The U.S. State Department’s recent report on Human Trafficking is sobering: only 42,000 children and adults were rescued, leaving 20.9 million in forced labor. Of that 20.9 million, 4.5 million remain sexually exploited.

As reported, the offense of trafficking involves recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton stated, “… despite the adoption of treaties and laws prohibiting slavery, the evidence nevertheless shows that many men, women, and children continue to live in modern-day slavery through the scourge of trafficking …”

Think trafficking is uncommon in the U.S.? Think again. Akron, Ohio Police recently arrested a mother for prostituting her daughter. According to the report, the woman allegedly drove her daughter to different apartment complexes in their neighborhood and forced her to engage in sexual activities with men in exchange for money and drugs.  The activity went on for at least a year or more, mostly in 2007.  In October of 2011, San Antonio police arrested 44 year-old Sally Garcia for prostituting her daughter. Lastly, Upland, NE officers cracked a child prostitution case in which an Upland mother is suspected of forcing her 14- and 7-year-old daughters to have sex with seven men.

Slavery is also alive and well. For example, the International Labor Organization note that in Ivory Coast (Cote d’Ivoire), most of the slaves are boys ages 12 to 16 who are trafficked from their homes to work on large cocoa plantations. Many of these boys come from the poorest of families, who are forced to beg for food. The slave traders offer jobs, which they accept, but then are forced to work long hours under extremely inhumane conditions for low pay. Most are barely better off than they were before. There are about 600,000 cocoa plantations in Cote d’Ivoire, with about 15,000 slaves in total.

Across the world, many child workers have no opportunity for a decent education. Many of their parents suffer from illiteracy and do not understand the importance of education. Moreover, the high cost of education is another obstacle for these children. With the government shying away from the education sector to be replaced by the private sector many children have to work to pay for their school. But many schools serving the poor are of such abysmal quality that many children drop out of school in frustration.

The eight-fold path of Buddhist beliefs explicitly teaches against the trade in living beings. According to Buddha’s “Discourse to Sigala” in the Sigalovada Sutta, an employer should care for workers by assigning work according to ability, paying just wages, providing health care, providing perks and granting leave time. While the Buddha did not directly address slavery, it is impossible to imagine slavery surviving in any area where these teachings are truly followed.

We must remember that all of us are interdependent. I encourage everyone to consider their personal responsibility to larger systems such as the global economy, as well as in smaller systems such as one’s attitudes toward others. This holistic perspective prompts Buddhists to ask if they benefit from slavery and slave-tainted products, even if they aren’t personally or directly involved in trafficking and slavery.

According to the Dalai Lama, “Peace can only last where human rights are respected, where the people are fed, and where individual and nations are free.”