As Lent begins, join me in this uncomfortable challenge to help tackle modern slavery

'Before you finish eating breakfast in the morning, you've depended on more than half the world.' — Martin Luther King Jr.

Whose hands made the shirt you're wearing today?

Who picked the beans that were ground to make your morning coffee?

Who mined for the minute pieces inside your phone?

We live in a beautifully global society, there's no denying the fact. Martin Luther King's statement rings as true today as it ever has: from what we eat, to what we wear; where we travel, to who we can connect with in the click of a button, we are as connected across borders and boundaries as we have ever been.

But with the wonderful benefits of our 'small world', there comes a challenge: to use our identity as global citizens responsibly — to love our neighbour, wherever they may live. To know how our everyday choices are impacting people on the other side of the world.

Today, there are more people in slavery than at any other point in history. Around 40 million children, men and women. Over 24 million are in forced labour slavery and the harsh realities of what this means are hard to stomach.

International Justice Mission

Women in slavery are giving birth on dirty floors and forced to go back to work; children are dying after being starved, sleep deprived and denied healthcare; and men are tricked into back-breaking labour for 20 hours a day. And it's not a distant problem that doesn't affect us. Most of us are unwittingly loading every-day items into our shopping trolleys that have been produced by people in slavery, myself included.

Today marks the start of Lent, and International Justice Mission (IJM) — the world's largest international anti-slavery organisation — is challenging the UK public to give up some of the everyday products that often have slavery in their supply chains: coffee, chocolate, or makeup.

From today, for 40 days, I will be going without coffee and today my bare face will make a public appearance. It's not going to be easy but if my small acts over Lent can help find and rescue people in slavery and send the traffickers to prison, it's a price I'm more than willing to pay. I would love you to join me in becoming part of a growing movement of people who are taking action to end slavery, for good.

So here are the three simple steps that IJM are asking you take this Lent, as we collectively take a stand against slavery:

  1. Give up either chocolate, coffee or makeup for the period of Lent
  2. Donate what you save to the fight to end slavery
  3. Take on a simple challenge to end slavery, which will be emailed to you each week, from asking your favourite brands about whether there's slavery in their supply chain to finding ethical alternatives and using social media to share about how we can all help to #endslavery.

Of course, not all coffee, chocolate or makeup has slavery in their supply chains — far from it. Rather, the challenge is to use our powers as consumers to demand that all products are slavery-free in every stage of the supply chain, and to champion the companies who are making great strides already. Let's face it, businesses will only produce products that sell, so as the people who buy what they make, we have incredible power. Let's raise our voices and begin the conversation that asks for slavery-free products on our shelves.

Whilst coffee or chocolate are not surprising items to appear on the list, makeup has caused a bit of a stir! IJM has, over recent years, discovered a problem in South Asia of young children working as slaves to mine Mica. Mica is the mineral used in eye shadows and lipsticks to create the 'shimmer' effect that we love!

Whilst I don't wear a lot of makeup, I have to admit I feel a little nervous about the challenge ahead. I have a few important meetings lined up over the next few weeks — am I prepared to put my comfort on the line for someone else's freedom?! I am going to try my best.

International Justice Mission

In our wonderfully diverse, global society, are we prepared to get uncomfortable for the sake of others?

Are we ready to change the conversation, and start asking the hard questions?

How far are you prepared to go, to help end slavery?

Today, I challenge you to forego your morning brew, to leave that sweet-treat, or even to join me, way outside of my comfort zone, as I give up makeup for Lent.

Whichever you feel most passionate about, this Lent you are invited to 'Give it Up for Freedom' with IJM. Sign up for the challenge today at:

Esther Swaffield is International Justice Mission's Regional Development Executive for Northern England.