Me & My Sixty-Two Slaves

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Tell the heavens
to send down justice
like showers of rain.
Prepare the earth
for my saving power
to sprout and produce justice
that I, the LORD, create.
Isaiah 45:8

by Jennifer Lucking

Slavery is a global concern in which we are all implicated.

The coffee we drink. The food we eat. The clothes we wear. The electronic devices we use.
There are approximately 45 million people enslaved in the world today.

And 62 slaves work for me.

You can go to SlaveryFootprint.org to input a number of personal lifestyle factors including the food you eat, clothes you wear, and other consumer products you buy and use like electronics, makeup, sporting goods, and jewelry. The website then calculates how many slaves “work for you” based on your lifestyle and consumer choices. I recognize that the number is not meant to be precise; it is impossible to know just how many lives have been negatively impacted because of one’s consumer choices. But this can be a useful tool to reveal that we are all complicit in systems of oppression, exploitation and slavery.

I am often overwhelmed that, even as someone who knows quite a bit about slavery, I am still not blameless. As someone who fervently tries to make conscious choices to limit my impact on exploitation, I am still part of a consumer demand that drives slavery. It doesn’t matter if it’s 62 people, or 1,000, or 5. I know–because of various factors like globalization, capitalism, gender-based violence, greed, and sin–that the number of exploited persons that I negatively impact stands at least one. And one person enslaved is one too many.

So, where does this leave me? As a Christian called to do right, seek justice, defend the oppressed, take up the cause of the fatherless, and plead the case of the widow? (Isaiah 1:7) Where does this leave us–as people called to act justly, love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God? (Micah 6:8)

Though we are called to act justly, we fail. We are sinful. We live in a sinful world.

We buy that chocolate bar, even though we know the company producing it does not have a commitment to justice. We buy clothes with more concern about our own outward appearance or our bottom dollar than concern for the person working in exploitative conditions to make it. We watch pornography because we are concerned more about our own gratification than our relationships with God and others let alone the person on the other side of the screen. It’s easy to say that the problem is too big, to become paralyzed by the amount of injustice in our world today, to feel immobilized by our guilt.

Especially when we come to realize that we often unknowingly make choices that have negative impact. Perhaps you don’t know that many electronic devices–in cell phones and cars, for example–are mined by child labourers. Or perhaps you can’t be sure whether the clothes you’re wearing contains cotton picked by child labourers or sewed by people working in slave-like conditions. So many of us are unaware of where our food originated and whether there were exploited people involved in growing, picking, or producing what we feed ourselves and our loved ones.

But even in this, whether intentional or not, we still contribute to slavery. I often wrestle with this; as someone who cares so much about those enslaved in our world, how can I reconcile my desire to do good and the reality of the negative impact I have on others? I cry out from Romans 7:15: “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.”

William Wilberforce said of slavery: “You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know.” Now we know… And yet, though we can make significant choices to minimize our negative impact, we will still continue to be part of this exploitative system of oppression. There seems to be no escape, caught in a system of slavery that is difficult (arguably, impossible) to avoid.

And this is where I bask in the grace of our Saviour. And continue to heed God’s call to seek and stand for justice. When guilt immobilizes me, grace surrounds me. When I am paralyzed by the level of injustice in our world and consider that I am just one person, God reminds me of his perfect redeeming justice and the call to do our part. We are called to stand for justice–out of worship for our Saviour, and as a people called to live and love like Christ.

Prepare the earth
for my saving power
to sprout and produce justice
that I, the LORD, create.

I take comfort in Isaiah 45:8 because the “saving power” is up to God. That means we don’t give in to guilt, or give up trying where we can make real difference. He calls us to prepare, in anticipation of his perfect justice.

So in the meantime… I choose to drink fair trade coffee.

I choose to be more mindful of where I purchase my foods.

I think twice before reveling in that sale at the big box store. I will take time to wonder who is profiting if I only spend $5 on a shirt.

I commit to pray for those trapped in a system of slavery and exploitation, even as I type this on a computer with components in it that could have been produced by enslaved or exploited men, women, or children.

I will continue to advocate. I will continue to raise awareness. I will continue to prepare for perfect justice that only God can create.

Jennifer Lucking serves as a Mission Co-Worker with the Reformed Church in America’s Global Mission in partnership with the Regional Synod of Canada. In her role as Coordinator of Human Trafficking Outreach, she engages congregations, groups, and individuals to equip and mobilize them in channeling their concerns for modern day slavery, human trafficking, and commercial sexual exploitation. She lives in the “Great White North,” in southern Ontario with her husband, daughter, and a smattering of pets.

Comments 1

  1. Thank you, Jennifer. Too often we think that our actions only effect our own little circle; we forget that they ripple out to the whole of creation.

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