Dr. Richard Randell, faculty in the Global Citizenship Program at Webster University Geneva, ran a keystone seminar class on Contemporary Slavery and Human Trafficking during the Spring semester. Here the students reflect on the work and outcomes of the class:
While slavery seems to be a thing from the past, it is a persisting problem that continues to affect both the developing and developed world. Modern day slavery is multidimensional in the nature of its impacts and the implications associated with the practice. Modern day slavery includes the acquisition, ownership and management of humans for practices including indentured servitude, forced sex slavery and forced labor. Examples include the use of bonded labor and sex trafficking for running illegal prostitution rings. With the diverse nature of modern day slavery in mind, the same level of complexity exists in deterring and preventing these practices.
Throughout the semester, three books by Kevin Bales were focused on: Blood and Earth: Modern Slavery, Ecocide, and the Secret to Saving the World First; Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy; and To Plead Our Own Cause: Personal Stories by Today's Slaves. For each class a student presented a section of a chapter which was then discussed. These three books included personal accounts by victims. "Everyone knows what slavery is,” Kevin Bales remarks, “yet almost no-one knows." Indeed, many people are unaware that slavery still exists. When people think about slavery, they most often think back to the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Overall, the readings had an impact on our learning experience, as many of us were not aware of the atrocities inflicted upon contemporary slaves.
For the class final project, we wanted to involve the local Webster Geneva community. The preparation for this project started at the beginning of the second half of the semester. The class was divided into four groups; each group conducted research on an industry or a company that with products that contain slave labor in the supply chain. The industries and companies chosen were: the tea industry, the chocolate industry, Zara and IKEA. The class created an informative booklet covering all four topics [which can be downloaded here]. We had a bake sale where students, faculty and staff had the option to choose between learning about slavery or taking an online quiz; in return, they received a treat of their choice that students from the class made. The online quiz (found at slaveryfootprint.org) calculates one’s slavery footprint based on an estimate of how many slaves work for us depending on what we do and purchase in our daily life. Students and staff were surprised by the results they got.
All in all, this course was incredibly interesting and informative, and also highly enlightening and important. The topic of slavery and the associated violations of human rights is one that many of us attribute to the past, but fail to realize continues to flourish to this day. The shift towards the illegality of the practice in today’s world (for the most part) has made slavery retreat to the shadows, which has allowed it to thrive away from the public eye. In whatever form it takes, awareness of this global issue is the first step in fighting back.