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You probably benefited from slave labor today

Every day, millions of Americans use products or eat foods that are produced by slave labor. Rare metals from Africa are embedded in our cell phones. Harvested fish or fruit or fabric are thawing in our fridge or hanging in our closets.

For the full story, click the play button above to listen to the podcast Shortwave.

More than 20 million people are victims of slavery, generating $150 billion in illegal profits per year, according to the United Nations.

Last month, Associated Press reporters Martha Mendoza, Robin McDowel and Margie Mason produced this investigative story about a fishing business on a tiny island in Indonesia. The operation relied on slaves to net frozen seafood — like snapper, calamari and even the fish in imitation crab found in California rolls — that can end up in American grocery stores. In response to the findings, the Indonesian government freed nearly 550 men on the island from cages.

For the debut of PBS NewsHour’s podcast, Shortwave, we spoke with Mendoza to find out how these men worked and lived — and in some cases died — while in brutal captivity.

We also spoke with Maurice Middleberg, executive director of Free the Slaves, an NGO in Washington. He describes how slaves labor in captivity and how products we use every day, like cell phone components and cocoa powder, are often produced by such labor, citing a study from the International Labor Organization.

This powerful cartoon from the International Labor Organization illustrates the women and men who find themselves far from home, without passports, money or a way out.

Editor’s note: This post has been updated to reflect that nearly 500 people have been freed in Indonesia as of April 9.

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