Do you think it's possible that slavery in the Thai fishing industry can impact the price of your home in California? What about whether children forced into domestic servitude in Malaysia affect the U.S. job market? The fact is that forced labor anywhere in the world can affect your bottom line, right here in the U.S. And here's why.
First, let's look at how forced labor costs anyone money. The main cost of forced labor comes in the form of "opportunity cost," or the lost opportunity for that worker to have made a higher wage. The vast majority of victims of forced labor are paid less than minimum wage, and human trafficking victims are often paid nothing. Let's say a forced laborer, Thang, is paid $3.00 an hour for his work as opposed to $6.00, the minimum wage where he lives. That extra three dollars he is being denied ads up, and it means Thang can buy fewer clothes, eat less food, and generally consume less of everything. And when there are over six million Thangs, like there are in Asia, that opportunity cost really ads up. In fact, according to the International Labor Organization, it adds up to over $90 billion. Now that's some expensive forced labor.
But opportunity cost isn't the only reason forced labor and human trafficking are expensive. Forced labor victims rarely have health care, so when they have medical emergencies that they are allowed to treat, they drive up medical costs. Areas with rampant exploitation of workers may also have high rates of other crimes, leading to a greater cost in law enforcement. And, of course, there is the human cost to consider. Can you place a value on the life that forced labor is destroying?
But how does poor Thang's predicament, all the way over in Asia, affect your wallet? The global economy is so intertwined that, as the last two years of recession have shown, it's hard for financial troubles in one part of the world not to affect other parts of the world. Thang and his fellow forced laborers keep the Asian economy sluggish, because they aren't being given the full amount of wage they should be. Thus, they are not spending into and bolstering the economy. This prevents Asian companies from expanding, markets from increasing, and stocks from booming. And the Asian stock market affects the American stock market, which in turn (as has become painfully obvious lately) affects just about every aspect of life in the U.S. Your job, your home, and even the price of bread at the supermarket is much more closely connected to Thang than to Kevin Bacon. We truly live in a global village. It's just a global village where some of the villagers are slaves.
Yes, forced labor has a high human cost, but it also has a high practical, hard, financial cost. It is in our self-interest to end forced labor, even halfway around the world.