We've all heard stories of modern day slaves. We furrow our brows and allow ourselves to be shocked by the numbers. More slaves now than ever before in human history? 27 million?! Atrocious. Young girls, poor families, illegal migrants treated appallingly to produce our jeans/running shoes/chocolate/coffee/many other trappings of everyday Western world life. Terrible.
But often, that's where it ends for us. The numbers are big and the distance between us and the people at the other end of the production chain is even bigger. It's hard to maintain a real sense of horror about the deprivation required to produce many of the items we consume on a whim when the talking points remain theoretical issues and the people, just numbers.
But every now and again, a story finds its way through the clutter. Details of a real person, their experience and feelings and response. And a real person makes it a lot easy to remember why I don't really want to buy that bargain-priced knit from a retailer I know to be dodgy, despite my justifications.
Myint is one of more than 800 current and former slaves rescued or repatriated after a year-long Associated Press investigation into ongoing and widespread labour abuses in Southeast Asia's fishing industry. Without giving too much away, he was tricked into leaving his poverty stricken village in Myanmar and going to work for a short stint on an Indonesian fishing boat - and didn't return home for 22 years. And even that is a miracle, given that he was regularly told,
"We will never let you Burmese fishermen go. Even when you die."
I love seafood. But I hate the idea that someone like Myint was chained on a deck and beaten with a stingray tail to catch it. Or that there are Myints all over the world, right now, wishing they were home and making my clothes and shoes and goodness knows what else.
Luckily, we can do something about it. Getting educated about the issues, for one. Using our consumer dollar ethically, for another (we even know somewhere you can pick up awesome Fairtrade certified and slavery free gifts and goodies! ;) ). Even travelling can be an opportunity to do our bit to help stop human trafficking, just by keeping an eye out for suspicious behaviour and encouraging others to do the same. Kind of like a global Neighbourhood Watch. Wait ... is that another good reason to travel?
I'm sold. And hopefully one day, millions of people forced into labour won't be.