Imagine this: You send your child or grandchild outside today – to play, to ride their bike, or just to take a walk. This day is no different than any other day. And then you look at the clock; the time you told them to be home by has passed. There’s no harm, right? Surely he’s caught up having fun with his friends. Two hours pass and now you’re worried. Where has he gone? You do what any good parent would do, you search. Fifteen minutes passes and still nothing. You rally your friends for the hunt but at the end of all your looking, your child is gone. No more good night kisses. No more “I love you’s”. No more. This is probably the worst nightmare of every good parent in this world.

I am certain that you, like me, would stop at nothing to find out what happened to your child. So what happens if you find that somewhere across the globe, like in Africa, Asia, or the Middle East, there are other parents actually funding this heinous crime? Upon more research, you realize that these parents aren’t explicitly funding kidnapping, but their ignorance and greed perpetuate it. In fact, from their perspective, they’re just buying gifts for their children while staying on budget. They look for the best deals on chocolate, coffee and clothing because after all, the holidays can be expensive. But what does this have to do with your missing child? It is impossible for corporations to produce at that low price that allows these parents to buy as much as they want for as cheap as they can without slave labor somewhere in the supply chain. Corporations need children, just like yours, to work long hours, in extremely dangerous conditions, with very little food (if any), and torture as a motivator. These cruelties often lead to lifelong injuries, mental illnesses, deformities, even death. The holidays are rough, aren’t they?

The grave problem with this story is that it’s true; it’s not something we have to imagine. The children being kidnapped, sold, coerced, and forced into slavery, are not ours – they are Africans, Asians, South Americans, Indians and so on. The parents funding their torture are you and me. I would like to call this epidemic what it is and chalk it up to capitalistic greed under the mask of good financial stewardship. In an attempt to not to sound too harsh and leave margin for error, I realize that much of this is a result of consuming too much while giving too little. We consume to appease every demand of our children and to fulfill desires born of our materialistic world. All the while, we remain blissfully ignorant of the manner in which the toys, coffee, chocolate, and clothes move from the fields, to the stores, into our homes.

While our holiday joy increases over the next few months, so does slave labor around the world. Our justifications are plenty, and I’ve heard them all. Of the numerous excuses I hear, the one that boggles my mind is that “My individual purchase of chocolates, toys and clothes will not make a difference. It doesn’t matter.” History proves otherwise and we know true power lies with the consumer. But for a moment, let’s pretend this is a valid excuse. What does this sort of justification say about our hearts, our humanity, our greed? That one individual decision to abstain from a Nestle chocolate bar, just for example, won’t shut down or even change Nestle. But our lack of abstaining does in fact promote slavery. In fact, our purchases feed it, and with that purchase we say, “I can’t change the unethical practices of a corporation, so I might as well participate in their contempt for humanity.” One other valid excuse remains, although its life span is quickly shrinking, and that is ignorance. Some will still say “I didn’t know”. You, however, can no longer.

So, here’s the deal. From now until Valentines Day, there will be more chocolate, clothes, toys and jewelry purchased than the rest of the year combined. And the truth is, there is no neutrality on this subject – you either participate in it you or fight it! If enough people purchase ethically over the holiday season, we can turn the tide on slavery. But even if it doesn’t, at least you go to bed at night knowing that you are moving the freedom of humanity one step closer to a reality.

I’m always asked, “What can I do to fight human slavery?” and I always give the most unpopular, but most valuable answer. Start with you. Make ethical decisions, even if it means telling your kids no. Choose best, even if you have to teach your kids to read a book instead of play on LeapFrog. You may have to eat less chocolate than you’d like and you may have to find a new tradition. A family on the other side of the world deserves your attention. What if this were your story?

Here are some tools you can use NOW to live more ethically this holiday season, starting with Thanksgiving: