A man convicted of human trafficking on Monday is the first ever in Cuyahoga County, according to the prosecutor’s office.
CLEVELAND - Did you know there are move slaves in the world today than any other time in history? Knowledge is power and that's what will help end human trafficking.
Today, there are approximately 27 million people bound to slavery. Some human beings are bought or sold, others are being forced to work in inhumane conditions for an unlivable wage.
"It shows the value of life has decreased over the last 200 years. That dollar amount is less than a pair of basketball shoes," explained Rachel Carpenter, a representative with Operation Freedom Taskforce in Coventry, a group fighting to end modern-day slavery.
On April 9, people around the world will Shine a Light on Slavery by gathering at different places of worship and organizations, marking themselves with a red "X" to raise awareness about the crime and stand up for those without a voice.
From 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. on April 9, you are invited to play a pivotal role in the fight against slavery at Cornerstone Church in Akron. Every person who comes to gather on the lawn represents tens of thousands of people who are enslaved.
"Just show up and help represent slaves in the world today. You can find out more about the cause when you do," explained Carpenter. "The money generated from this global business is around $32 billion for only paying $90 for a human life."
"Awareness is doing the work of ending slavery because you can't do anything about it until you know it's happening," said OFT representative Stephanie Kilper. "Until a large number of people know it's a huge issue, nothing can be done. People need to stand up and say 'no more!'"
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According to the End It Movement, slavery occurs when one person completely controls another person using violence, or the threat of violence, to maintain control and exploit them economically while paying them nothing -- and they can't walk away. Millions of men, women and children are being forced to work in factories, brothels and in fields.
Sex trafficking is the one people recognize most, but it's a far cry from the only form of human trafficking.
"A lot of chocolate comes from kids working in fields to pick cocoa beans. It's the same thing with cotton or rice. It's a lot bigger than sex trafficking, especially when choosing what you eat and buy," explained Kilper.
Hershey's is one of the worst offenders of modern-day slavery using forced child labor.
"When you buy their chocolate, think about this: young children have been forced to labor in inhumane conditions 15-17 hours a day to give you that decadent bar. You have to ask yourself, ‘is it worth it?'" Carpenter said. "We complain about minimum wage which, for some of these people, would make them wealthy. Children being forced to walk miles through dangerous areas to reach whatever their forced labor is has to stop."
And it slowly is.
Because of the awareness being raised, and people refusing to buy a certain product once they know where it came from and how, a dent in slavery is being made. Hershey's, for example, is now making an effort to become free trade.
In the meantime, there are several brands of chocolate that are slave-free and can be purchased from Giant Eagle. Sweetriot and Divine are among them. The extra few pennies the chocolate bars cost are worth the price to Kilper and Carpenter because it means children aren't enslaved to provide it.
"You can't fight enemies you don't acknowledge," Carpenter said. "We can't all be Liam Neeson-like, but we can support agencies and others who fight for this."
How can you help awaken, inspire, and equip people in your community?
- Participate in the Shine a Light on Slavery Day on April 9 in Akron or in a community near you
- Download the End It community leader and/or faith action kits
- On your smartphone, download apps like Free2Work and learn how your favorite brands relate to trafficking and other labor abuses
- Go online to SlaveryFootprint.org and take a survey to learn more about the products you buy, how many slaves you have working for you and where they're coming from
"You don't have to go to the cocoa fields in Africa or red-light districts in Thailand to do something about ending slavery," Kilper stressed. "You can also make a difference from your home just by praying."
"Slaves around the world are people like you and me, children like ours. They are family members to someone, someone who is grievously missed and prayed over," Carpenter said. "They matter in the grand scheme of things and if there's no one else who will save them, we need to step up and do it. Every life is valuable."
An Ohio man has been sentenced to 20 years in prison in Maryland on human trafficking and prostitution charges.