Cultural shift needed to abolish slavery
By Deborah Gyapong
Canadian Catholic News
Consumers need to ensure the products they buy are not produced by modern day slaves says the American Ambassador-at-large who monitors and combats human trafficking.
“It takes a cultural shift,” Ambassador Luis CdeBaca told a gathering of MPs, Senators, Diplomats and NGOs Ottawa, May 17. “Not just a cultural shift to say I won’t participate in paid sex.”
CdeBaca, who works under American Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, said consumers must ask themselves: “Where did the shrimp come from that I’m eating? Where did the chocolate come from that I’m eating.”
CdeBaca admitted he had “no idea where cotton on my shirt came from, but there’s a good chance that I’m wearing a shirt with cotton picked by child slaves in central Asia.”
“If I don’t know, how are we to ask the consumers?” he said, adding governments must insist on slavery-free contracting because if they don’t it is harder to expect businesses to insist as well.
“There is a need for a cultural shift that does not come from government,” he said. The fight to end modern day slavery will begin “only if we put victims and their journey to recovery at the centre of what we do. You have to hear and you have to act.”
“The term slavery is an emotional one,” he said. “Many want to look away.”
He said North Americans look away from domestic servants who toil in brothels, truck stops, and construction sites. They look away to “frame it as a development issue, by definition something that happens over there,” when the person behind the counter with the accent may be in Canada doing coerced labor.
Though modern day slavery often affects vulnerable immigrants, indigenous peoples, ethnic minorities, the mentally ill, deaf and disabled people, LGBT communities and women are also vulnerable, he said. “When people are vulnerable there will always be cruel people who will enslave them.”
CdeBaca praised Canada’s efforts in fighting modern day slavery, especially the role Conservative MP Joy Smith has played in championing a national strategy to combat human trafficking. Her second private member’s bill is now before the Senate, shepherded now by Senator Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu. Bill C-310 would extend Canada’s ability to prosecute human trafficking offenses to include activities by Canadian citizens or residents on foreign soil.
A former prosecutor, CdeBaca was lead counsel in a slavery case involving 300 Vietnamese and Chinese garment workers in American Samoa. He congratulated the work legislators in Canada are doing to combat human trafficking, but stressed “an action plan that does not have resources behind it is mere words on paper.”
The needed cultural shift must reject “the notion that boys will be boys” or that trafficking is a problem in the developing world and not here.
A Catholic, CdeBaca said the Gospels contradict the notion that a woman caught in prostitution is irredeemable. “There is the notion in the Christian tradition that Jesus went out of his way not just to be seen with the woman in prostitution, but to honor her, to put in check those who would say she was not worthy of attention.”
Even though he runs the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, CdeBaca insisted slavery is the more accurate word. “We use a lot of euphemisms in diplomacy,” he said. “When they give you your pinstriped suit and your diplomatic passport, they also give you a box of euphemisms.”
“Gender- based violence we don’t call it murder, partner abuse, we call it anything that lets us be more comfortable with it,” he said. “But it’s rape, it’s murder, and it’s slavery.”
He urged the rejection of “the false comfort of the euphemism, of the false comfort of trafficking of persons, so we can stare in the abyss, so we can name this,” on behalf of the citizens you represent.
CdeBaca spoke about the history of slavery in North America and how Canada was a destination of freedom for American slaves. The shared values of Canadians and Americans in opposition to slavery were “born in tragedy” as North America wrestled with this problem, one that cost the United States a war, one million dead and the near break- up of the country.
We in the government, in the legislative branches must fulfill the promises of our history, he said. He cited the actions of John Graves Simcoe, the abolitionist British Army officer who abolished slavery in Upper Canada in 1810 long before it was abolished elsewhere in the British Empire in 1834.