Indulging in all of life’s pleasures requires either maintaining the blissful ignorance of your childhood for decades—some of us are better at this than others—or bearing the weight of a guilty conscience. That is, unless you’re into human exploitation, which is neither good nor cool.
Allow us to guilt you.
That device you’re reading this on very likely uses conflict minerals mined by warlords, manufactured into electronics by underpaid laborers working long hours in crappy conditions with little to no benefits.
Have you “enjoyed” any delicious frozen shrimp lately, or other delicious seafood treats that originate from southeast Asia? It might have been harvested by slaves.
And if you’re in the UK and have smoked any high-quality indoor cannabis bought on the black market, it may have also been grown by slaves—in this case, Vietnamese teenagers trafficked across the globe to work in marijuana.
As the Guardian’s Amelia Gentleman has been reporting, UK police are “well aware” of a human-trafficking network that sends cheap or slave labor to Britain from Southeast Asia. Women are sent to the UK to work in nail salons and brothels, while men and boys end up growing reefer—in gruesome conditions.
Drug traffickers lock their charges in abandoned houses for months on end with only “sporadic” deliveries of food and explicit directions not to turn on lights or leave—with severe penalties for those who dare.
“Grow slaves” have been discovered hidden beneath floorboards, living on tins of dog food and are routinely sent to prison after their grow houses are raided—trading one captivity for another, rather than being freed.
One incarcerated Vietnamese cannabis worker, “Bao,” was left alone for months at a time in an abandoned flat with blacked-out windows. He would receive instructions via telephone and monthly shipments of food—and then was left entirely alone, with no entertainment or distractions aside from playing Candy Crush on his phone. (The story of how he ended up in the UK is, inconceivably, far worse; it involves being locked in a shipping container for three months.)
One “rescued” 13-year old mysteriously “disappeared” before he could be aided by social services. Those who did speak to the media did so only under the cloak of anonymity, for fear of retribution by the drug gangs who kidnapped them in the first place.
According to police, most of the marijuana smoked in the United Kingdom is grown in this fashion. For this reason, cops have begun to refer to it as “blood cannabis.”
Police routinely bust cannabis grow houses, with another one found “every few weeks,” according to the paper. But they rarely record any arrests of the traffickers bringing in the laborers, leading to criticism from the country’s “anti-slavery commissioner.”
Cops show a “lack of urgency” with dealing with the human trafficking, and prefer for the easy prosecution of the cultivator rather than the kingpin. When modern slavery cases are pursued, they are “not being properly investigated,” commissioner Kevin Hyland told the paper in an interview.
“In simple terms,” Hyland said, “it is a mess.”
And lest you think that a nice, clean, home-grown criminal organization that pays its people well grew your weed, think again: most Vietnamese marijuana slaves are in the service of white British organized crime, according to the paper.
If the police can’t get a handle on things, the simple solution would be to legalize cannabis, take it out of the hands of murderous slave masters and get tax revenue out of the bargain. But that would just be too easy.
In the meantime, ask Bao what he thinks about smoking weed.
“When I see people smoking cannabis, I feel that they are exploiting children like me,” he told the paper. “I want people to know that people suffer in the process of producing cannabis.”