“Slavery is not a thing of the past — that is a myth”

A Version of this article is Published on the Toronto Star Global Voices at TheStar.com

The word ’slavery’ is most often heard in history classes these days, rather than in common conversation. However, nearly 150 years after slavery was “abolished”, there are over 27 million slaves around the world today!

On September 22, 1862 President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring all slaves in rebel states be free as of January 1, 1863.

Back in January, I attended the Alliance Against Modern Slavery’s Inaugural Conference at York University. The event brought together international experts, government officials, law enforcement personnel, survivors of slavery and students to discuss Slavery in the 21st Century. The conference featured presentations by MP Joy Smith; Kevin Bales, Founder of Free the Slaves; 
Jamie McIntosh, Executive Director of International Justice Mission Canada;
Marty Van Doren, RCMP Ontario Human Trafficking Coordinator; and
Glendene Grant, the mother of a sex trafficking victim; amongst many others.

There, Adam Churchman of Canada Fights Human Trafficking, clearly expressed, “slavery is not a thing of the past – that is a myth”.

“The idea of taking someone’s rights and treating them as animals is the greatest injustice,” Churchman stated. Slavery is unacceptable for a ton of reasons. But the conference was positive, as Churchman shared, “an event like this is a breeding ground for unity and that we can take some action on issues like this.”

If it is understood that slavery and human trafficking are horrendously wrong (and of course illegal) why is it still an issue around the world and even in Canada? One of the concerns is with enforcement – the authorities are not encouraging slavery, but there are other issues they choose to tend to. Prostitution in North America is heavily controlled by young male gangsters, and experts feel that this should be a priority for law enforcement, even more importantly than drug enforcement.

Human trafficking impacts families in a deep way. Currently there are many thousands of girls missing around the world. How can the problem be stopped – and what propels it? Due to poverty, families in some countries live an entire life of slavery simply because they owe a small debt, for example simply $20 CAN that their grandparents owed decades ago.

It seems poverty can unfortunately lead to harmful acts and propels the global slave and sex trade. There are ways to provide alternate employment – better options than their current unacceptable situations – even through purchases made locally in Canada. “Chocolate is becoming an expression of hope,” said Michael Sacco, PhD of ChocoSol. Fair Trade Certified products are a huge step forward in ending slavery, because workers and farmers who produce the products are paid and treated fairly.

The good news is, with conferences like this people – including youth – are being inspired to take action. Sali El-Sadig, currently studying at University of Toronto, said that raising awareness is a huge factor in eradicating modern day slavery. She is an executive on the Alliance Against Modern Slavery and shares, “Because of globalization and overpopulation, if we don’t act the issue of modern slavery will only get worse. That’s why now is the time to start getting involved – politically, legally and socially.”

Read the Published version of this article on TheStar.com