December, 2023 Monthly Reflection

As We Prepare Our Hearts to Receive Jesus, Let’s Not Forget His Children Who Are Exploited for The Goods We Consume

Christine Commerce

This Christmas season, many children may find holiday chocolates in their stockings and dream of a new iPad or bicycle. Similarly, a little boy in Africa also had a dream of owning his own bicycle and was lured away from his family with this simple promise — one he never saw.

Instead, he found himself forced to work on a cocoa plantation where he worked 12 hours a day, slept in a shed on a black tarp, and was given nothing but bananas and yams to eat. He never even got to taste the chocolate he worked so hard for.

According to the US Dept. of Labor, there are 1.56 million child laborers in the Cocoa Industry in Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana. About 43 percent are in hazardous activities such as swinging machetes, carrying heavy loads, and spraying pesticides.

Dec. 2 marked the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery. We learned about the 13th Amendment and the abolition of slavery in school, and many of us may think this is something in the past. While slavery has been abolished in every country around the world, it still exists in every country.

Mauritania was the last country to abolish slavery in 1981 but it only became a criminal offence in the country in 2007 and no cases were successfully prosecuted until 2011. (United Nations Human Rights). Slavery may look differently now and often goes by a different name — human trafficking.

The International Day for the Abolition of Slavery focused on eradicating contemporary forms of slavery such as human trafficking, sexual exploitation, child labor, forced marriage, and forced recruitment of children for use in armed conflict. According to the International Labour Organization, 152 million children – 64 million girls and 88 million boys – are in child labor globally, accounting for almost one in 10 of all children worldwide.

Today, human trafficking, often referred to as modern-day slavery, is the fastest-growing criminal industry in the world – second only to illegal drugs. Here in the United States, human trafficking looks very different than slavery of the past. It is not based on the color of one’s skin color. Rather, human trafficking can impact any age, race, religion, or socio-economic background. However, traffickers typically exploit those who are most vulnerable, which include minorities, those with lower incomes, abused, neglected, alone, and especially immigrants.

In the United States, we often hear about human trafficking in the form of sex trafficking. Only recent news reports about child labor have brought to light that these atrocities we thought were once limited to children abroad exist here as well. U.S. companies are taking advantage of these often young and desperate workers who come here seeking a better life. These children may not be shackled and beaten but they are forced to work in sometimes dangerous conditions with chemicals, in harsh elements, receiving little pay from companies that often violate child labor laws.

Labor exploitation and trafficking are nothing new in the U.S., but many people do not realize that it’s happening in nail salons, garment industries, construction, lawn care, the agriculture industry, and more. (Watch: the National Farm Worker Ministry’s webinar “Introduction to Child Labor in Agriculture” or Check out AEHT’s webinar: Slavery in Our Tomatoes).

It’s often hidden in plain sight and we’re not sure how to recognize the signs or how we can play a role in ending it. Changes in labor laws and immigration policies are one step in the right direction and we can play a role by contacting our legislators to let them know that everyone deserves the right to dignified work and fair wages. (Read: The U.S. Is Choosing Child Labor Over More Immigration.)

While we are dealing with a broken immigration system, we must not forget we play a role in our purchasing choices as well. The problem with our over-consumerism culture is that we want things, and we want them fast and cheap. Part of the solution to this complex issue is we must make sacrifices and sometimes do research and not always purchase what is convenient and cheap.

There’s nothing I love more than a bargain except the feeling I get when I purchase ethically sourced items knowing it was made by someone paid a fair wage, who can then afford to send their children to school, or who can create a life outside of selling themselves for sex. Perhaps that will cost us some time and extra money, but we have a choice. Children and adults in labor exploitation often don’t have a choice.

Buying ethically sourced goods may come with a heftier price tag, but people on a limited budget can still make a difference. Here’s how:

  • Contact companies and ask them what they are doing to address labor exploitation in their supply chains and learn more about your favorite companies. Read: Candy company uses cocoa harvested by child labor: CBS News investigation (
  • Coordinate a clothing swap among friends or buy used from thrift and second-hand stores.
  • Purchase more fair-trade gifts. I love using companies such as SERRV, Ten Thousand Villages, or UNICEF’s catalog when buying gifts. I use the opportunity to share this information with others and it often comes with a nifty tag on who made the product. You can check out AEHT’s website for Survivor-Made and Fair-Trade items to help you with your holiday shopping.
  • Sign up for Action Alerts and stay tuned for ways you can advocate to prevent the trafficking of immigrants in forced migration.
  • Begin thinking about your New Year’s Resolutions now and pick five items and change the ways you purchase those items.
  • Lent is just around the corner and instead of simply eating seafood on Fridays, educate yourself on how slavery still exists in the seafood industry and how you can make a difference in changing the ways you purchase seafood.
  • Finally, you can support the Alliance To End Human Trafficking with an end-of-year gift to help with our education, advocacy, and support for survivors: org/donate/.

The ways you can become a modern-day abolitionist are endless for everyone – even those of us on a limited budget. This holiday season, consider whose hands made the products you are purchasing. Ending human trafficking is everyone’s work!

“Things have a price and can be for sale, but people have dignity that is priceless and worth far more than things.” – Pope Francis

Christine Commerce is the program director for the Alliance to End Human Trafficking.



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