The start of autumn marks the start of a slew of holidays, most of which call for large gatherings, copious dinners, and, sometimes, gift exchanges. Naturally, businesses, in anticipation of increased demand, amp up their products and services – which eventually means, yay!, sales for us indulgent consumers.
Everybody wins, right? Wrong.
Unfortunately, one industry that sees huge spikes during major holidays and (inter)national events is the booming trafficking in persons (TIP) network. For an idea of just how many people this takes a toll on: about 600,000 to 800,000 people, including an increasing proportion of children, are trafficked internationally each year. Around 90% are trafficked for forced labor and sexual exploitation.
So, for the U.S. in particular, which holidays and national past-times have researchers found are most linked to human trafficking?
This holiday originally symbolized the thinning of the divide between the realms of spirits and mortals, and functioned to ward off evil souls from the former who decided to visit the latter. Unfortunately, not people can be evil t0o, and costumes and charms aren’t enough to fend them off.
Research and documentaries like The Dark Side of Chocolate, have uncovered that about 2 million children are forced to work the very cocoa fields our beloved Halloween treats come from. Clearly these same fields provide us, including those who don’t celebrate Halloween, with chocolate goods year-round.
However, the October holiday calls for higher sales, which requires more production, which means more cocoa must be harvested. Increased demand for chocolate can mean increased demand for forced child labor.
CHRISTMAS (and other holidays that require gift exchanges)
Christmas, black Friday, boxing day – if it involves mass shopping, as in the case of the chocolates, it involves increase in supply to meet holiday demands.
If a company has the means to expand, this means an increase in workers, trafficked or not. If they don’t, it means longer hours for those already employed or indentured in servitude.
SUPER BOWL SUNDAY (and other major sporting events)
Major sporting events tend to inspire the joining of nations. Millions watch and show support from in front of the TV but still travel to the city hosting the games in order to join in festivities, and some hundreds are lucky enough to watch in person.
These two groups present a surge in profit opportunities for human traffickers. Sadly, they find those profits amongst viewers who are looking for entertainment beyond parties or the stadium.
For the U.S. some of these sporting events include the Super Bowl, the World Series, and NBA, NCAA, and NHL playoffs among other national tournaments. On a more international level, the Olympics and the FIFA World Cup coincide with surges in trafficking activity.
Not to kill all the holiday cheer…
Many countries have taken note of the correlation between big events and holidays and TIP. It is increasingly common for hosts of large sporting events to amp up regulation in and enforcement of TIP protocol. To help with enforcement, information for civilians and training for law enforcement on how to spot and report TIP are increasingly common. Many groups are also making efforts to compile lists of which food, service and product providers are known to operate on forced labor.
It’s also important to note that sporting events and holidays do not cause human trafficking – a number of socio-economic and political factors do. Rather, they just present more opportunities for human traffickers to find business.
This means the answer to combatting TIP doesn’t rest in foregoing holidays and events – but rather in being more ethically aware of where the services and products you use to celebrate come from.