Here’s a wake-up call for those people who think marijuana is harmless drug: it may be harmless to you, but it’s pretty harmful for the children who are enslaved growing it. That’s right, even weed, that timeless staple of Dave Matthew’s Band concerts and Family Guy marathons, is tainted by slavery. The problem of child trafficking in drug factories and farms is growing in the UK, and may be an indicator of a new global trend of child trafficking.
In Great Britain this week, a crack-down on factories that produce marijuana found eight children, six of whom were Vietnamese and two of whom were British, working in the factories under terrible conditions. And this is by no means the first time children have been used as slaves to grow and process pot. Last July, another bust found children between 14 and 16 who had been locked inside marijuana grow operations, forced to water and care for the plants every day. They were made to sleep in cupboards to make space for more plants, and were at constant risk for electrocution from the poorly-wired heating elements. Most of the children enslaved in the marijuana industry in the UK are children trafficked into the country from Asia, but some are local.
Unfortunately, when trafficked children and adults are found in these operations, they are usually treated like criminals instead of victims. Often, trafficking victims have been threatened with violence and deportation if the cooperate with the police. They usually know that what they’re doing is illegal, so they are doubly afraid to ask for help from the police. Trafficker play off these fears to keep victims enslaved tending plants and working in factories.
There is some debate as to whether or not legalizing marijuana would reduce the use of child labor in the industry. On the one hand, illegal drug production is often run by criminal gangs who, since they’re already engaged in something illegal, have little incentive to follow labor regulations. On the other hand, child labor is widely used in both legal and illegal industries in countries around the world, so it’s difficult to determine if legalizing the drug would reduce the exploitation of the people producing it.
Either way, pot users should be aware that their favorite drug might be tainted by child slavery, despite popular claims that marijuana is somehow “purer” than other substances. There are child slaves drying your weed just as sure as they’re sewing your sweatpants and picking your coffee beans. It’s up to you as a consumer to make the most ethical decisions about what you buy and know as much as possible about where it comes from. It’s a simple thing, and it’s just another way to be kind, bud.
Photo credit: Torbin Bjorn Hansen