Connecting Columbia Union Seventh-day Adventists

Perspectives: I Own 69 Slaves

Melissa Andrews Melissa Andrews

A recent report says there are nearly 27 million people in our world owned and forced to work without pay.  But it isn't just a third-world country problem.  You may even be a slave owner.

Story by Melissa Andrews

Yesterday, I found out that I am a slave owner. Sixty-nine slaves work for me.

What? [But,] I’m black! My ancestors were slaves! I’ve seen Roots television series and the 12 Years a Slave movie! How can I even remotely be involved in anything having to do with slavery? Wasn’t slavery abolished hundreds of years ago? How could there be slaves anywhere for me to own?

Slave noun: someone who is legally owned by another person and is forced to work for that person without pay (Merriam Webster) 

The website reports that “there are nearly 27 million slaves worldwide. That’s roughly the combined population of Australia and New Zealand.” Twenty-seven million people in our world are owned and forced to work without pay. Today! In 2014!

Human trafficking noun: organized criminal activity in which human beings are treated as possessions to be controlled and exploited—as by being forced into prostitution or involuntary labor (Merriam Webster) 

The Huffington Post reports that modern-day slavery and human trafficking generate an estimated $32 billion a year for those involved. More conservative estimates put that number at between $7 and 10 billion. In either case, it’s a huge, extremely profitable industry that is growing on the backs of, mostly, women and children.

I know you’re thinking, “Well, you know these third-world countries ... things are really bad over there.” I’ve got news for you. It is happening in America, too. You won’t believe me, so take two minutes to watch this video about the horrors of human trafficking taking place in Atlanta! Yes, Atlanta, Georgia. The stats are shocking!

Were you as horrified as I was? Who knew this was going on?

So, what can we do about it? No, no, no! Don’t shake your head and say, “I can’t do anything about it, Melissa.”

You absolutely can.

This was the problem with slavery in the 1700s and 1800s. People knew it was wrong, but sat around watching what was happening and saying, “I can’t do anything.”

It’s what was happening before the Civil Rights Movement. But, you know your black history. A few people got up and said, “I can do something!” Those few people mushroomed and grew into a larger number of people and they effected change so that you can be sitting comfortably using your laptop or desktop or smart phone or tablet to read this blog, while approximately 100 girls will be raped in Atlanta before the end of the day tomorrow.

What can you do About Human Trafficking?

  1. Learn the red flags that may indicate human trafficking and ask follow up questions so that you can help identify a potential trafficking victim. Get trained so you can become “human trafficking aware.”
  2. Call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1-888-373-7888 (Seven days a week, 24 hours a day) to help and connect with a service provider in your area, report a tip with information on potential human trafficking activity; or learn more by requesting training, technical assistance or resources.
  3. Be a conscientious consumer. Discover your Slavery Footprint, and check out the Department of Labor’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor and stop buying those goods. Tell your family and friends to stop buying them too. Write the companies and tell them why you will no longer by buying their goods. Encourage companies to take steps to investigate and eliminate slavery and human trafficking in their supply chains and to publish the information for consumer awareness.

Click here for 17 more tips from the State Department. 

Tip 3 will be the hardest for me. Those 69 slaves I said I own, that’s my slavery footprint. That’s the number of people who are being forced to work against their will to produce the things that I use every day, things like makeup!

What can I do about it? I’m going to check out the list of companies that are utilizing slave labor, and I’ll stop purchasing from them. I'll also write them to let them know why they’ll no longer be receiving my business. I’ll encourage my friends and family, and you reading this [article], to do the same. If enough of us do it, we can make a change.

As Black History Month ends and we celebrate the accomplishments of black people everywhere, let’s remember that there are still thousands and thousands of red, yellow, black and white people who are under the bondage of slavery.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”—Martin Luther King, Jr., civil rights leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner

“We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”—Elie Wiesel, WWII concentration camp survivor and  Nobel Peace Prize winner

It’s time to get rid of our slaves.


This article was first published on February 1, 2014 at Melissa Andrews is a member of Allegheny East Conference’s Metropolitan church in Hyattsville, Md.

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