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#YoungAndPowerful: Leading the Charge to Put People Over Profits

By Julianne Center

We started unBUYnd with a simple premise in mind: people over profits.

Of course, we hadn’t quite found those words yet. We didn’t even have a name to define ourselves. We were just a handful of college students sitting around a table discussing an issue that burned red on our hearts—human trafficking. Little did we know that less than a year later those hearts would find the language to testify at the Rhode Island State House for a bill we drafted. Or that we would form a coalition of local businesses and churches that support our mission to end the modern-day slave trade. Or that we would release a starter pack that would help launch supply line transparency campaigns in two other states.

Our bill, the Fair Labor Everywhere Act, makes it harder for corporations to import goods produced by coerced, trafficked, and child labor. Federal reports have proven—and additional journalism has confirmed—that slave labor is used to craft the clothes we wear, produce the food we eat, and create the products we buy. Each year, Rhode Island imports $2 billion worth of these products from countries the federal government has deemed “at risk” for these labor violations.

But when we—the consumers—are in the checkout line, this fact rarely crosses our minds. We don’t imagine the small child’s hand that picked the tomato or the sweatshop workers who sewed tags into our cheap t-shirts. And that’s exactly how large corporations want it to be. Because the numbers add up. Since 2012, Rhode Island has imported almost $40 billion dollars in foreign goods. Two of the top three countries of origin, producing almost $10 billion worth of goods between them, are known by the U.S. Department of Labor to use child labor and forced labor.

That’s why at unBUYnd, we’re buying out now.

Our bill forces corporations to tell customers and the state the extent to which they reduce the risk of human trafficking and slavery in their supply chains—and to know the labor used by their contractors and subcontractors themselves, no excuses. This transparency works in two ways. First, it allows the state to uphold decades-old federal regulations on the importation of goods produced using forced labor. Second, it empowers consumers like us to support ethical companies with our wallets.

As an anti-human trafficking advocacy group—powered by students, fighting for legislative action here and now—we are committed to seeing Rhode Island take concrete action to end its silent participation in the modern slave trade. We aim to accomplish this—scratch that, we will accomplish this—by running and winning a supply-chain transparency policy campaign in Rhode Island to create cleaner capitalism and protect human rights.

Because it’s time to face the facts: We didn't abolish slavery. We just exported it.

And we’re not going to silently stand for it anymore. We recognize we’re young. We recognize we’re not professional lobbyists. And we recognize that an entire global slave trade seems like a lot for anyone to tackle. But, as students, we also believe in the power of knowledge and its potential to alter the course of the world. By putting knowledge in the hands of the people, we can begin a grassroots social movement that inspires future change-makers to buy out of human trafficking.

It’s a simple premise to put people before profits, but it amounts to a lot of hard work and collective action. That’s why we’re asking you to join our movement by visiting our website or by following us on Facebook.

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