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Slavery was abolished in the 19th century.
If only that statement was true.
On Thursday, February 28, Pacific Union College welcomed Dr. David Batstone, Ph.D. as the guest lecturer for the 2008 Longo Lecture Series. Currently a professor of Ethics at the University of San Francisco, a creative entrepreneur, an acclaimed author, and a passionate human rights activist, Batstone should, in theory, be quite intimidating. However, after spending only a few moments with him, it is clear that he is not only approachable but he also loves what he does. Besides being a professor at USF and a father of four, Batstone has recently authored two books: Saving the Corporate Soul—and (Who Knows) Maybe Your Own and Not for Sale: The Return of the Global Slave Trade—and How We Can Fight It. Though both books have been successful, the latter has swept the nation, raising awareness and calling for action against the growing atrocity of human trafficking.
Batstone begins Not for Sale by pulling readers inside the reality to which he was rudely awakened. A local Indian restaurant in the Bay Area was an innocuous establishment that Batstone and his wife frequented. Imagine Batstone’s shock when he read the morning paper and found that one of his favorite restaurants had been the hub of a human trafficking ring. While investigating a gas leak in a nearby apartment, police were stunned to find that the restaurant had trafficked upwards of 500 women and children from India to supply the growing demand for free labor in domestics, retail, restaurants, and above all the commercial sex industry.
How could this happen? How could a business buying and selling human beings operate so successfully in the United States? Surely this was an isolated incident, or perhaps a mistake. I mean, honestly, slavery is a thing of past, or at the very least, a thing of third world countries with failing economies and corrupt governments, right?
Apparently not. For Batstone, slavery existed not only in the neighborhood, but also directly in the public eye. It was not invisible but simply, as Batstone likes to say “not on our grid.”
As Americans, we are uncomfortable with even the whisper of slavery on our soil because it raises the ghost of a history in which we cannot take pride. The mere entertainment of the idea that such a monster may still exist amongst us is both unpleasant and chilling. And what of Batstone’s experience? If the mention of slavery is the ghost, Batstone’s discovery gave it blood, flesh, and most importantly, faces. Slavery was no longer an ethereal entity of the past, but a contemporary adversary operating freely and utilizing ignorance.
Like the thousands that would later follow in his footsteps, Batstone was outraged at what he had found. Slaves. In the United States of America. The beacon of freedom. How? Where? Why? Batstone had questions and the drive to find answers. He embarked on an investigative journey that took him around the globe, tracing the complex networks of human trafficking in Europe, Asia, Africa, South America, and the United States. On this expedition he met hundreds of former trafficking victims, current slaves, and—perhaps most importantly—those individuals working to combat slavery in their town, province, or country. These grassroots abolitions became the foundation and inspiration for Batstone’s anti-slavery campaign, Not for Sale, an abolitionist movement that “bridges knowledge to action.”
In his research and investigation of the worldwide slave industry, Batstone uncovered startling information: in 2007, it was estimated that 27 million slaves exist in the world today. To own another human being is illegal in every country across the globe, yet human trafficking rivals the drug and illegal arms trades for the top criminal activity on the planet.
Batstone’s hopes that the episode at the Indian restaurant was isolated were quickly dashed but gave way to a passionate pursuit of justice, especially on the home front. In 2005, the U.S. Department of Justice released a report stating that approximately 200,000 people live enslaved in the United States and an additional 17,500 are trafficked across our borders each year. The magnitude of these numbers is overwhelming; the continued existence of this industry is unacceptable.
Batstone’s book Not for Sale presents the black market of human trafficking without the limelight of Hollywood or the emotional manipulation habitually found in this kind of work. He discusses modern slavery in terms of its place in world economy, the contribution of technology, and its presence in everyday life. It is a commendation to those that demand justice. Above all, it is a chronicle of personal experience with a call to action in any capacity. In conversing with students, Batstone states confidently, “I could close my eyes and spin the globe, pick a country, and drop you there. No matter what your area of study, you could not only find a thriving industry of human trafficking, but you could also find a way to fight it using your talents.”
The Not for Sale Campaign states that their “collective challenge is simple: stand with those who are enslaved, work together to free them, and empower them in their freedom to break the cycle of vulnerability.” Advocates encourage others to not only be aware of the problem, but also do what they can to fight it. Both within the U.S. and internationally, the campaign has raised awareness, pushed for new, tougher legislation regarding trafficking, and set up support for other organizations and individuals battling slavery.
Batstone outlines it well in his introduction: “There are times to read history, and there are times to make history. We live right now at one of those epic moments in the fight for human freedom. We no longer have to wonder how we might respond to our moment of truth… A bit overdramatic, you might think. [However] As Edmund Burke presented the challenge so eloquently two centuries ago, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men [and women] do nothing.”
Slavery. Human trafficking. Whatever we choose to call it, it is not something from a history book or an underdeveloped country. It is alive and well, illegal and prosperous. We can no longer debate the existence of the problem and the challenge for change has been made.
I am not for sale.
You are not for sale.
No one should be for sale.