Note: Part 1 covered prostitution in the Northwest Arkansas area, Part 2 will discuss some of the other types of human trafficking.
Stephanie Jira, of the Little Rock office of Not For Sale, sat at the table in the Community Bakery in Little Rock. She looks more like the girl-next-door than a crusader against human trafficking. She was in her late twenties with short blond hair. As she ate her bagel and drank her canned root beer, she talked about human trafficking in Arkansas. “We see migrant workers, service industry, restaurants, ” she said.
“One of the cases we’ve recently seen is door-to-door magazine sales,” Jira said. “We’d heard rumors of it, but we’d never actually seen a case.” Jira recounted one story of two young people answered a job ad on Craig’s List, who took jobs to sell magazines, however they were not paid for their efforts. When one of them became sick and could not work they were abandoned by their employer, in a dangerous neighborhood, without being paid. Being left with no financial means, they reached out to the local authorities, who put them in touch with Not For Sale.
One young man in Fayetteville, Joseph Bell, 23, also answered an ad for magazine sales several years ago and was sent a bus ticket. He went to work for the company and after several weeks was never paid. His employers demanded he cut his hair at this time and he refused. He too was dropped off without any money. Fortunately Bell was able to call his mother who bought him a bus ticket online.
Jira explains that human trafficking covers a wide range of thing, from housekeepers in hotels to children harvesting cocoa for chocolate production in the Ivory Coast, literally anyone that is being forced to work without being paid. Jira explained that every time a person eats a Hershey bar, they have eaten a product that comes with a devastating cost – the cost of freedom and human dignity. The only way to be certain that chocolate or even coffee are not tainted with the blood of slaves is to buy fair trade.
One of the difficulties in buying fair trade is that no one definition for it exists. Generally, fair trade means that the product is certified to have been made by people who received a fair wage. Some fair trade also means there was environmentally sound production However, there are several international fair trade organizations which seek to ensure better trading and working conditions. From 2008 to 2009, fair trade products experienced a 22 percent increase in overall sales, thus at least indicating that more people are becoming more aware of such inequities as human trafficking and are willing to pay more for products that insure at least a modicum of respect for humanity.
Jira heard about human trafficking several years ago when her pastor spoke on the topic one Sunday. After she heard about it, she felt that God wanted her to become involved in stopping human trafficking. She then heard about Not For Sale, which is a grassroots, international, Christian organization that works in the communities. Not For Sale is in Uganda, Cambodia, Little Rock, New York – anywhere people are concerned about stopping modern-day slavery.