Consumerism & Human Trafficking: A Socio-political View from an Eastern European Perspective

One of the hard questions today is, “What is the main reason for human trafficking?” In the past, people compared human trafficking with slavery. Wealthy individuals wanted to have a cheap labor force, so they initiated “crusades” to Africa and enslaved people. Africans didn’t have a choice; nobody asked, “Would you like to work at my farm, dear?” Masters forced, sold, bought, and used people as they wanted.

The second half of the twentieth century is known as a period of human rights’ victory. Western countries stopped predatory wars and many countries from Africa, Asia, and Eastern Europe proclaimed their independence. However, the world faced the second wave of slavery in new forms that were more inventive, resourceful, and wilier. There are no armies, no ships with slaves and horses in one hold; there are no soldiers and guns. But how are recruiters winning? How are they entrapping that new generation of victims?

Let’s think about the reality in the majority of the world. Why do many people (especially youth) want to escape their countries? The most common answer is that they don’t have a job. This could be true for some African and Asian countries, but what about for Eastern Europe? Maybe not. Let me give some examples from Moldova (part of the former Soviet Union).

Some people indeed are forced to seek jobs abroad from their native land. Most of these people are naïve, and traffickers use that naivety, suggesting false options to them. There are some opportunities to find jobs in Moldova, but these either do not pay well, are not easy to learn, or will not lead to a career. There are many other reasons people leave. However, the reality is that these are not “reasons” at all, but only consequences of another reason: consumerism. Some people do leave in order to feed their families, but most want to go abroad not because they don’t have daily bread, but because they want to buy a new car, to pay for the best schooling for their children, to buy new furniture, etc.

The West has declared a new war against the majority of the world. Billboards, commercials, and advertising are the soldiers of this new army. They have attacked the majority of the world, convincing a new generation that consumption of their goods will make them happy.

People go to both Western and Majority World countries to get more money, to buy new products, to spend more money in bars and night clubs. More than ninety percent of the money which comes to Moldova from Moldovans working abroad (including victims of human trafficking) goes to consumerism. More than 1.3 billion (milliard) USD came to Moldova in 2008 from individuals working abroad. At least one billion was spent for new cars, food, clothes, computers, smart phones, houses, etc.

Many of the people in Eastern Europe compare themselves with people from the West and try to catch up with them in terms of buying capacity in a very short time. People in Western countries also are exposed to consumerism, but the difference is that they have preconditions for that (e.g., job, legacy, credit for up to thirty years, etc.). People in Eastern Europe live more day to day. When people from the West come to Moldova, they are surprised: according to the all statistics, Moldova is the poorest country in Europe, but streets are full with wealthy cars, and good dressed people. Western crusaders flooded our country.

Consumerism and Human Trafficking
There is a direct connection between consumerism and human trafficking, and companies and people which are seeking a cheap trade force are responsible. Western companies try to find illegal migrants because they don’t ask for a lot of money and it’s easy to manipulate by them. Most migrants go abroad illegally, but many of them as victims of human trafficking.

Toward an Anti-Consumerist Worldview
Our team began to work toward promoting a new worldview—Simple Style. The focus is on changing one’s worldview such that a person does not view themselves as lesser than someone else if: he or she doesn’t have a smart phone; he or she can’t buy a big house for his or her family; he or she doesn’t drive a new car. Alongside caring for victims of human trafficking and using our prevention program, we would like show the real reason of contemporary slavery and to help all like-minded persons and organizations to work together to lobby anti-consumerist worldviews on different levels.

There are at least four elements of an anti-consumerist worldview:

  • A person can and should live according to his or her income.
  • An estimation of one’s life should not be build upon purchasing power.
  • Glamour and the fashion establishment are not the rulers in this life game.
  • The West should understand that the East is not a marketplace for Western products and cheap trade force.

Vladimir Ubeivolc is president of Beginning of Life, a Non-Governmental Organization in Moldova.