Modern slavery is a growing problem worldwide, according to Emma DeCaro, vice president of the International Justice Mission’s UT chapter.
The organization held an event Wednesday to encourage students to sign a petition against modern slavery and to raise funds for and awareness of people who are enduring slavery. Last year, the Global Slavery Index estimated that nearly 30 million people are enslaved worldwide. The event, Stand for Freedom, started at Gregory Plaza at 11 a.m. and was scheduled to run for 24 hours.
DeCaro said slavery can happen anywhere, taking the form of manual labor, sex trafficking and sweatshop labor.
“There’s no country left untouched by this,” DeCaro said. “Even in Austin, the police department has an undercover human trafficking unit where they go and conduct raids, usually at massage parlors or where brothels are disguised.”
History professor Jacqueline Jones said she defines slavery to include people who are made to work against their will, people who are denied their rightful compensation and people who are prevented from contacting family or the authorities to rectify the situation.
“By that definition, slavery certainly exists today,” Jones said. “I think it is hidden from the middle class, who don’t see this kind of thing in the normal course of the day [because] it’s easy to exploit people when it is done in the shadows — for instance, in private homes, rural areas, brothels.”
Jones said the exploitation of cheap labor is a result of companies focusing on maximizing profits at the expense of employees.
“It has to do with the quest to get cheap, exploitable labor,” Jones said. “It’s a criminal enterprise, obviously, but I think it tells us a lot about where we are as a society. The American consumer wants the cheapest possible [goods]. It is a reminder that people will go to great lengths to find the cheapest labor possible and to pay those labors as little as possible or nothing at all.”
Kara Rollins, management and youth and community studies freshman, said she has heard personal stories about slavery and wants to help fight modern slavery.
“I know a lot of people don’t realize there are still slaves in the world,” Rollins said. “That’s just something that kind of hits close to home with me because I feel like I buy things and don’t really think about where they come from or who’s making it. So we need to raise awareness because it is a big deal.”