Today, The Little Market recognizes World Day Against Trafficking. We are proud to work with talented, resilient, and empowered artisans and producers around the world, several of whom have survived hardships including human trafficking and exploitation. Now, through dignified work in a supportive environment, they earn fair wages and create beautiful handmade goods.
In today’s post, Liesl Gerntholtz, Chief Program Officer at The Little Market, talks about the significance of World Day Against Trafficking and how we are working as a community to advocate for human rights and equality.
I was the director of the Women’s Rights Division at Human Rights Watch for nearly a decade. During that time, my team of committed human rights investigators conducted numerous fact-finding missions to document human rights abuses related to trafficking and modern-day slavery. We built up an extensive body of research on how migrant domestic workers from Asia were duped into believing that they were leaving their countries for jobs that would pay enough to support children left behind and realize dreams of owning their own homes. We documented how they were deprived of their liberty, forced to work excruciatingly long hours without pay or rest, and in some cases, most painfully, how they were sexually and physically abused.
We investigated how women from conflict-affected areas of Burma are trafficked into sexual slavery in China, forcibly married and raped so that they would become pregnant. Those who were able to escape told heart-wrenching stories of leaving babies behind, with little hope of ever seeing their children again. We documented harrowing accounts of sex trafficking in Nigeria and how the government failed to support and protect survivors of trafficking.
I often think about the women and girls whose stories we documented and all the more so this weekend as we acknowledge their pain on the 4th World Day Against Trafficking in Persons.
Human trafficking, a form of modern-day slavery, involves the recruitment, transportation, transfer, or receipt of persons by means of threat, use of force. or other forms of coercion with the intention of exploiting them sexually or forcing them to work.1 In its essence, trafficking is the sale of human beings for their labor and for their bodies. Trading in humans is a lucrative business and estimates are that trafficking constitutes the third-largest criminal activity globally.
Because it is highly criminalized, it is difficult to get accurate statistics about the numbers of women, children, and men who are affected, but the Global Slavery Index, a reliable publication that seeks to measure the extent of modern-day slavery, estimates in its 2018 report (its most recent) that 40.3 million people are living in some form of modern-day slavery which includes 24.9 million in forced labor. The Index identifies the countries with the highest numbers of people living in some form of modern-day slavery: North Korea, Eritrea, Burundi, the Central African Republic, and Afghanistan feature as the top five in that ignominious list.
But, trafficking is not limited to poor and/or conflict-affected countries or highly repressive regimes. Polaris, a U.S.-based organization working to end sex trafficking and which operates the National Trafficking Hotline, worked on 11 500 situations of trafficking that were reported to the hotline in 2019. These situations involved over 22,000 individual victims in the United States.
Women and girls are disproportionately represented and affected by trafficking: of the more than 40 million people living in modern-day slavery, 71 percent are women. Women and girls constitute 99 percent of the victims of forced sexual exploitation. A new report by Walk Free, a global organization dedicated to ending modern-day slavery by 2030, shows that 1 in every 130 women globally is subject to some form of modern-day slavery, including trafficking.2
The COVID pandemic has increased the risks for millions of women and girls. Upending their employment, limiting their access to support networks, and discrimination in access to health care have increased the vulnerability of already vulnerable women and girls to trafficking and exploitation.
A key intervention to prevent trafficking is increasing and enhancing the protection of women’s human rights. Trafficking is lower in countries where women have more access to the full spectrum of human rights and research clearly demonstrates that discrimination against women and girls in access to education, housing, property, employment, and healthcare all create and reinforce their vulnerability to human rights violations, including trafficking. Improving women’s equality, especially their economic self-sufficiency, is a critically needed part of reducing their risk of exploitation and trafficking.
The Little Market is dedicated to advancing women’s economic rights — we believe that women’s economic self-sufficiency is an essential strategy to protect them against abuse, violence, and exploitation. Our model is based on the simple premise that women need access to dignified work so that they can support themselves and their families. We work to create flexible opportunities for all women, including those who are most underserved, such as young mothers, survivors of violence, and women of color. We work hard to tailor our model around the needs of artisan and producer groups, not profit or consumers. Our site is sourced and stocked authentically, meaning that we sell goods that are authentic and relevant to the communities we work with. We pay artisan and producer groups in full upfront, avoiding the stress that paying on consignment causes. In particular, we want the women we work with to feel empowered to produce on their schedule in a timeframe that feels comfortable and safe for them.
Most recently, we began to work directly with survivors of trafficking by creating opportunities for a small group of resilient team members to create our sugar scrubs in-house. We are privileged to work alongside these members of our in-house production team and to learn from them.
1“The Protocol to Prevent, Suppress, and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children.” United Nations. United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Accessed July 29, 2021. Web.
2“Stacked Odds: One in every 130 females globally is living in modern slavery.” Walk Free. 2020. Accessed July 29, 2021. Web.