Russell Simmons: Twenty-Seven Million Slaves

Human trafficking, otherwise known as child labor, migrant smuggling, sex worker trafficking, debt bondage, or good old fashioned slavery, adds up to one inescapable reality. An estimated 27 million human beings worldwide today are living lives of exploitation and humanity stripped bare beyond the bone of basic human rights. This is a bigger number than at any point in documented history.

They are objects of ownership, forgotten as children in need of love, nurturing and protection; forgotten as flesh and blood creatures that bruise and bleed and are more than vessels for sex; forgotten as individuals with the desire for purpose and peace and protection from the violence and intimidation they face every day. If they are not a source of revenue for those who own them, they are a useless, expendable tool. The physical pain and the psychological scars that result are indelible. Globally, some 24 percent of victims of human trafficking are children, and 66 percent overall are women. Not surprisingly, 79 percent of the victims are subjected to sexual exploitation.

None of this is acceptable on any level, but it goes on at such staggering levels every day. How? We know that no human being should be the property of another. So how can this be happening? Didn’t we learn anything from the Transatlantic Slave Trade and the 400 years of injustice that has followed for its African victims? Why do we need so many dedicated organizations at work every day addressing human trafficking? The world needs to know about the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and their intensive work to begin to understand the scope and patterns involved, including the governmental, criminal and legal ramifications of human trafficking. We need to support NGOs and grass-roots efforts for victim’s rights/recovery and global awareness such as Free the Slaves world-wide, Somaly Mam Foundation in Cambodia, and Touch a Life Foundation in Ghana. It is inspiring to see some efforts are founded or shaped by the direct involvement of those formerly enslaved, who are determined to help others suffering the same fate.

While we are getting a handle on how big the issues of human trafficking are from a humanitarian, economic and criminal perspective, we can’t escape the truth that this will not go away without addressing the root causes of poverty and ignorance. To heal the wounds inflicted on survivors of human trafficking we can’t look away. We have to demand as the human race, at bare minimum, we must make a human being endowed with the inalienable right of dignity so that they cannot be bought or sold.

A few months ago, I was appointed the United Nations Goodwill Ambassador for the Permanent Memorial to Slavery and the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, which will be erected on the grounds of the UN in New York City. It’s an honor to be of service in memorializing such a defining chapter in human rights and history. But that’s just the thing — it’s a chapter. We’ve got to be focused on writing the rest of the book and we’ve got to make sure that humanity does better than allowing the continued slavery of our sisters and brothers who need their race to care.

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