#NZCMS is going to be a little different this year. The biggest change: we’re stepping down to a post each fortnight, aiming for quality over quantity. That means we should be able to provide fresh content each time without relying on ‘re-blogs’ (though we’ll include occasional articles from our Intermission magazine when the topic is particularly important.)
As it turns out, the latest issue of Intermission was on a very important issue, one I think future generations will look back and judge us on: Slavery. Human trafficking. The fact that there’s more slaves in the world today than at any point in history, despite 200 years of explicitly challenging the whole thing. And Intermission looked at how modern day slavery and the way I shop are woven together like some sort of disturbing tapestry. I made a perhaps obscure comment at the back of the issue so thought I’d tease it out a little further here.
This morning I had the privilege of sitting down over a cup of chai with Peter Mihaere. He runs an organisation called Stand Against Slavery, and we got talking about whether New Zealand could eventually become truly slavery free. That’d mean no slaves or exploited workers here nor anyone trafficked to or from here. It’d also mean no products could be bought here that have in any way been produced by slaves or exploited workers. New Zealand would effectively be a fairtrade country.
The Pope’s goal is to do this globally by 2020… It’s a good goal, but without a huge miracle, it ain’t happening. But what if we started with a small country, an isolated island where borders are pretty easy to control, with a population the size of an ‘average’ city in other parts of the world… I think that’d actually be attainable in our generation if we learn to really work together on this.
The first step? Becoming conscious of the issue at a grass roots level. It needs to become part of regular conversation.
Peter’s challenge to me was to ask, when buying something, whether any slaves were involved in making it. We already know what the answer will be, and I know it’ll make the conversation awkward. “Um… I have no idea… Surely not, right…?” Or perhaps they’ll just look at us funny. But the thing is, how else will people become aware of this problem unless we make this part of daily conversation? If that shop attendant gets asked once, they’ll forget about it. But if it becomes a daily occurrence they’ll start thinking about it. They’ll start asking their manager, who’ll start asking others higher on the food chain. Eventually someone will take notice.
Another side of the equation is making it regular conversation among ourselves. If you’ve tried being a ‘Kingdom shopper’ for a while you’ll know how I often feel. It’s frustrating. It’s challenging. It’s sometimes isolating and disorientating! Many times I’ve wondered whether I can keep it up or whether I should give up trying (which is a crazy thought – should I keep on bothering to care, because of some inconvenience to me, about people who are literally in chains because of what I buy?!).
My life-saver has been the fact that I can talk openly about it with my wife – and slowly but surely there’s others who have joined the conversation. And it’s not just about having people to talk with, but having a shared language. As a rabid Simpsons fan, a line from Krusty has enabled Mari and I to make this all-too-serious topic part of daily conversation. He’s up on a stage promoting his new line of t-shirts (watch the video from 30seconds – it’s a terrible quality video, but it’s much better hearing the quote than reading it.)
“Slavings.” It’s not even a word, and I’m not quite sure how it happened, but it’s now part of our daily vocabulary. When we’re out shopping and one of us is interested in something that almost certianly has dubious origins: “Have you considered the slavings?” When we’re watching TV ads and a too-good-to-be-true deal comes on: “There’s some amazing slavings.” Mari’s been after a nutra-bullet for a while, but whenever a special came up the word “slavings” kept us from acting. (She’s found one on trademe, so all is well with our smoothies).
I’m not sure what these conversations sound like to other ears, but this one simple word has kept at the forefront of our minds the reality of exploited workers across the world. It’s changing how we shop. It’s changing how we view advertising. It’s changing how we talk. It’s changing our family’s priorities. It’s changing our plans and dreams for the future. One word that isn’t even a word!
What can you do to make the harsh realities of human trafficking and worker exploitation part of daily conversation?
Challenge yourself: the next time your shopping ask someone whether the product has been in any way made by slaves.
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