The Republican primary for the upcoming state senate race has gone beyond dirty — it has brought in accusations of supporting human trafficking operations. State Senator Randy Hultgren had to apologize this week for a mailer that claimed the firm his primary opponent, Ethan Hasert, works for supports companies with a history of human trafficking. And while Hultgren’s accusation may have been a little hyperbolous, Hasert might just be connectible to human trafficking after all. Which begs the questions — how many degrees of separation from human trafficking is acceptable?
Here’s the connection: Hasert works for a law firm called Mayer Brown. One of the many things Mayer Brown does is set up financing for mining interests around the world, including the Democratic Republic of the Congo. DRC has a heinous record of human rights violations and human trafficking, especially within the mining industry. Men, women, and children are trafficked to mine diamonds, gold, and other materials in the DRC, and the government often offers little in the way of regulating international companies — like Mayer Brown — who work with those industries.
If you had before you all the information you needed (which would be a feat in and of itself), I’d guess you could connect Hasert to a real live human trafficking victims within the traditional six degrees of separation. But as it turns out, Mayer Brown also contributed to Randy Hultgren’s campaign in 2008, so if they are tied to human trafficking, then so is he. Not to mention that I’m sure a search of either man’s home would return clothes made by slaves overseas, cocoa and sugar grown by slaves on plantations, and, yes, gold and diamonds mined by the slaves Hultgren was so concerned about in his mailer.
I point this out not to say that either Hasert or Hultgren are directly complicit in human trafficking, but that all of us are within six degrees of separation from the slaves who make the things we use. As I write this, my cat is asleep next to me on a pillow I’ve had for ages. If I had the information to trace back the cotton, thread, dye, and filling to their origins, I’m confident I’d find human trafficking along the way. If I do own a slave-made pillow, I’m contributing a bit to human trafficking around the world. But human trafficking is so prevalent and supply chains so complicated, it’s almost impossible to know for sure which products are tainted by slavery.
Of course, there are different degrees of separation and different degrees of complicity in human trafficking. Holding a slave in your home, having sex with a prostituted child, or knowingly facilitating human trafficking are different than drinking a cup of coffee made from beans grown by trafficked people. And working for or receiving campaign contributions from a law firm which supports an industry that enslaves and exploits thousands is somewhere in between those two. But no matter where we are on the spectrum, the key to ending human trafficking is using the power we have to make better choices. It may be power as overt as quitting a job with an organization that supports trafficking or as understated as making better choices in the products we buy. But it’s a non-political race we can all win together.
Photo credit: Ed Yourdon