In Close Proximity

Editors’ Note: Olivia Poust, a journalist for ONE and communications assistant for CNEWA, reported on the church’s response to human trafficking, particularly by religious women, in the September 2023 edition of ONE magazine. She examines the drivers and forms of trafficking in her article and, in her audio report below, shares her personal reflection on the links to trafficking in her own life — more links than she had previously recognized. A full transcript follows. 

For many of us, human trafficking feels like a far-off issue — something we’re aware of, but with a level of distance that provides a comfortable disconnect. It is not a daily concern, and maybe is reflected upon every so often when a related headline floats by. Maybe we even read the full article, temporarily distraught by the pain that is a constant reality for so many.

For the September issue of ONE magazine, I wrote an article that examines some of the factors that drive trafficking, as well as the data on its various forms and affected demographics. What struck me was the proximity of this issue to my own life, and not just geographically.

When I was a teenager, I read an Associated Press exposé about the use of forced labor in the fishing industry in Southeast Asia, particularly Thailand. As a pescatarian, and a big fan of shrimp, which were identified as being unethically produced, I told my parents we needed to be more cognizant of where our seafood was coming from. To their credit, from that point forward, they stood at the sink peeling and deveining shrimp themselves, rather than buying cleaned shrimp whose bags were labeled “Product of Thailand.” In retrospect, in my quest for justice I could have taken on this task myself, but it still felt significant to take a stand.

Now, as I shop in the seafood section of my grocery store, I forget to check the country of origin of my food. I admire the ease of buying a bag of shrimp that just needs to be defrosted and cooked, with no cleaning necessary. I have become complacent because of the luxury and comfort it provides me.

I often buy my clothes secondhand because it’s more sustainable, and because I don’t have to worry about the ethics like I would if I bought from a “fast fashion” brand, which are infamous for using forced labor to achieve cheap, fast production. But if I find a jacket, or blouse, or pair of shoes that I don’t want to hunt down at a consignment or thrift store, I’ll buy them without guilt.

My morning coffee, my phone, the laptop I’m recording this audio on, are all potentially, if not likely, produced by workers who are victims of forced labor.

And while blame should not fall solely on the consumer, since many of these items are considered important by society and necessary to exist within it, making ourselves aware that human trafficking is not some distant issue, but one deeply and closely connected to our own lives, is essential in combatting the root causes and systems that allow for this crime to continue.

It is an issue that warrants our attention, and more so, our urgent action.

Olivia Poust is assistant editor of ONE.

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