Thursday, July 30, 2009

HTP and Team Up: Slavery-Free Product Challenge

The Reality: Slaves are making the goods we as consumers buy. Human Trafficking Project blogger Jenn Kimball and I addressed the issue of slavery being used to make the products we buy this month. And now, we’re challenging you to do something about it.

Increasingly, there are a number of tools we as consumers can use to find the most slave-free items on the market. As of yet, there is no 100% guaranteed slave-labor-free label, but there are some guidelines you can use.

  • Fair Trade: A Fair Trade label indicates that the item was produced sustainably and that workers were paid a living wage to produce it. It doesn’t necessarily guarantee slave-free supply chains, however.

  • Made in the USA: We all know people are trafficked in the U.S., but better labor regulations and higher wages mean that fewer factories full of trafficked workers are operating in the U.S. than in some developing nations.

  • Ethically Produced/Sustainable: Unlike “Fair Trade” and “Made in the USA,” phrases like ethically produced, ethically sourced, and sustainable don’t have certified criteria associated with them. They can sometimes be an indicator, however, of a company that’s paying attention to its supply chain.

  • Country of Production: Some countries have had a longer history of slavery in certain industries, so knowing common forms of labor trafficking in different countries may help you avoid buying products from that industry made in that country.

The Challenge: Find the 10 most slave-free ways to acquire the items below (you don’t actually need to buy them). Where would you buy them? What brands would you choose? What labels or guidelines would you use to make better consumer choices? Here’s my list, and you can read Jenn’s list over on my blog:

1. Football

2. Chocolate bar

3. Underwear

4. MP3 Player

5. Pencil

6. Strawberries

7. Lipstick/Lip gloss

8. Pillow

9. Water bottle

10. Wallet

Post your finds to the comments section of this blog.

The Reward: The person who comes up with the best, most creative list of the most slave-free sources will be published and credited on both blogs. Plus, you’ll help inspire other consumers to make better choices about the items they buy.

While we may not have a 100% slave-free guarantee as consumers, we can make a lot of choices that go a long way to ending human trafficking just by buying the right items.

-Post written by's Amanda Kloer

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Meet Ellen Bruno, the Founder of Bruno Films

Ellen Bruno is the founder of Bruno Films who has produced many award winning documentary movies. In particular, her film, Sacrifice, deserves our attention as it exposes the child prostitution widespread on the border of Burma and Thailand.


About the movie:

The Sacrifice is a documentary movie based on the stories of a few Burmese girls caught up in the sex industry on the border of Thailand and Burma. Bruno shares that her intention is to bring viewers to recreate a state of mind in which information, impressions, memory and history have equal weight and are directed towards an emotional response.

Her Mission is to touch people in a visceral way and not overload people intellectually. True motivation, Bruno believes, comes from their hearts being touched. Bruno further states that her work is to stoke the fires a little.

On Her Inspiration:

Bruno once had a refugee from Thailand telling her stories of mundanely committed tragedies in developing countries in South Asia. Twenty years later, Bruno finds herself with a sense of calling to disclose such stories to westerners. Bruno added that film art is her way of sharing those stories with other Westerners to raise awareness in regard to what's happening in those countries.

The Challenges:

During the interview with the
filmarts, Bruno reveals her challenging experience with Thai law enforcement:

Bruno and her translator talked their way into a Thai brothel where, through a translation errors, they were given permission to shoot materials for the film with a small camcorder. Bruno was ecstatic that footage of the girls actual working conditions inside a brothel, which had eluded her for weeks that it was hers for the taking. Then the owner of the brothel woke up, realized what was going on and called the police. the police asked Bruno to erase the video footage she had recorded, then hauled her and her translator to the local jail when she refused. After six more hours of interrogation, Bruno decided that she was putting her translator into jeopardy, and she agreed to erase the tape.
Her Passion for Justice:

But Bruno persists to go back to troubled, potentially dangerous circumstances because of her passion for community based work. Her work is based on the kind of empathy and familiarity with her subject that comes with years of friendship and common work. She refuses to focus on the new age notion of oneness because it can too easily stand in for exoticism. Rather, her mission is to touch people in a visceral way and not overload people intellectually. She further says,

True motivation comes from their hearts being touched. Unless you have motivation, nothing will happen. My job is to stoke the fires a little.

More information on the film:

Sacrifice as well as other works of Ellen Bruno are distributed on video by film library. For more information call (800) 343-5540 or visit her website

Monday, July 27, 2009

Interview: Morgan Zamora

Morgan Zamora is one of the most inspirational people that I know. I have been fortunate enough to work with her as a Regional Coordinator with Americans for Informed Democracy, a not-for-profit that works to engage college students on global issues; our focus area was human trafficking. Morgan's work to raise awareness about and combat modern-day slavery does not end there, though. This fall she will be a junior in college, and despite being so young she is already a leader in anti-trafficking work. Her dedication, passion, and talent continue to amaze me.

Zamora is the Community Outreach Coordinator for the Houston Rescue and Restore Coalition (HRRC) in Houston, TX. She is also the president of S.W.A.T (Students Working Against Trafficking) at the University of St. Thomas. Like many anti-trafficking activists and advocates, Zamora was motivated to take action after learning that modern-day slavery exists. After attending a screening of TRADE, Zamora meet with representatives from HHRC, and she immediately wanted to begin volunteering for them.

In her role with HRRC, Zamora has worked to raise awareness and mobilize action in the Houston area. As she notes, human trafficking is extremely prevalent in the Houston Area. After volunteering with HRRC, Zamora now coordinates others who give volunteer outreach presentations to local businesses, asking them to display Rescue and Restore posters about human trafficking and trafficking hotlines. Thus far, nearly 200 business in the area are displaying the posters. Zamora also does outreach work with at-risk populations, and her student organization is planning an anti-trafficking conference. She sums up her work by saying "my work in Houston has been focused on mobilizing individuals throughout the Houston area and creating a network of active abolitionists in the city."

According to Zamora, once she has sparked an interest in someone, the main challenge is keeping their passion for the work alive. While awareness raising is important, as Zamora notes, it can be difficult to measure success or progress in this area. She also pointed out the potential dangers of anti-trafficking activism, saying that "it can sometimes be a great task within itself to continuously come up with innovative and creative new ways to be an active abolitionist in a manner that is 'safe.'" This is certainly a challenge that I can identify with, and I know we would both appreciate any ideas that people have.

As Zamora's anti-trafficking work has deepened, her perspective on the issue has also shifted and deepened. While her work still entails educating people about the fact that trafficking happens (and that it happens in the US), Zamora states "I feel now that it is even more important to focus on why [human trafficking] exists. I think the public and society needs to be more aware of the consequences of their actions in relation to promoting certain gender stereotypes and capitalistic activities. There is a reason why millions of people are being exploited around the world, and if I could shed light on that and possibly make people rethink some of their actions, then perhaps their would be less exploitation. But that may just be wishful thinking. I hope not."

In order to address trafficking around the world, Zamora argues that different cultures and regions must address the issue from their perspectives. Anti-trafficking efforts must be grounded in the local context and culture. She suggests that "Change must start within each society around the world and people must realize the effects of their actions. For example, poverty may be the overall issue involved with trafficking in Eastern Europe and India, but there are varying cultural aspects of both cultures that allow for the exploitation of women and children or men of certain socioeconomic status." At the same time, Zamora points out that efforts must include an understanding of global systems that perpetuate trafficking, and people must see that their actions have consequences beyond what they might immediately see.

Zamora ended her comments with encouragement and a challenge: "I feel that people need to be informed but then that people need to be empowered. They need to be able to believe that they can change the outcome of the system they live in. The world needs more active abolitionists, who are not only informed of the issue of human trafficking but that realize that they live in a globally connected world, and their actions within consumerism and society all effect the enslavement of people in the world or in their own city."

Monday, July 13, 2009

Migrant fishermen fall through cracks in Thai trafficking laws

Taiwan News

Don't ever accept an invitation to go fishing in Thailand. You might not come back.

Almost daily, bodies are washing ashore along the coasts of Thailand, Malaysia, Burma, Cambodia. These are unfortunate migrants, most of them from here in Cambodia. These people were sold to Thai fishermen who took them out to sea, worked them until they starved to death and then threw them overboard. It happens all the time.

The problem got so bad that the United States Senate's Foreign Relations Committee and the United Nations both but put out reports in recent weeks excoriating Thai and Malaysian authorities for selling Cambodian and Burmese migrants to Thai boat captains, sending them to a near-certain death. "If they are unable to pay for their release," the Senate report said, "the refugees are sold into forced labor, most commonly on fishing boats."

Once on the boat, "they don't come back," said Maj. Gen Visut Vanichbut of the Thai police. "All they get to eat is the fish that get left over in the net. They aren't paid. If they get sick, they're thrown overboard."

When they die, from overwork or starvation, their bodies are thrown to the sharks. In most cases, no one knew the victim was on the boat, and so no one claims the body if it washes ashore.
The general told me about this last year. But the United Nations report shows that the hideous problem continues at full force even now. It quotes several Cambodians who watched fishermen decapitate captives or throw them overboard. Several governments, not just Thailand's, are at fault. And by all accounts, the economic crisis is exacerbating the problem.

Most of the news you hear from Thailand these days involves the riots and demonstrations to overturn whatever government happens to be in power. No one talks about the fishing-boat problem. The fishermen pay off the police. The police then cover up the crimes, and so hundreds of victims continue to die month after month.

If a victim manages to survive, then Thailand is well-equipped to care for him and then use international agencies to help send him home. The Thai government has shelters and administrators whose jobs are to help human-trafficking victims. I have seen them. The shelters are quite nice. And that serves as a stark illustration of a noxious paradox that afflicts human-trafficking enforcement in Thailand, Cambodia and much of the world.

When human trafficking first came into focus for law-enforcement a decade ago, legal and political officials everywhere put primary emphasis on protecting the victims - the people who were lured into slavery and abused. Stories a decade ago of police and immigration agents jailing and then deporting the trafficking victims along with their captors horrified human-rights advocates, and their complaints were quite influential when the first human-trafficking laws were drafted.

No pressure

That victim-oriented approach has held firm all these years, and "it has proved to work perfectly for the Thai," said Lance Bonneau head of the International Organization of Migration office in Bangkok, his tone oozing disgust. His organization works with the Thai government to send trafficking victims back home to Cambodia, Burma - just as other IOM officers do all over the world.

"If you 'have' the victim," Bonneau told me, "there's no pressure to go after the traffickers" who are paying off the police. "It doesn't upset any of the arrangements the police have" with the fishing boat captains, the brothel and dance-club owners or others who enslave hapless victims. The traffickers can pursue their unconscionable work; the police can continue taking their kickbacks.

When the State Department researches its annual Trafficking in Persons report each year and asks Thailand what it is doing to fight trafficking, the Thai can point to their anti-trafficking laws and to those lovely shelters for victims. Usually, that's enough to save Thailand from a poor rating.

Thailand officials responded to the Senate and United Nations allegations with angry denials. Maybe in Washington's next report, it will look a little deeper at Thailand.



Many government authorities are interested in putting nominal efforts to countermeasure human trafficking to be qualify for the US aids.

To keep them from recording a poor rating on the State Department research, the Thai government,for instance, has implemented an anti-human trafficking laws and built shelters for trafficked victims.

But, it has not yet attempt to figure out how to prosecute the endless chain of corruption between the police men and the traffickers, which essentially allows human trafficking to perpetuate in the country.


By the time someone has been trafficked, we've already failed. Obviously efforts to help victims, empower survivors, and punish perpetrators are extremely vital. At the same time, ultimately we should be working towards a world where trafficking does not occur in the first place. Prevention efforts can be nebulous, though, and even with the best of intentions can do more harm than good. A few weeks ago I attended a panel on preventing human trafficking. Numerous experts who are working in the anti-trafficking movement in various capacities expressed some common themes about what needs to happen to address the roots of trafficking.

Denise Brennan, an associate professor in the Department of Anthropology at Georgetown University, is the author of What's Love Got to Do With It? Transnational Desires and Sex Tourism in Sosua, the Dominican Republic. She is currently working on a book about survivors of human trafficking entitled Starting Over: Life After Trafficking into Forced Labor in the United States. Brennan suggests that efforts to prevent human trafficking must begin with efforts to promote the rights of migrants. From her research she has found that migrants are extremely vulnerable to trafficking because even when they are not trafficked, their basic rights are often violated. Since they are treated as though they have no rights, they are also less likely to come forward to law enforcement when they are exploited. Brennan also argued that migrants rights groups must be a part of the anti-trafficking conversation. She also advocated for increased opportunities for human trafficking survivors to connect with one another and to shape the anti-trafficking movement.

Martina Vandenberg is a partner at Jenner and Block LLP, and she does pro bono representation of women trafficked to the US for forced labor, including civil litigation on behalf of survivors. She echoed many of Brennan's points about migrants rights, and highlighted several prevention efforts that have actually been harmful. First, she argued that efforts to discourage migration do not work and ultimately leave migrants more vulnerable when they do migrate.

Vandenberg also said that anti-prostitution efforts are counterproductive, making women more vulnerable to commercial sexual exploitation. As a corollary, she pointed out that prostitutes can become victims of human trafficking; the idea that if someone once consented to being a sex worker means that she can never be trafficked is both false and extremely harmful. Finally, she argued against efforts to buy people out of slavery, pointing out that such efforts actually increase the demand for slavery.

Vandenberg went on to discuss what should be being done to prevent human trafficking, focusing on the root causes. She emphasized that this work is not glamorous, but it is necessary if we are serious about preventing this human rights abuse.

First, we need to work to fight discrimination against women and girls. Statistically, women and girls still make up the majority of trafficking victims, and due to gender discrimination, they are especially vulnerable to trafficking. On a related note, Vandenberg argues that anti-trafficking efforts must go hand-in-hand with work to address domestic violence. She noted that sometimes money is diverted from domestic violence work to anti-trafficking work, which actually can make people more vulnerable to trafficking when they are desperate to leave a domestic situation and lack options.

In a slightly different direction, Vandenberg advocated for due diligence: we need to seriously look at where US' money is going, particularly in military contracts. She also addressed deterrence, including criminal prosecution and civil litigation on behalf of survivors. Finally, she also discussed the importance about educating migrants about their rights and enforcing labor laws.

Ben Skinner
, a fellow at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, journalist, and author of A Crime So Monstrous: Face-to-Face with Modern-Day Slavery, focused his remarks on a call to action. He argued that slavery is the main human rights issue of our generation, and how we respond to this atrocity will be a sign of our commitment to a more just world. Preventing human trafficking, he suggested, must start with each of us and the daily choices that we make.

On a personal note, I have been thinking about prevention a lot lately. This summer I am interning with an agency doing casework with people who are homeless or at risk of being homeless. These people are extremely vulnerable to numerous forms of exploitation. The
Colorado Advisory Committee on Homeless Youth recently recommended that all agencies that work directly with people who are homeless should be trained on human trafficking, because traffickers target this population. Working daily with people who are homeless has again reinforced for me the importance of comprehensive efforts to address poverty, discrimination, and other factors that make people easy prey for traffickers.

Picture taken by Kay Chernush for the U.S. State Department.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Obama's Visit to Former Slave Outpost in Ghana and Old and New Slavery

Today, U.S. President Barack Obama made a side trip during an official visit to Ghana to see a former outpost of the Atlantic Slave Trade, where millions of Africans were sent to become slaves all over the world, including the U.S. Most of the media commentary related to his visit talks about the emotional pull that touring such a place has for the person visiting; this piece by Komla Dumor from the BBC I particularly feel is very well written.

Cape Coast, Ghana

Before heading to the Cape Coast to see the physical remnants of the Atlantic Slave Trade, Obama mentioned human trafficking during his official speech in Accra; more than once, actually:

Picture from Amnesty International

It is easy to point fingers, and to pin the blame for these problems on others. Yes, a colonial map that made little sense bred conflict, and the West has often approached Africa as a patron, rather than a partner. But the West is not responsible for the destruction of the Zimbabwean economy over the last decade, or wars in which children are enlisted as combatants. In my father's life, it was partly tribalism and patronage in an independent Kenya that for a long stretch derailed his career, and we know that this kind of corruption is a daily fact of life for far too many...

Time and again, Ghanaians have chosen Constitutional rule over autocracy, and shown a democratic spirit that allows the energy of your people to break through. We see that in leaders who accept defeat graciously, and victors who resist calls to wield power against the opposition. We see that spirit in courageous journalists like Anas Aremeyaw Anas, who risked his life to report the truth. We see it in police like Patience Quaye, who helped prosecute the first human trafficker in Ghana. We see it in the young people who are speaking up against patronage and participating in the political process...

That is why we must stand up to inhumanity in our midst. It is never justifiable to target innocents in the name of ideology. It is the death sentence of a society to force children to kill in wars. It is the ultimate mark of criminality and cowardice to condemn women to relentless and systematic rape. We must bear witness to the value of every child in Darfur and the dignity of every woman in Congo. No faith or culture should condone the outrages against them. All of us must strive for the peace and security necessary for progress.

In the course of the trainings we conduct on behalf of the International Institute of Buffalo, in order to talk about the development of modern anti-trafficking laws, we explain that the conditions of trafficking existed prior to 2000 in the U.S., we just didn't have a name for it [i.e. a federal law that gave it a name]. Inevitably at the end, one participant will mention, "Well, we did have a name for this before the federal law, didn't we? I mean, isn't this slavery?"

True. Human trafficking is a modern-day slavery. Ron Soodalter and Kevin Bales devote some of their first pages in The Slave Next Door to talk about the old and new forms of slavery:

Picture from

Most Americans' idea of slavery comes right of Roots - the chains, the whip in the overseer's hand, the crack of the auctioneer's gavel. That was one form of bondage. The slavery plaguing America today takes a different form, but make no mistake, it is real slavery. Where the law sanctioned slavery in the 1800s, today it's illegal. Where antebellum masters took pride in the ownership of slaves as a sign of status, today's human traffickers and slaveholders keep slaves hidden, making it all the more difficult to locate victims and punish offenders. Where the slaves in America were once primarily African and African American, today we have "equal opportunity" slavery; modern-day slaves come in all races, all types, and all ethnicities. We are, if anything, totally democratic when it comes to owning and abusing our fellow human beings. All that's required is the chance of a profit and a person weak enough and vulnerable enough to enslave.

This is capitalism at its worst, and it is supported by a dramatic alteration in the basic economic question of slavery. Where an average slave in 1850 would have cost the equivalent of $40,000 in modern money, today's slave can be bought for a few hundred dollars. This cheapness makes the modern slave easily affordable, but it also makes him or her a disposable commodity. For a slaveholder it's often cheaper to let a slave die than it is to keep the slave alive. There is no form of slavery, past or present, that isn't horrific; however, today's slavery is one of the most diabolical strains to emerge in the thousands of years in which human have been enslaving their fellows.

So, again, yes, human trafficking is a modern form of slavery, and some victims today suffer from the same humiliation and physical violence used in historical slavery: degrading physical inspection and bargaining for their sale, kidnapping, chains, back-breaking field and housework, among many others. However our historical understanding of slavery should not hinder our ability to understand its modern form: just because we don't see physical chains or public auctions does not mean we should assume that when someone is being exploited for labor or sexual purposes that it is not slavery or trafficking, as it is now known.

I hope that I will be able to make the trip to Cape Coast Castle at some point in the near future because I believe the trip would be a powerful reminder that so many of our modern human rights problems, including trafficking, have their roots in historical human rights abuses. However, the modern form of slavery needs a modern response: simply declaring it illegal isn't enough. Ensuring that our fellow human beings aren't victimized by traffickers will take an educated public and collaboration among government, non-government, international and law enforcement agencies alike to address root causes and consequences. It will also take a persistence that defies any notion that just because a problem has thousands of years of history, it is impossible to overcome.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

OSCE Special Representative launches research on human trafficking for agricultural exploitation

Eva Biaudet, OSCE Special Representative for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings, speaking at the launch of a new publication on addressing human trafficking for labour exploitation in the agricultural sector, Vienna, 9 July 2009. (OSCE/Blanca Tapia)

From the OSCE:

VIENNA, 9 July 2009 - The OSCE Special Representative for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings, Eva Biaudet, launched a new publication on addressing human trafficking for labour exploitation in the agricultural sector in the OSCE region today.

"The paper is the first of its kind to address human trafficking for labour exploitation in the agricultural sector throughout the OSCE region. It sheds light on a sector in which workers are commonly exploited, but are often out of sight," said Biaudet.

Biaudet presented the publication along with her office's results and priorities to OSCE participating States in a mid-year address to the Permanent Council today.

The third Occasional Paper, "A Summary of Challenges on Addressing Human Trafficking for Labour Exploitation in the Agricultural Sector in the OSCE Region", is intended as a policy tool for decision makers and practitioners. It presents an analysis of labour trafficking, including through case studies, in one particular economic sector - agriculture - which according to the International Labour Organization, employs over one billion people around the world.

Agriculture is the second largest employment sector globally, with women and young people in particular working in this sector.

"This thorough analysis of the challenges in the agricultural sector aims to assist countries to identify the structural issues and deficits of this sector that cause or exacerbate a worker's vulnerability to becoming a victim of trafficking," said Biaudet.

Biaudet also discussed the next high-level Alliance conference on "Prevention of Modern Slavery: An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure", which will take place in Vienna on 14 and 15 September. The conference will present the preliminary results of research on the business model and socioeconomic causes of human trafficking to better prevent the crime.

Secretariat - Office of the Special Representative and Co-ordinator for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings

Full text of the Paper

Blanca Tapia

Public Information Officer
OSCE Secretariat
Office of the Special Representative and Co-ordinator for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings
Wallnerstrasse 6
1010 Vienna
Tel: +43 1 514 36 6921

Send an email

It is great to see the issue of labor trafficking, more specifically farmworker trafficking, gaining greater traction around the world. Government agencies and major international organizations like OSCE and the ILO have taken to putting together better reports and guidelines when dealing with this aspect of trafficking. Positive steps all around.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Introducing: Youngbee Kim

My name is Youngbee Kim and I am a recent graduate of Regent University (MA in International Politics). I have always been interested in human rights issues and began my career in the arena of human rights as an intern at the Gonggam Public Law office, a nonprofit group in South Korea. While working as an intern at Gonggam I translated many documents including “the NGO Report on Employment Law for Migrant Workers in South Korea" which was submitted to the International Labor Organization (ILO) in 2005. I also worked as a translator for a UNESCO Beijing representative and other NGO representatives from abroad during their visit to the South Korean Human Rights Commission.

At Gonggam I had the opportunity to work with South Asian victims of human trafficking and international marriage in South Korea, but it was not until
studying at Regent that I developed my interest in trafficking.

While studying at Regent University I co-contributed to the publication titled "Setting the Captives Free: A Compilation of Essays for the Abolition of Slave Trade Worldwide” by Olivia McDonald (Sept. 2007). As a co-contributor, I drafted the chapter "Banking and Human Trafficking," which explores the dynamics of financial crime in relation to trafficking. In addition, the publication also helped me realize that the problems relating to trafficking are greater than the issue of law enforcement alone.

I am passionate about defending the rights of trafficking and child pornography victims- in particular those in South Asian countries. I hope to write about different cultural standards, economics, social science, development, organized crime and policy mechanisms in relation to trafficking. Lastly, I am just thrilled to be part of this awesome organization.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Slavery and the Products We Buy

Many of the products we buy and use daily were made with slave labor or involved slave labor during some part of their manufacturing. The chocolate industry has received considerable attention lately for its use of slave labor . A 2000 US State Department report concluded that in recent years approximately 15,000 children aged 9 to 12 have been sold into forced labor on cotton, coffee and cocoa plantations annually in the Ivory Coast alone.

The RugMark Foundation started in 1994 to address the use of forced child labor in the rug industry. According to RugMark, Child labor is a crime committed against nearly 220 million children, or one in every seven, ages 5 to 17, around the world. The RugMark Foundation works to end child labor and provide educational alternatives for children, and the Foundation also acknowledges that many of the children are in situations of forced labor, via debt bondage, abuse, or some other method used to enslave. According to UNICEF, 200,000 children are trafficked yearly in West and Central Africa. Cocoa, coffee, clothing, electronics, jewelry, and many other products are tainted by slavery.

These facts make me feel a combination of guilty and helpless at times. Even when I give Human Trafficking 101 presentations to college classes, I know that the computer I am using for the PowerPoint presentation might have been made with slave labor. When preparing for an anti-trafficking conference, the student group I was involved with struggled to find conference materials and food that we knew hadn't been made with slave labor. Even when I am consciously thinking about and working to combat human trafficking, I still struggle with not supporting slavery.

At other times, though, I find this information to be extremely motivating. I may not be able to fight human trafficking alone, but I can make changes in my consumption habits that can make important change. Of course, one person alone changing her/his habits wont make a lot of difference, but collectively we can have a huge impact.

Media, Pennsylvania became a Fair Trade town, starting this process in 2005. According to their site, "In its two years as a Fair Trade town, Media has already inspired nine other towns in the US to follow suit. Together we are raising awareness of how the simple purchase of Fair Trade products can address poverty in the developing world." While fighting human trafficking is not mentioned, purchasing goods that were not made with slave labor and supporting other economic opportunities for people is a step towards ending slavery.

I was recently involved in the start of a similar project in Columbia, MO. The Central Missouri Stop Human Trafficking Coalitions Policy and Prevention Committee teamed up with a local fair trade store to start a Slave-Free Stores campaign, to raise awareness about slavery and how it impacts our lives, and to encourage more stores to work to become slave free. The campaign is in its early stages, but I am excited to see how it progresses. We created two different levels, one for stores that sell only slave-free products, and one for stores that sell some products that were not made with slave labor, since few stores will be eligible for the first group at the beginning (though the Coalition is encouraging stores to go slave free by 2020).

The first level: We Sell Some Slave-Free Products For businesses that are committed to offering slave-free goods. Businesses at this level sell some products that they know were produced without slave labor or exploitation, and plan to continue to work towards becoming entirely slave-free. Second level: We Sell Only Slave-Free Products For businesses that are completely committed to being slave-free. Businesses at this level only sell products that they know were produced without slave labor or exploitation. Participating stores will display the decal shown at the top of this post.

I have heard arguments that if we simply stop purchasing goods that were made in sweatshops or other exploited conditions, we will actual worsen the situation of workers who will now be without any source of income. While I do not completely buy this argument, it is important to be aware that Fair Trade is not a panacea, and efforts to buy slave-free products and buy local can have unintended consequences.

At the same time, using our money to support humane, livable-wage, sustainable, and non-exploitative labor is a vital step in fighting slavery. As long as we keep the demand for slavery up, human trafficking will continue.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Slavery Listed as Factor for Worst Places for Refugees in USCRI's World Refugee Survey

Last month, the United States Committee for Immigrants and Refugees (USCRI) released its annual World Refugee Survey. This is one of the most comprehensive sources of information on the situation facing refugees worldwide, including statistical and qualitative data on the number of refugees, where they are currently located and where they are from. The report also includes a section on "Best & Worst Places for Refugees", which discusses places that have made significant changes to accomodate refugees and their familes and places where refugees suffer from serious discrimination, lack of protection and/or physical violence.

In this year's report
, Malaysia is listed as one of the worst places for refugees specifically because there is evidence that refugees are often turned away and sold into slavery:

"Malaysian immigration officials continued to sell deportees to gangs that operate along the Malaysia-Thailand border. The gang members extort bribes from the deportees in exchange for smuggling them back into Malaysia, and sell those who cannot pay into slavery. Men frequently end up on Thai fishing boats, women in brothels, and children with gangs who exploit child beggars. At least 1,000 refugees and asylum seekers were among the deportees in 2008. Malaysia’s RELA, a volunteer immigration enforcement militia, continued to engage in violent raids against undocumented foreigners in the country, and immigration officials caned at least six refugees—one of them a minor—for immigration violations."

Refugees are sometimes a population that receives less attention, particularly in the media, when it comes to discussing victims of human trafficking. Their vulnerability and struggle to survive make them perfect targets for traffickers, who exploit the isolation and desperation faced by refugees to gain profits. This is not a problem that is only specific to Malaysia; however without proper protection and, worse in this situation, with the sanction of government and law enforcement officials, refugees will continue to fall prey to slavery.

You can
find more information about UNHCR and their resources related to refugees and human trafficking here.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Human Trafficking and the Financial Crisis

The State Department released the ninth Trafficking in Persons Report on 16th. In addition to the country reports, the TIP report also highlighted the impact of the economic crisis on the global trade in persons for forced labor and commercial sexual exploitation. As Secretary Clinton said in her opening letter to the report, “This year, there is new urgency in this call. As the ongoing financial crisis takes an increasing toll on many of the world’s migrants – who often risk everything for the slim hope of a better future for their families – too often they are ensnared by traffickers who exploit their desperation” (1).

According to the report, the economic crisis has lead to a decrease in legitimate economic opportunities for the world’s most vulnerable people, an increased demand for extremely cheap labor, and a decrease in the resource available to anti-trafficking NGOs (7,9). Combined, they form a lethal combination for trafficked victims and potential victims.

As the report states, “workers are made more vulnerable to forced labor practices because of high rates of unemployment, poverty, crime, discrimination, corruption, political conflict, and cultural acceptance of the practice” (17). The TIP report cites the International Labor Organization’s January 2009 report that found that the global financial situation is “causing dramatic increases in the numbers of unemployed, working poor, and those in vulnerable employment “(32-3).

The situation is likely to only grow worse, particularly in areas that already have extreme trafficking problems. The TIP report notes that Southeast Asia – Already home to 77% of the world’s forced labor – could face unemployment as high as 113 million people in 2009 (33). In Eastern Europe “international organizations and local authorities have already reported a rise in victims of labor exploitation” (34). The situation is not likely to improve in the near future, according to a recent World Bank report that suggests that economic recovery will be slow, particularly in impoverished nations.

In addition to the cost to trafficked victims directly, the “cost of coercion” or the loss of wages people would earn were they not enslaved, also harms the families of trafficked victims, further exacerbating global poverty and making people more vulnerable to being trafficked themselves (34).

Even as increased vulnerability is leading to growth in the supply of trafficked victims, the financial crisis is also leading to growth in the demand for trafficked victims. The TIP report cites UN officials as stating that “(t)hey expect the impact of the crisis to push more business underground to avoid taxes and unionized labor” (37). The demand for cheap products and services, coupled with the pressure of the economic crisis is thus fueling the demand for modern-day slavery.

The TIP report also points out that this crisis affects different populations differently. The report notes that “Research links the disproportionate demand for female trafficking victims to the growth of certain “feminized” economic sectors (commercial sex, the “bride trade,” domestic service) and other sectors characterized by low wages, hazardous conditions, and an absence of collective bargaining mechanisms” (36). According to FAIR Fund, 80% of trafficked victims are women and girls, and the current economic situation is likely to only increase this disparity. Plans to address the economic crisis need to consider the gendered manifestations of the crisis, and ensure that stimulus efforts do not simply create economic opportunities for men only.

Finally, along with increased supply and demand, anti-trafficking efforts are also facing a decline in resources to work to prevent trafficking, assist survivors, and punish perpetrators. The TIP report points out that “The tough times are also affecting the work of anti-trafficking NGOs, which often provide crucial services in the absence of adequate government or private-sector programs. Donors are tightening their belts, and organizations are finding it difficult to continue their operations” (40).

While this news might seem dire, the TIP report also pointed to and encouraged efforts to continue to fight trafficking, suggesting that anti-trafficking work is more important now than ever before in light of these recent developments. For example, the report pointed out that, “the enactment of the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 (TVPRA of 2008) strengthened the U.S. Government’s criminal statute on forced labor” (25), a fortuitous develop in light of recent indications that labor trafficking is increasing.

The TIP report suggested that everyone has a role to play in decreasing demand for labor trafficking, from individuals to governments (31), suggesting that “One key to addressing such demand is raising awareness about the existence of forced labor in the production of goods. Many consumers and businesses would be troubled to know that their purchases— clothes, jewelry, and even food—are produced by individuals, including children, who are forced into slave-like conditions” (32).

The ninth Trafficking in Persons Report paints a grim picture: the global financial crisis is leading to increased supply of vulnerable people, increased demand for cheap labor and economic exploitation, and a decrease in services for trafficked survivors and efforts to fight trafficking. Rather than being paralyzing, this picture should be motivating. The call to fight modern-day slavery is more pressing now than ever before, and as Secretary Clinton concluded her opening remarks on the report “I am confident that together we can make a difference, all over the world, in the lives of people deprived of their freedom” (1).