries that find their way to our dinner tables from California and the Midwest, or sugar beets and cantaloupes from the planes and slopes of Colorado. You can find them among the thousands of Peruvian shepherds in the Rocky Mountains, cooking and cleaning in your favorite Thai restaurant, or doing beautiful French nails and a pedicure down the street. Have you thought about all those people who mow your lawns and keep the hedges trimmed, or the roofing crew who comes to fix your home after a destructive storm? How about those who work as sub-contractors supporting the ski and hotel industry? Are there slaves in Vail, Avon, Edwards and all along the Interstate 70 corridor?
Professor Claude d’Estree is director of the Human Trafficking Clinic and director of the International Human Right Degree Program at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies, University of Denver. On Thursday evening, d’Estree will be speaking in a Vail Symposium program at The Grand View.