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Forced Labor Isn’t Going Away

Every day in 2016, 40.3 million slaves went to work. This is not slavery in the traditional sense where it is condoned by the state and slaves work out in the open. These are modern slaves, working in secret and under similar threats.


Men, women, and about 10 million children rise and are put to work against their will or have their wills tested in dangerous forced marriages.

Though this problem may seem far from you, in reality, it is not. A Walk Free Foundation index estimates that 57,700 of these slaves live in the United States, and the forced labor of the many millions more abroad produce some of the products you consume daily.

For example, have you eaten any shrimp recently? If so, there is a chance it was peeled by slaves.

Tin Nyo Win, given the name “No. 31” by his boss, worked in one of these shrimp peeling sheds. Every morning at 2 A.M., he and his wife were forced, under the threat of physical harm, to wake up and go to work. There they stood for 16 hours a day, peeling and deveining shrimp beside a girl so tiny she needed a standing stool to do the same job.

The Associated Press takes the roof off of these establishments, showing the world the hidden network that operates every day like a well-oiled machine. The shrimp peeling sheds are described as “hidden in plain sight on residential streets or behind walls with no signs.” This is similar to how many of us see forced labor – we do not. It is all around us; we just have a hard time seeing it.

If we look, however, we will find it. U.S. customs records show that the shrimp peeled by forced laborers like Tin Nyo Win has made its way into the supply chains of retailers like Wal-Mart, Kroger, and Whole Foods, as well as chain restaurants like Red Lobster and Olive Garden.

Learning the stories of forced laborers is one of the best ways we can begin to understand their suffering and care more about their liberation. While it is easy to absorb statistics – 28.7 million girls are affected by modern slavery – it is harder to absorb a story about someone we feel we know.

Take Tin Nyo Win, for example. Fed up with death threats by their bosses, he and his wife took the chance and ran away. Less than 24 hours later, Tin Nyo Win’s wife was found at a market and dragged away by her captor. Tin Nyo Win, contemplating the fate of his wife and the new baby they found out she was carrying, was only able to watch as they dragged her away by her hair.

Stories like this are much more difficult to ignore. They are also more difficult to hear, but we should be seeking them out rather than avoiding them. In doing so, hopefully, the world becomes indignant enough to force change.

Featured Image by Imagens Evangélicas on Flickr

Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

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