This past November I attended theFreedom Awardsin Los Angeles, hosted by the international organizationFree the Slaves. The Freedom Awards celebrate the heroes of the modern anti-slavery movement. The awards are open to organizations and individuals working to combat human trafficking and modern slavery.
Roger Plant, not to be confused with Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin, one of my favorite bands, was the winner of the William Wilberforce Award at the 2010 Freedom Award ceremony. Plant is a renowned Mathematician and human rights activist. As head of a UN agency task force, he set out to count the number of slaves in the world today. The premise: you can’t cure it if you can’t count it. His global estimates of slavery—and of the profits made by slaveholders—have helped forge a worldwide governmental response.
His researchers went country by country, adapting statistical methods used to estimate hard-to-count endangered wildlife populations. The team determined there are at least 12 million people forced to work against their will in the world today, generating nearly $32 billion in illicit profits for traffickers.
The team was quick to say their figures were a minimum estimate, noting that they had uncovered just the “tip of a disturbing iceberg.”
“In fact,” Roger notes of his estimate, the actual number of slaves could be “two to three times as big.”
Free the Slaves estimates there are 27 million slaves in the world today.
I had the chance to sit down with Roger and talk with him about his work, what needs to happen to end slavery, and the importance of staying positive in the midst of such atrocities.
Q: How difficult has it been to convince governments and politicians that slavery still exists?
A:It was always difficult. We had and continue to have support from some politicians, but around the world politicians are still reluctant to come to grips with those underlying causes of modern slavery. Those underlying causes are that totally unscrupolous people are making large amounts of money by deceiving and by exploiting the vulnerable. This is particularly the case of migrant workers coming to countries, including the United States.
It's very good that the latest amendment to the U.S. anti-trafficking bill has included criminal offenses for fraudulent recruitment, because that is what a lot of modern slavery is all about. It's fraudulent recruitment in order to ruthlessly exploit the vulnerable so that people can make unfair profits at the expense of the vulnerable.
Q: Has modern slavery become worse with the world economic downturn?
A: I think it was getting worse with the somewhat weakening of labor protection that we have seen since the 1980's. Now I think there is an even greater risk that we will see more exploitation when th economy is in a difficult state and people around the word are trying to cut costs, and the first thing they often try to cut is their labor costs.
Q: What's the greatest opportunity to combat slavery right now?
A: I think the greatest opportunity is to build those bridges between concerned politicians, concerned businessmen and concerned consumers. We also have to work very hard to get the established trade unions to really tackle these issues. Often trade unions don't want to think about those who are not their fee paying and due paying members. They've got to realize that these problems are undercutting their wages for everybody.
So you have got to get those, what we call, multi-state cultural alliances, sometimes focused on a particular sector like charcoal or electronics. We have seen a lot of forced slave labor penetrating electronics and other industries around the world.
Q: You talk about these alliances. I've read about the Cocoa Initiative. Is that the way you perceive these alliances being successful with businesses?
A:Absolutely. I think a very good way is to focus on a particular crop, or a particular ingredient in a supply chain. If I am consumer, I have a lot of power. But I only have that power if I know how slave labor is penetrating the supply chain, who is responsible and what to look out for.
The other thing, is you have to be very careful not to penalize the producers. It's very easy for a big company just to walk away and to pull out of a country where there are problems with forced labor. They can't do that. Where they can actually help in these developing countries is to improve those conditions.
Q: Any recent successes from your work you would like to tell us about?
A:There are many countries where I am glad to see progress. I can even list the United States. I think there is a growing awareness in the U.S. that you really do have slavery and forced labor. We see Kevin Bales latest books on slavery. We see the new legislation, we see the new task forces and I think this is very positive.
We have seen major initiatives in countries like Brazil. They have not walked away from forced labor, but they have not denied it and are working against it. We have also seen major pacts between private industry with government support in Brazil.
I have found great progress in India. India is probably where you have the most deeply embedded forms of slavery like conditions with bonded labor. When I say India, I mean South Asia in general. India, Pakistan, Nepal, etc... But by working in a constructive way at the state level, at the local level and by bringing together the local government officials, rice producers, other employers and civil groups and NGO's and trade unions, we have seen a realization that has gone right up to the federal government level. They realize they can do things, they can wipe this out.
I say around the globe that I can detect many more signs of commitment. We see more legislation in place and more task forces in place. I think the greatest challenge that is still with us is to weed out the criminals and the abusive forms of recruitment. This is driving men, women and children into new kinds of forced labor in both developing and undeveloped countries.
Q: I know for me it can be difficult to read and write about some of the atrocities of modern slavery. How important is it for you to stay positive in your work?
A:I think it is absolutely essential to stay positive. That's one of the lessons I have learned over the last 30 years. I was telling the colleagues today that I come from an NGO background. I started out working with human rights in Latin America in the 1970's. I saw people tortured, killed and kidnapped. It's a terrible situation to see a friend machine gunned to death shortly after you have spoken to them. It becomes very easy to focus on the negative.
But I have really learned that as I have interacted with the victims of forced labor, politicians and governments at all levels that you must stay positive. You must get people to engage.
We think it's a challenge. We think it's a challenge that until recently has not achieved sufficient recognition, but it is growing. The risk of an intensification and worsening of these conditions is always there, but we've got to seek every opportunity and we must remain positive and optimistic.
Q: Any advice for people learning about this issue who want to get involved?
A:Really look at everything. Look at your surroundings. When you go to the market and pickup a potato, think "How was this produced?" and start asking those questions.
Start asking your politicians these questions as well. When you see people working at a construction site, in a factory or wherever, always keep asking and keep alert, because there are very harmful and very dangerous things going on in labor markets today.
And I repeat, not only in the leather factories of India, but in the citrus growing and sugar of developing countries, including the United States. I have seen them in my own country, the United Kingdom. I am glad to say that we have some new mechanisms in the UK to weed out what they call gangmasters and forced labor. We have seen progress in the U.S. and always keep alert and make sure that you know where to go to report when you see or suspect a victim of forced labor.
There’s a tremendous amount of good will around in the world. Our job is to mobilize the good will against the bad.
Roger Plant received $10,000 as part of the William Wilberforce award from Free the Slaves. During his acceptance speech, he donated his award money to one of the other award winners, theJEEVIKA organizationof India.
You can see more about Roger Plant and his work in the video clip below.
I received this letter from Mosaic Family Services and felt it worth sharing. They share some of their 2010 success stories in the battle against human trafficking here in Dallas. One of these is about a young girl trafficked into the Dallas-Ft. Worth area. As I reflect upon the Christmas season, this letter helped me to put in perspective my life as I thought of my blessings, the sometimes sickening hardships of this world and the hope we can offer others through our time, service and dedication.
With your help, this last fiscal year Mosaic Family Services:
Served over 100 Victims of Human Trafficking.
Provided over 400 immigrant and refugee victims of domestic violence with comprehensive services including counseling and legal representation.
Provided 209 women and children fleeing domestic violence or human trafficking with safe housing.
Helped 725 newly arrived refugees improve the health of their families and access medical care.
Educated 15,000 individuals in North Texas about domestic violence, human trafficking, and the services we offer.
Are safety and freedom are your wish list this year?
Linda wished for freedom for many years before Mosaic helped her find it. As a young girl, she was brought from her home in Africa to the United States by her neighbors' relatives. She was told that upon arrival she would help care for her neighbor's family and receive an education. Instead, Linda was treated as a slave, forced to work as a nanny and a housekeeper for the family while her passport was withheld, ensuring that she could not leave the restraints of her employment. She was not paid for her work, and the promise of an education was never kept. After five years in domestic servitude, she ran away.
After Linda escaped from her traffickers, a community member referred her to Mosaic Family Services. She was assigned a case manager, who immediately contacted federal law enforcement to report the crime. In spite of escaping, Linda continued to receive threats from her traffickers through phone contact. To ensure her safety, Linda was moved to Mosaic House, our emergency shelter for immigrant women who have been victims of domestic violence or human trafficking. Meanwhile, her case manager and a Mosaic attorney continued to meet with law enforcement, and Linda was identified as a victim of trafficking. The next month, she began to receive the benefits that are available for victims of trafficking, such as Food Stamps, Medicaid, and cash assistance. While her attorney prepared papers to help her file for a T-Visa, Linda met with a counselor to talk through her experiences and began a job training program. Today, she is excited about her life. She has a job she enjoys and plans to attend college to become a member of the medical profession.
Sadly, Linda's case is not unique. 15,000-17,000 victims are brought into the United States every year to be exploited and enslaved through domestic servitude, prostitution, and in the agricultural, garment, and construction industries.
25% of all human trafficking victims in the nation were exploited in Texas.
While awareness has been raised about trafficking occasioned by theSuper Bowl, human trafficking happens every day. Mosaic works day in and day out to provide comprehensive services for victims of this heinous and often invisible crime.
My wife sent me a link to this video today and it "wowed" me. The more I write about modern slavery, the more I realize it's important to celebrate the beautiful things in life. With Thanksgiving happening tomorrow, this touched me and helped me remember the things I am thankful for. Enjoy and have a Happy Thanksgiving!
Here is the full story behind the random act of culture.
On Saturday, October 30, 2010, the Opera Company of Philadelphia brought together over 650 choristers from 28 participating organizations to perform one of the Knight Foundation's "Random Acts of Culture" at Macy's in Center City Philadelphia.
Accompanied by the Wanamaker Organ - the world's largest pipe organ - the OCP Chorus and throngs of singers from the community infiltrated the store as shoppers, and burst into a pop-up rendition of the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel's "Messiah" at 12 noon, to the delight of surprised shoppers.
This event is one of 1,000 "Random Acts of Culture" to be funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation over the next three years. The initiative transports the classical arts out of the concert halls and opera houses and into our communities to enrich our everyday lives.
To learn more about this program and view more events, visithttp://www.randomactsofculture.org. The Opera Company thanks Macy's and the Friends of the Wanamaker Organ (http://www.wanamakerorgan.com) for their partnership, as well as Organ Music Director Peter Conte and Fred Haas, accompanists; OCP Chorus Master Elizabeth Braden, conductor; and Sound Engineer James R. Stemke. For a complete list of participating choirs and more information, visit http://www.operaphila.org/RAC.This event was planned to coincide with the first day of National Opera Week.
Last week the Texas State Attorney General, Greg Abbott, announced he would be sending a dozen staff members from his human trafficking task force to assist local law enforcement in cracking down on human trafficking during the 2011 Super Bowl.
"The Super Bowl is one of the biggest human trafficking events in the United States," Abbott said.
During the 2009 Super Bowl in Tampa, Florida, the Florida State Department of Children and Families took in 24 minors who had been trafficked to the Tampa area as Sex Slaves for the Super Bowl. These were just the ones that were found.
In 2010. the Women's Funding Network found an increase of 80% in Craigslist sex ads during the Super Bowl. Craigslist recently shut down their "Adult Services" section after receiving over 10,000 petition signatures from the public and pressure from a number of State Attorney Generals.
Although no one knows exactly how many people will be trafficked to North Texas for the Super Bowl in February 2011, anti-trafficking organizations estimate it will be in the thousands.
This is partially due to the fact that the U.S. Department of Justice estimates that over 14,500 people are trafficked into the United States each year and 25% of all trafficked persons come through Texas.
According to a report by Shared Hope International, which investigates human trafficking in major cities, the Dallas Police Department, Child Exploitation/High Risk Victims & Trafficking Unit has created a unique and effective investigative tool to combat domestic minor sex trafficking. The Dallas Police Department, Child Exploitation/High Risk Victims & Trafficking Unit (CE/HRVTU) has developed an investigative tool to identify high risk victims (HRV) by flagging all minors who have run away from home four or more times in one year, as well as any minors that are repeat victims of sexual abuse or sexual exploitation. In 2007, CE/HRVTU identified 189 HRV cases 119 of which involved prostitution.
Of those High Risk Victims cases, 75% included felony charges specifically related to domestic minor sex trafficking.
A number of local organizations are joining in the effort to raise awareness and support ground work in recognizing and reporting human trafficking for the Super Bowl 2011. You can learn more about these groups and how you can help by clicking the links below.
Durban, South Africa is located on the South East coast of South Africa.
I received an email from a fellow abolitionist and friend in South Africa. She recently joined a group called theRed Light, to learn more about sex trafficking on the streets of Durban, South Africa. The letter below is from an email I received last night about her first Night Light visit. Her experience was so compelling, and true of sex trafficking around the world, that I asked her if I could republish her story to share with others. Kindly, Julie has agreed to let me republish her experience. Here is her story.
As I mentioned in my last email, I have joinedRed Lightfor what is called Night Lights… for those that were not able to open the attachment, Night Lights is a project facilitated by Red Light - an anti-Human Trafficking organization, whereby we go out onto the streets of Durban on every second Wednesday night and speak to the pimps, prostitutes and homeless people we encounter, and the basic aim is build up a relationship with them in order to gain their trust, should they ever wish to share any information with us, or if they themselves want to get off the streets.
I thought I would tell you about last night while it's all still fresh in my mind, and my emotions/feelings are still 'raw'.
I would be lying to you if I said I wasn't scared going out there, because our destination is the really dark and seedy side of town. For the locals who know the area, we went from Smith Street, down to Point Road, passed the Wheel, and then back up via the Esplanade.
A few minutes after we (a group of about 12 of us) set off, we encountered a group of Nigerian men sitting on the side of the road enjoying their dinner. Some of the people within our group are fairly well acquainted with these men, known pimps in the area. And we stopped to chat to them. After introductions were made for those of us who were new, I stepped into the background to watch the dynamics of this encounter. (LOL yeah, I am an observer! I don't go rushing in =P). What amazed me what how happy these guys were to sit and chat to us and tell us how things were going.
One gent was clearly the alpha male in the group and was quite chatty. but all the while, you can see them scanning the street with their eyes. They know where each of their girls are and what they are up to, and with a mere nod of the head in their direction, a girl who might be distracted or chatting to someone that is not going to help her earn her keep, is put back in line. And should a john stop to talk to the girls but not actually make use of her services, one of the gents would calmly excuse himself from our company and slowly start walking towards the girl and the john. This seems to be enough to make the girls move on very quickly. The entire time we were chatting to these men, they were nothing but charming and polite.
At one point one of our team-members, an amazing man we call Ant, asked Mr. Alpha-Male if he knew about God. And I can tell you now... that man knew more about God and the Bible than many Christians I know. Standing there listening to him talk about God's Love and how Jesus came to die for each and everyone, it was almost possible to forget what his chosen profession is… and to forget that with a mere look in her direction, he can make a girl standing across the road from us look like a cat on a hot tin roof. After we moved on, Ant, who actually lives in one of the nearby shelters and spends a lot of time on the street with these people, explained that many of the pimps in this area are not the bosses. They are merely a worker. And while he was explaining this to us, we passed a group of gents that he pointed out as the real bosses. And it was so obvious to see the difference, to see how the food chain worked in this area…
You have the girls, which look like a little mouse caught in the corner by a predator, either shaking in fear, or so far beyond fear that they look numb and frozen.
Then you have the pimps, which remind me of the jackals you see in these discovery channel documentaries. They seem to be cocky and arrogant, and chirping and bouncing about looking like the big shots. Making a lot of noise, but doing nothing themselves.
Then you have the bosses… these guys remind me of an alpha lion walking along the Serengeti. Majestic and powerful with confidence and arrogance that makes it obvious to see why they are king of the jungle… yet every movement is precise and calculated.
Apparently life on the streets is easier for the girls if they have a pimp, because they supposedly look out for 'your best interests', and this includes ensuring they get their next fix when they are too wasted to get it themselves. What amazed me about the whole experience was the blatant openness of it all. We encountered John’s (men who enlist these girls' services) who were quite happy to stand and chat to us, tell us who they are, where they are from and where they work etc. Others would high-tail it out of there when they saw us. It wasn't exactly as though we blended in with the surroundings; after all, we were the only white faces in a sea of black. That area of town is now referred to as 'Little Nigeria,' with brothels and chop shops all over the place.
I have been through that part of town plenty of times, but never like this, never actually looking at what is going on. Normally we are in our cars and speeding through with our doors locked in the hopes that the traffick lights don't stop us. I was a bit nervous as to how dangerous it would be walking out there, but was pleasantly surprised that most people were just curious about us. "What are a bunch of white people doing here?" was the question we were asked the most.
We encountered one young girl - Precious, who said she was 16yrs old, but if she was 13 or 14 that was a lot. She was completely high and drunk. But when she heard that I could speak basic Zulu, we were suddenly 'best friends' and she was telling me in rather flowery language what her daily routine entailed. She did not sleep in any of the nearby shelters because "they only want my bleep money…but bleep money is for bleep drink". So I asked her where she slept, and she promptly showed me… she dropped down on the curb at my feet and leant up against the wall. "Bleep everywhere is my bed". One of the ladies within our group asked her if she was not scared sleeping like that on the street and young Precious, said “Its good Misus (M'am). The men will bleep me and give me bleep money."
At this point Precious decided that she had had enough of our company and swaggered off to go talk to the wall across the road from us. It broke my heart to see someone so young so gone to the world and not being able to do anything about it. I wanted to wrap my arms around and her take her off the streets. But at the end of the day, we can't do anything unless they make an actual choice. We can take them to the shelters / safe houses, but unless they make the choice that this is what they want, our attempts are in vain as no sooner have we turned our backs than they have run off and are on the streets again.
It was definitely an interesting experience which I definitely will be repeating. I also find it fascinating to talk to the various people within the group (always different people. I only know 4 of them) and find out what their story is, why this is something they want to do, etc…