KOKOMO, Ind. — The clothes you buy, the brand of coffee you drink, and the places you choose to shop all impact the lives of people around the world.
A sociology class at Indiana University Kokomo opened Julie Thomison’s eyes to the issue of human trafficking and slave labor created by a global economy. She and her classmates educated fellow students on this issue with their exhibit, “27 Million: Shining Light on Slavery.”
“We felt it was our responsibility to do something about it, not just learn about it,” said Thomison, from Kokomo. “When it comes to labor, we need to be aware of how what we choose to purchase impacts the lives of the people who create those goods.”
The exhibit highlighted the plight of people working slave labor jobs in factories and the sex industry around the world, as part of a class taught by Ligaya McGovern, professor of sociology.
McGovern gave students the choice between a multiple-choice final exam or creating an exhibit, and said they learned more by researching for this project.
“This really is an example of student-directed learning, and they ventured outside the box in researching and applying their knowledge to educate others,” she said. “We hope people who see it gain better awareness of the problem, and will be moved to some kind of action.”
Thomison found the material moving, and sometimes difficult to process emotionally.
“This project was an outlet, allowing us to do something to make a difference,” she said. “We took in a lot of heavy information in a short time. We hope our exhibit makes people aware of how big a problem this is.”
Sociology major Haylee Robertson, from Sheridan, didn’t know much about human trafficking before taking McGovern’s class.
“It opened my eyes a lot,” she said. “We realized it’s going on everywhere, and it is an issue for everyone.”
She said students can make a difference by not always just buying the cheapest goods, but seeking out clothing, food and other items created in fair labor environments. Robertson said, though, with no international standard, it can be hard to find them.
A $1,000 grant from the IU Office of the Vice President for International Affairs allowed the class to bring Professor Isidor Walliman, a Swiss expert in globalization, environmentalism, and sustainability, to speak at the exhibition’s opening.
Walliman said human trafficking has expanded because of globalization, and has resulted in loss of human rights.
“Human trafficking is not sustaining life, it is destroying life in various ways,” he said. “We need social policies to eliminate that threat to life.”
The global economy allows business owners to operate in places with little protection for human rights or the environment, where they can pay slave wages and destroy the environment to extract its resources.
“Life where the labor is cheapest is not sustainable to human rights,” he said. “People have the right to work for a living wage, and not be marginalized socially.”
Indiana University Kokomo serves north central Indiana.