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Think about the last time uou made a call from your smartphone, or ate chocolate. Have you used any beauty products or worn cotton clothing lately? These seemingly harmless activities, may be contributing to human trafficking.

The likelihood that your smartphone has not been touched by a slave is low; it contains the mineral Coltan, and 64% of Coltan reserves are found in the Democratic Republic of the Congo,  are mined by enslaved children. Nearly 40% of the world’s cocoa beans are harvested by more than 200,000 children on the Ivory Coast alone. Every day, tens of thousands of Indian children mine mica, a mineral found in makeup. And, 1.4 million children, more than the entire New York City public school system, are forced to pick cotton in Uzbekistan fields; cotton that may have been used to make the shirts many of us wear every day.

There are at least 27 million slaves worldwide; roughly the population of Australia and New Zealand combined. And, although trafficking often brings to mind images of women or girls forced to participate in sexual acts against their will, there are other ways human beings are sold. A staggering amount of men, women and children are forced into long hours of hard labor for little to no pay. This type of trafficking is often supported by unsuspecting citizens who would never deliberately contribute to slavery. Nevertheless, an alarming number of otherwise upstanding citizens unknowingly do just that every day: help human trafficking; the fastest growing criminal industry in the world.

Human trafficking often uses legitimate businesses to conduct their operations. As a result, certain businesses, such as hotels, taxi services, airlines, rail companies, and advertisers like Craigslist may facilitate trafficking. Some businesses are aware of their involvement in these crimes, but are persuaded to turn the other cheek due to high profit potential. There are, however, cases where businesses are unaware of what is happening, or are unable to identify clients who may be participating in these illegal activities.

So what can you do to help? It’s simple: just be aware of the origin of your purchases, and avoid products from regions particularly affected by human trafficking or forced labor. Reducing the demand for cheap merchandise manufactured in sweatshops will deliver a significant blow to the human trafficking industry.

Find out how many slaves work for you by taking the slavery footprint survey at slaveryfootprint.org; the number will surprise you.

Dana Johnson

Sources: Pukaar Magazine, Polaris, CARITAS.org, Slavery Footprint
Photo: Photopin