I recently returned to my home in Costa Rica from an extended 3 month “epic” road trip. When you live a traveling lifestyle and keep multiple homes in foreign countries, you have to be organized and detail oriented. Otherwise you might forget to shut off one SIM card while it continues to suck money from your prepaid account you’re not using. Or you might forget to remove your car out of insurance “storage” and get into a fender bender on day one of your return. Or the online electric bill from your other home was overlooked and you come back to no electricity and a freezer full of rotten, thawed food. Yep, that one smells like a week old murder scene. Quite unpleasant!
If this lifestyle sounds glamorous, do not let it fool you. Homes are modest, luxury goods and services are sacrificed. Embracing a lifestyle with less “stuff” and more experiences is the key to making it a success, not necessarily a large bank account. However, with careful planning and investing, and a desire to change your life, just about anyone can do it. But then, a “how to live your life as an expat” is an entirely different blog post.
The evening of my return to our Costa Rican home, I was catching up on some news on CNN International. After spending time in an angry and divided political situation in the USA it was refreshing to see news about the rest of the world. Often I find the USA to be so ego-centric and self-absorbed; one never gets to hear what is happening elsewhere. It is no wonder many people cannot find Mauritius on a map or tell you who the president is of South Africa or that a cyclone is hitting the coast of India. Unless one goes looking for other news on the internet, there is very little of it in mainstream or traditional USA media.
I was catching up on Asia news and a public service announcement ran about a non-profit organization called SlaveryFootprint.org. I recall being beyond exhausted after the stress of months of ongoing travel and work. I didn’t catch exactly what they do, but the main gist of the message intrigued me. Something must have reached down into my psyche. I jotted down their URL and vowed I would not lose the scrap of paper in my cluttered mess of unpacked (but not yet put away) supplies.
Later that week I searched for this organization. Before reading much regarding their goals and objectives, I took their slavery survey to see how many slaves work for me. Hmmmm, I thought to myself, I don’t have any slaves working for me. This should be easy. I filled in numbers and refined details when I had the opportunity on each particular question. Where do I live in the world? How many rooms? Eating habits? Electronics? Cosmetics? Precious stones and metals? Leather goods? Clothes? Sporting goods? Ever paid for sex? (NO!) After a quick calculation the magic number of 52 flashed up on my computer screen.
FIFTY-TWO SLAVES? How could that be?? I do not live an extravagant life. I do not have a lot of clothes or shoes or handbags anymore and I never buy expensive jewelry. So how could I have so many slaves working for me?
I went to their story and learned a bit more about what they do and who is considered a slave. I had read about the sex slave trade when I spent some extended time in Thailand years ago. And I had seen the film Blood Diamond. I have also seen young children working in India on my frequent visits there. But to realize the magnitude of modern-day slavery happening in every country in today’s world. Frankly it sends cold chills up my spine.
From their site: “Slavery is when someone is deceived or coerced into a situation they didn’t agree to for someone else’s profit. Victims are forced to work under the threat of violence for little or no pay. They are prevented from walking away. Today over 29 million people live under these conditions. While many are forced into the sex industry, the majority is exploited for manual economic labor in the private sector.” 55% of them are women. An astounding 26% are children.
The supply chain looks something like this: Raw Materials -> Manufacturer -> Brand -> End User. Today’s supply chain enslaves more humans than any other in history. Your cotton shirt raw materials picked by slaves in Uzbekistan. Your sporting goods made in a sweat shop in China by a poor woman working 21 hours per day, 7 ways a week.
The snazzy new tablet in your hands needs coltan, the effective capacitor. It is mined in the Congo, by – you guessed it – slaves. And perhaps one of the most difficult for me to consider is cosmetics. Who knew almost all of these items have mica in them? Mica gives lipsticks, nail polish, lotions, powders (and even automotive paint) their sparkle. It is mined almost exclusively in India. And sadly, greedy Indian mining companies embrace the amount of free labor offered from poverty-stricken families with too many mouths to feed. Those who will sell a daughter for as little as $100.
Can you imagine being a poor adult man tricked into believing you were going to work for a fishing company and thinking you could finally support your family? It is the story of a fisherman in Cambodia. Instead, he was violently forced to work 20 hours a day, living in deplorable and unsanitary conditions on a fishing boat for seven years for NO pay. Or the boy in Ghana whose mother cannot afford his school fees? So she allowed him to go with a stranger making false promises about money only; to find her little boy was sold into slavery. And she would never see him again. This happens every day.
The truth is, it is difficult to have a slave-free life in this world today. But there are organizations like this one who are making a difference. Don’t be guilty. Be a game changer. You can advocate, you can donate, you can purchase products from companies who are known not to have slavery in their supply chain. Every human being who is enslaved deserves to live with dignity.
How many slaves work for you? Monday musings. Have a good week. Let’s make the world a better place.