In Thailand thousands of "sea slaves," held captive in shoddy fishing vessels, trawl for cheap forage fish used in canned pet food. In Pakistan, children as young as five are sold or kidnapped and forced to stand knee-deep in water, packing clay into molds to make bricks. In Ghana, poisonous dust and exposure to toxic chemicals and mine collapses threaten the health and safety of children who work in the artisanal gold mines.
Slavery, a practice successfully eradicated in the 19th century, is today a flourishing underworld, generating a whopping $150 billion in illegal profits each year, according to the International Labor Organization (ILO). Approximately 21 million people around the world — about 3 out of every 1,000 individuals, 5 million of them children — are victims of forced labor, according to the most recent estimate, up from 12.3 million in 2005, the ILO reports.
"Trafficking in persons … is one of the largest income sources for international criminals, second only to drug trafficking," said U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Maryland), ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing last week to address the issue of modern slavery.
Over the past 16 years, numerous laws and conventions have been passed, including the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000 and the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime — also known as the Palermo Protocol. But while countries have steadily been increasing their commitment to address slavery, many challenges remain.
Now there's new hope: In a bold move last week, President Obama signed H.R. 644, the "Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015," which includes an amendment to close the loophole in the Tariff Act of 1930 allowing goods produced from slaves to enter the U.S. if American production could not meet 100 percent consumer demand.