06/26/2014 07:56 am ET Updated Aug 26, 2014

Ending Human Trafficking

An estimated 20 million people are forced into human trafficking globally each year -- a number that is likely much higher in reality. This latest figure comes from the State Department's new Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report, released on Friday.

Human trafficking includes sex trafficking, forced labor, domestic servitude, and debt bondage. It's a horrific crime, and the targets are people who live in poverty, lack education, and work in the informal sector -- many of them women and children.

How this often plays out is that children as young as five are sold into sex slavery or taken from their families and forced to work 17-hour days fishing for no pay. Women are lured into believing they'll get good jobs and provide a better life for their children, only to be trapped in debt bondage or worse.

The TIP Report ranks each country based on their efforts to eliminate trafficking -- based on what they do to prosecute traffickers, protect vulnerable people, and prevent trafficking from happening in the first place.

The challenge is that trafficking is a big money maker. According to the International Labor Organization, trafficking accounts for more than $150 billion annually. Traffickers earn on average $22,000 annually from each sex worker and about $4,000 annually from each domestic laborer. That's an enormous sum when you think about the hundreds of millions of people around the world who live in extreme poverty.

Individuals from developing countries account for almost $47 billion in trafficking annually. That's a lot of money. And the fact that so much money is at stake and occurs largely in the shadows makes trafficking an even more difficult crime to identify and prosecute.

But poor or not, no country is immune to the horrors of modern day slavery, including the United States.

Along with the new report release, Secretary Kerry has urged governments, businesses, and individuals globally to do more to combat human trafficking. He has urged that we bring the issue out of hiding, where it lurks in supply chains and the products we purchase. And he has urged that the issue of trafficking become part of every conversation, whether in a business meeting, diplomatic conference, or civil society summit.

Sec. Kerry has also announced that the State Department will partner with

Consumers can make a big difference on this issue, since forced labor is a huge component of supply chains around the world -- from sweat shops in the clothing industry to mining, lumber, mineral extraction, and fishing. How businesses choose to act (or, more often, simply look the other way) should make a difference in how we support them as customers. Simply put, we have an obligation to use the power of the purse.

We all have the responsibility to change how much we talk about human trafficking and whether we do something to try to stop it. Next time you're in a store, take a few minutes to ask how they source their product. Apps like Slavery Footprint and Free2Work put the information we need to make ethical decisions right in our hands.

Ending human trafficking will take an enormous effort, but your action as a consumer at the store is a start. Potentially, it's also the start of a chain reaction that will make all the difference in the world to a child enslaved thousands of miles away.