Modern day slavery. What role do you play?

For the past two years, photographer Lisa Kristine has traveled the world, documenting the unbearably harsh realities of modern-day slavery. She shares hauntingly beautiful images — miners in the Congo, brick layers in Nepal — illuminating the plight of the 27 million souls enslaved worldwide. (Filmed at TEDxMaui)

A moving talk, for sure. Makes you reassess and puts routine problems into perspective… Hats off to Lisa Kristine for bringing the topic of modern day slavery to the digital audience.

But I can’t help but think this exploration doesn’t go deep enough. The photos trigger our emotions of pity and a sense of injustice, but there is no real confrontation of the existing system, no clear call to action. What’s next?

Because the thing is, we all have a part to play. It’s the current culture of consumption, combined with poverty and corruption we tolerate and often support through our governments, that drives modern day slavery. It’s the golden earrings women commenting on this talk buy that come from mines in Africa; it’s the fancy tiles that are used in hotel chains we stay in when we travel, that are delivered by children in India; it’s the demand for cheap and cheaper goods that generates such thirsty for profits and indifferent to suffering ‘entrepreneurs’ enslaving their poor counterparts in all corners of the world.

And it’s not just ‘the other world from TV’ issue; it’s happening in the US, the UK, Middle East, everywhere. From sex trafficking, to religious sects, to millions of migrants working in inhumane jobs. It’s in everyone’s back yard. And it’s often easier to ignore.

The problem is complex. How to break the silos and corruption that prevent from action being taken? How to ensure safety for those who escape slavery, and their families, and how to provide them with livelihoods after they escape? Who will pay for the new life? And who will save the next generation that replaces the lucky ones? Do we work on government transparency? Education? The rule of law? The family values? Fair trade? All of the above? And most of all, between consumer whingeing about rising housing and energy costs, and obsession with celebrity lives, does our society really care?..

In Australia, people seem to be more concerned about the fate of cows shipped to Indonesia, that about refugees arriving by boat – from Indonesia. Will we agree to pay for the new government program to create equal conditions for all if we need to shell out extra $5 a month? We vote most loudly with our wallets, and the voting of the last couple of years hasn’t been inspiring.

So what do we do?
Contrary to what may appear from above, I have hope. I believe in – and grateful for the existence of – people who pioneer humanitarian causes. Every movement needs a champion. There are organisations dedicated to eradicating slavery – Free the Slaves being one (please donate), that are fighting to bring justice and a better world for all. And people like Lisa Kristine, who bring it to wide public’s attention. We need to support them.

I also believe that on individual level, we need to look at our actions and see how they affect the world around us. Do not just rely on not-for-profits and governments to do the job.

If you say you care, about ending slavery or any other humanitarian issue – show you do. Check how your funds are invested. Buy fair trade when you can. Give without expecting a return.  Ask uncomfortable questions. Don’t work for unethical companies. Spread the word.

This is where TED talks like this are important. They inspire, they connect to our emotions, they put the problem in front of the local and global audience, and tell people – now you know. Now you can’t hide in ignorance.

Once we, who have the privilege to be able to act, become aware, we have the responsibility to act.
Every little step counts. As does the one you don’t take.

What are you going to do?