An Essay on Human Trafficking

How Capitalism Perpetuates Modern Slavery

Note: This is my most recent Lang essay and I wanted to post it because it’s a subject that I’m extremely passionate about and want to inform others as much as possible.

It is ironic that the exploitation and enslavement of humans in the modern era has prospered due to the expansion of capitalism. Human trafficking, hidden in the backrooms of nail salons located in the suburbs of Boston and on Bangladeshi shrimp boats, is a more delicate way of saying modern slavery. It’s easy to ignore and even easier to unintentionally fund. Every day thousands of dollars move through the intricately connected global economy into the hands of human traffickers and slave owners. It is fast and easy and so very discreet because regulations of business are effortlessly stepped over. The entitlement that developed, capitalist nations take for granted comes at the very free price of a human life. We must recognize the liberties granted to business and then examine the effects they have on humans across the globe.

The privacy and intimacy of business has compromised the privacy and intimacy of the bedroom. Worldwide, the total profit for the illegal sex industry was $35.7 billion in 2007 (Kara 19), and that was amidst a global recession. It’s an illegal business, but a business nonetheless. A common misconception is that sex trafficking happens solely in the red light districts of impoverished countries, but the 2016 U.S. National Trafficking Hotline reports that there were 5,819 reported sex trafficking incidents this past year (“More Assistance, More Action.”). This number fails to account for the thousands of undocumented and past cases. There is a huge demand for commercialized sex and as a result there are people willing to find a supply. We naively call it prostitution; it’s not. A thirteen year old cannot legally be a prostitute. Those who are impoverished and neglected often fall into the hands of pimps, men who offer love and a life of disguised imprisonment. They are then advertised to the world through secret websites where the buying of humans for sex is rationalized because “the industry is inevitable” (Lloyd 219). The ideal of free enterprise has people continuously justifying and funding slavery. This universal understanding that business is business and that because there is a free market it’s okay, is completely misinformed. We’ve come to the point where freedom is our mantra and free business is a right, but oftentimes we are ignorant to the fact that our freedom comes at the cost of other humans.

Labor trafficking is the most abundant of the types of slavery and as a result, the most normalized. We’ve established that slavery is a business, but we have not quite examined the scope of it. These trafficked victims are everywhere numbering at about 28 million, although the total number is impossible to determine and is estimated to be much larger. America’s Fortune 500 companies are often under fire for having factories overseas that violate human rights in some way. Apple has been scrutinized for using Foxconn, a Chinese factory in which workers are submitted to harsh and dangerous working conditions just so manufacturing costs are lower. Companies participating in free market economies usually abide by local laws that prohibit child labor or uncompensated work, but the lack of labor laws in third world countries make it so incredibly easy for large foreign companies to invest. Capitalism thrives on competition, but many are unable to compete with lucrative businesses who can afford to subjugate others. The shrimping industry in Bangladesh is beating out shrimp farmers in Louisiana because laborers are slaves. The cost of production is significantly reduced when wages are nonexistent and labor is replaceable. In the U.S. 85% of seafood is imported and of this 50% is shrimp (76 Bales). In Bangladesh, the capitalists are profiting on the backs of their slaves. Ghana is plagued by a similar problem; gold pours out of illegal mines like blood seeping out of a wound. The most common form of enslavement in the gold mines of Ghana is debt. Miners are in perpetual debt to their bosses, which essentially makes them slaves. Phone companies obtain the gold through an intentionally long chain of salesmen; the more distance placed between the consumer and the producer the more feasibly the company can claim ignorance. But the government is unable to claim the same ignorance as foreign businessmen. Slavery isn’t invisible in Ghana like it is in America. How could it be? Ghana’s economy is dependent on gold, government officials are entangled in the industry, and villages are built around mines. Sometimes foreign companies deal directly with the Ghanaian government (Bales 160). It’s acceptable for American companies to buy and sell with whomever they please under the Dodd-Frank bill with the condition that companies are transparent with what products contain slavery tainted materials. The products we so thoughtlessly buy have a careless impact on people far away from us.

Slavery happens in our suburban town and on the streets of Cambodian cities. The products we buy and the services we use tie us all to the dangerous industry of slavery; when we import chocolate we are also importing slaves across borders. Capitalism itself isn’t capable of supporting human trafficking, but it’s adaptable rules allow us to slip the buying and selling of people into the picture. Johns fly into the Miami airport at 5pm, stay for an hour of sex with an underage virgin they bought on a website, and then leave at 6pm to fly back to their families. How could the airline know? Did the hotel know that the room they rented out is the murder site of a young girl’s innocence? All of this unregulated industry are accessories in a huge crime network. Wealthy families have a Cambodian house slave and churches have a choir of Zambian slaves (Batstone 212 & 225). These labor practices and industries play a big part in our economy and lives. We are unable to imagine the damage done and unwilling to admit that we have played a role in this destruction. The shrimp is in our stomachs, the gold is in our phones, and the blood is on our hands.

Sources

Bales, Kevin. Blood and Earth: Modern Slavery, Ecocide, and the Secret to Saving the World. New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2016. Print.

Batstone, David B. Not for Sale: The Return of the Global Slave Trade – and How We Can Fight It. New York: HarperCollins, 2010. Print.

Kara, Siddharth. Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery. New York: Columbia UP, 2010. Print.

Lloyd, Rachel. Girls like Us: Fighting for a World Where Girls Are Not for Sale: A Memoir. New York: HarperPerennial, 2012. Print.

“More Assistance, More Action.” Polaris. 31 Jan. 2017. Web. 05 Mar. 2017.

Oh, To Write Again With Whimsy

Writing Playlist Prepped and Ready!

There’s something unnatural yet addicting about creative writing. I’m not talking about blog posts, or essays on Capitalism, or even philosophical discussions, but the flood of euphoria that I know comes only with storytelling.

To someone who’s never created their own story before, it’s hard to describe the way that writing makes you feel when you’re crafting your own character, devising your own plot, latching onto a theme, and playing judge, jury, and executioner. Few things measure up to the sense of urgency you feel at midnight when an idea pops into your head and pulls you to your laptop, or the sense of mindlessness as dialogue runs through your fingertips.

Recently, I’ve been feeling the creative itch, and all I want to do is immerse myself in a world of my own creation, but although I have notebooks full of ideas, I can’t seem to make myself begin a project. I wouldn’t call this writer’s block, but writer’s doubt, as I worry that I will waste my time on an idea that may soon run stale. A little over a year ago, I wrote a 60,000 word manuscript that now sits in my computer’s trash can, months of incessant work staining a page without substance.

I’ve been trying to figure out if I mind that I abandoned my first work. Needless to say, I think I’ve improved as a writer, so I know that I shouldn’t dwell over something that no longer represents me, but I can’t help but have moments when I read over a certain paragraph from a particularly emotional chapter mid-way through my manuscript and am shocked by that which I was able to express through words. Passages such as these inspire me to dive back into my characters, even if I know the novel is a lost cause.

I began my last manuscript as a means of catharsis, and found that writing was the key to developing and understanding my own thoughts. I want nothing more that to experience that contraction in my chest and clarity in my head again, but I want to make sure that I write something that will last. I want to take my time with a story and try not to throw everything that I wish to explore into a single plot. There are ideas in my notebook that I don’t think I’m ready to write, and those that I feel I’ve grown out of. I don’t know if now is the time to tackle an entire novel, but I do have a few thousand words of a Nanowrimo manuscript that I may take another look at.

I guess the point of this article is to express my burning desire to write and the frustration that I feel not being able to do it. A few days ago, I received a flurry of terrible grades in a class dedicated to writing, and found for the first time in years that I was doubting my writing abilities. My flowery, rhetorical, often broad and generalized writing did nothing to impress my teacher, and I just couldn’t seem to find a way to incorporate the type of writing my class required with my personal method and style. I have to remind myself that my ability to write an adequate English class essay may need work, but that by no means diminishes my ability to think creatively and critically about topics. If I’m writing for my teacher, I’ll have to be more careful, but if I’m writing for me, I am free to write as I wish. I have molded my writing to my own model of what I believe to be an effective use of language, but perhaps that which I have always perceived as a style open to analysis and debate is not appropriate in an essay in which I must pick a direct side and try not to let my personal culture shine through.

All that aside, I what I really want right now is to write a story, so that’s what I’ll go do.

Starting from Scratch

6 Weeks in Russia with no Russian experience… Why Not? 

When you’re a self-proclaimed language enthousiaste and aspiring polyglot, nothing is more exciting that starting a new language, but narrowing down your choices can be quite challenging. Should I take the easy route and pick Italian or Portuguese, or do I challenge myself and tackle Japanese or Korean? There’s a South African regional language that uses three different clicks when they speak- that sounds fun- should I try it? Then of course there’s that part of your mind that yells at you for being too ambitious and recommends that you review French grammar or read a book in Spanish instead. According to your AP Lang teacher, your English may need some work too. It’s always nice when the decision is made for you, and you are able to forge a decisive path onwards. When I received my acceptance letter from NSLI-Y, a government scholarship program to study critical languages abroad, my choice was clear (after I stopped screaming and hitch-kicking around my kitchen of course). My next language endeavor would be Russian.

I’ve dabbled in this language before. I tried to learn the alphabet last year, and my friend Vicky has taught me a few words over the course of a few car rides, but I’ve never fully committed to developing any sort of proficiency until now. I knew that Russian would be a challenge- it’s a category four language on the Foreign Service Institute system- but I felt prepared to immerse myself and felt completely up for the challenge.

In the past, I’ve only studied French and Spanish, two category one romance languages that share 30% or their vocabulary with English and are so closely related that I could already understand quite a bit of Spanish after only two years of France. Basically, I don’t know why it was a surprise that I was very unprepared for Russian.

Nevertheless, I have explored enough websites, books, and grammar guides throughout my time as a language learner to know what sort of resources I would need to start learning a language from scratch. With a language like Russian which uses the cyrillic alphabet, I knew step one would be to learn to read and write. I didn’t need to understand what I was reading, but I had to be able to pronounce any word I saw.

To do this, I downloaded the Foreign Service Institute’s FAST Russian Course, a program used to give Foreign Service Officer’s a basic grasp on the language before they go abroad. These resources are free and are available in nearly all of the world’s national languages. The opening chapter is all about phonetics, and after a few hours or dull, grueling, guided repetition, I could read any word I came across, if not slowly and with a touch of hesitation. I picked up on cognates and wrote down all of my new vocabulary and pronunciation tips in a notebook deemed “Pre-Russia Russian.”

Once I could read, I knew I needed to begin to acquire a vocabulary. Through a combination of Duolingo and FluentU, I had short lessons that presented me with vocabulary and phrases that slowly revealed secrets of grammar and word order. I also ordered some go-to books on Amazon to enrich my understanding of the language’s mechanics; a verb-conjugation guide, grammar book, short story collection, and a picture dictionary. This way, if I ever stumble across a concept I don’t understand, I’ll be able to find a clear explanation without mindlessly searching the internet for hours.

My next step will be what I call the “Labeling Phase”, during which every object of practical use in my house will receive a tag including the object’s name in nominative form, a photo, and a verb that would be commonly associated with that object. For example, the Russian word for bed is кровать, and with it I would couple the phrase  Иди́ в крова́ть; “go to bed”. This way, every time I see that object, I associate it with the Russian word and am able to put it into an everyday context.  

In a month or so, once I’ve leveled up a few more times on Duolingo and moved past the novice phase on FluentU, I’ll pick up that anthology of short stories for beginners and find a language partner with whom I can converse a few times a week. By the time I board the plane in June, three months from now, I hope to have a functional vocabulary of phrases, and fundamental understanding of basic grammar, and the ability of understand both written and spoken Russian at about an A1 level.

Starting a language from a blank slate is a daunting task, so I find that I need to set small, attainable goals so as to not feel entirely overwhelmed. Knowing that in a matter of months I will be in a foreign country where my only means of communication will be Russian serves as plenty of motivation, but it can be hard to carve out time in my schedule to practice. If it were up to me, I would quit chemistry right now and dedicate that hour to Russian, but unfortunately I can’t do that. To anyone hoping to start a new language journey, I say, don’t wait. Even if your schedule is crazy, know that there is no perfect time to begin learning. As long as you can learn a word or two a day, you’ll be making progress, and that’s all that matters!