Slavery never sleeps. Human trafficking is alive and well in countless sweatshops across the Third World. Since it began operations in 1972, footwear giant Nike has been accused of producing apparel and sporting goods using sweatshop labor practices. One weekend last month, a group of Modesto teens raised awareness of the issue.
"About a year ago, I had an experience in the Tenderloin where I saw a woman being dragged into an alley by a pimp, and it struck me then that he owned her," said Zachary Senn, a home-schooled high school junior and the organizer of the protest. "Ever since that experience, I've had a real passion to stop human trafficking and slavery.
"I did some research and found out that Nike uses slave labor blatantly in the production of their products. (Nike is) an industry leader, and if they stop, then all the other companies will eventually follow suit. So if we could get Nike to stop using slave labor, it could really bring down the number of sweatshops."
A member of The Bee's Teens in the Newsroom Program, Senn and five other area teens headed to San Francisco. There they spent several hours protesting in front of the Nike store with signs and by passing out informational fliers.
Senn created a Web page about the cause and taped QR codes those matrixes of pixelated squares often seen on ads and products leading to it on their van, so that anyone seeing it could scan them with smart phones.
"Child labor and worker exploitation is at an all-time high," said Senn. "There is currently a higher number of slaves in the world than there ever has been at a previous point in history. Right now, there are 30 million people living in indentured servitude or slavery. It is estimated to pass up the drug cartel industry within the next five years, as far as profits and revenue."
Added Clairene Dotinga, a junior at Beyer High School in Modesto: "It's very important to raise awareness. (Forced labor) is very prevalent, but a lot people don't know about it even though it is such a big issue."
Added Christopher Cadena, a freshman at Merced College, "It's very unfair how these people have to live and get by in life."
The accusations against Nike include terrible living conditions, garnished wages, withheld passports for foreign workers, forced labor and even illegal child labor in Pakistan.
Last year, The Associated Press reported: "Workers making Converse sneakers in Indonesia say supervisors throw shoes at them, slap them in the face and call them dogs and pigs.
Nike, the brand's owner, said such abuse has occurred among the contractors that make its high-tops, but said there was little it could do to stop it. Dozens of interviewed workers and a document released by Nike show that the footwear and athletic apparel giant has far to go to meet the standards it set for itself a decade ago to end its reliance on sweatshops.
On its Nike.com website, the company states, "We operate a global toll-free Alertline for employees to confidentially report any suspected violations of the law or our code of ethics. Any reported concerns around accounting, auditing or internal controls are communicated to the Audit Committee of the Board.
"We expect our suppliers to share our standards and to operate in a legal and ethical manner. Our Code of Conduct covers contractors who manufacture products for Nike and our affiliate brands. It directs them to respect the rights of their employees and to provide them with a safe and healthy work environment."
For more information on sweatshop and child labor and ways that you can help, check out www.dosomething.org.
"The trade of human flesh is very big, and it is very much alive today," said Senn. "Many, many social issues would be resolved if we ended human trafficking.
Social activism is just everyday people doing something to change the world that they live in for the better."
Annie Mathews is a senior at Gregori High School and a member of The Bee's Teens in the Newsroom Program.