Human Trafficking and Supply Chain Economics

Pictured: Photo by Jennifer Hardy/Catholic Relief Services (used with permission)

By Br. Steve Herro, O. Praem.

What do an investigator of the Brown County Sheriff’s Office and an international documentarian have in common?

Sgt. Matthew Wilson and Shraysi Tandon appeared in a discussion panel about the documentary Invisible Hands at the Green Bay Film Festival at St. Norbert College (SNC) earlier this year on March 1.

Human trafficking—whether child slavery or sex trafficking—is a popular issue for human rights advocates. As I viewed Tandon’s documentary and reflected on panelists’ comments (three other panelists were Sr. Sally Ann Brickner, O.S.F., a local social justice advocate; Kimberly Sandstrom, a licensed professional counsellor who volunteers at a Green Bay safe house for trafficking victims; and Dr. Elena A. Khapalova, assistant professor of business administration at SNC and an authority on supply chain management), I wondered why we often fail to recognize the sources of challenges facing our global and local communities. I was very touched by the common concern of a male sheriff investigator and females from academia, the counseling profession, Catholic religious life, and cinematography (when was the last time you saw a law enforcement official hanging out with such an assortment?).

As we consider stomping out the use of child slavery used to produce cheap textiles or electronic devices, or harvest chocolate or coffee beans, will we challenge ourselves when we shop for bargain-rate shirts and pants made in Bangladesh? Do we consider purchasing Fair Trade coffee (which has been certified to pay fair wages to those who grew the coffee) instead of the morning jolt from the popular coffee shop drive-through? As we imprison women who have been implicated in human sex trafficking, are we as quick to address the behavior of the buyers?

I left the viewing and discussion comparing the human trafficking issue to another current social debate: immigration and deportation. And this is why the question of supply chain and the basic economic principle of supply and demand is so important: our local and world communities would be further ahead if we examined behavior of consumers rather than just throwing the book at victims—be they child slaves, trafficked women, or immigrant workers.

DISCLAIMER: This blog represents Br. Herro’s own opinions and experiences. It does not represent an official position or opinion of St. Norbert Abbey or of any other Norbertine.