Please pardon a pause in posts on the slavery blog from July 18th to August 3rd.
From Change.org, by Maia Blume
If you ever needed a reason to quit smoking, here's one: child labor and forced labor make your cigarettes. A newly released report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) has unleashed a bombshell of accusations against Philip Morris Kazahkstan, a wholly owned subsidiary of Philip Morris International, the company behind Marlboro, L&M, Chesterfield, and Bond Street: the farmers that harvest their tobacco exploit workers and children.
Many migrant laborers come to Kazakhstan from surrounding countries in search of better opportunities. Instead, they find themselves indebted to the farmers that employ them, their passports and identification papers confiscated, and all for essentially nothing; most workers make only a few hundred dollars for more than six months of work.
Workers typically have to bring their children to the fields with them to help the families earn more money. According to one woman, children as young as 10 were seen slaving away day after day in the tobacco fields. While the use of child labor is not uncommon in Central Asia, working in tobacco fields can be particularly hazardous to one's health, especially for children who are more susceptible to the harsh effects of nicotine exposure. Laborers often suffer from green tobacco sickness, in which nicotine is absorbed through the skin — amounting to the equivalent of smoking 36 cigarettes — leading to a laundry list of grisly symptoms.
Working conditions in the farms are also particularly dismal; there is no easy access to fresh, clean water, and workers must drink from irrigation channels saturated with pesticides. Laborers, often poor and unable to purchase safe working attire, plow the fields with sharp hoes while wearing open-toed shoes.
When given an advance copy of the report, Philip Morris came out decidedly against the use of forced labor and child labor and has already vowed to make changes in their contracts with the farmers they employ in Kazakhstan. For starters, they will require farmers to pay their workers on an hourly basis, rather than by the amount of tobacco harvested, which pressures families to bring their children to the fields to provide more helping hands. Furthermore, the company plans to hire monitors to make sure the farms are in compliance with the already-established child labor laws. A good start, I'd say.
But yes, you read that right. The company already has child labor laws in place, but didn't seem to really care about enforcing them. It takes a 115-page report to get the company to actually take a stance. A Philip Morris spokesman, Peter Nixon, says the company was "appreciative" of the report for exposing the human rights violations going on behind their backs. But shouldn't the company have preempted the report by checking in on labor conditions themselves?
Though the tobacco harvested in Kazakhstan's fields does not go into cigarettes sold in America, next time you think about lighting up, consider, for a quick second, where your nicotine fix is coming from.
From Change.org, written by Amanda Kloer
According to the UN, human trafficking generates about $32 billion a year in revenue -- a staggering amount. That means if the human trafficking industry were a company, it would be at the top of the Fortune 500 list. So what makes human trafficking more profitable than the largest corporations in the world? And what can you do to dig into that profit margin? $32 billion is such a huge number, to most people doesn't really mean anything. But if you look at that number compared to revenue from top companies, human trafficking would outpace them all. In fact, the amount of money made from slavery each year is more than the combined revenue (not profit) of Walmart, Chevron, General Motors, General Electric, and Bank of America in 2009. And those companies make up half of the Fortune 500 top ten companies. Walmart, which is the biggest company in the world, pulled in only about a tenth of what is generated from slavery. Human trafficking is massive, and not just in human terms; but in cold, hard cash.
So why is human trafficking so profitable? Traffickers make money for two, simple economic reasons all the companies above live by: supply and demand. The supply of their product is cheap and plentiful and the demand for it is high. For this reason, human trafficking as a business model is the fantasy of any executive or entrepreneur. The obvious drawback, of course, is that the supply in this business is human beings and the demand is the abuse, exploitation, and enslavement of those human beings. And, of course, the fact that it's illegal. But despite those ethical and legal barriers, human trafficking is a business almost guaranteed to make a profit.
But there are two ways to change that guarantee: reduce the supply and reduce the demand. Reducing the supply means making sure people aren't vulnerable to slavery. This can mean everything from reducing poverty and developing social infrastructure to ensuring children live with safe and loving families to building economic opportunities for workers. These programs are important, but only go so far. That's because reducing the supply will only drive the price of the product, in this case the enslaved person, up. Sure, it may cause some traffickers to take up knitting instead, but the market will still exist.
To really destroy the market of human trafficking, you have to do what every Fortune 500 company fears will happen to their product: end the demand. No company provides a product that no one else wants to buy. It's a lesson Ford learned with the Edsel and I learned in 3rd grade with my Mud Pie stand (they were actually mud and I hadn't done a good job of picking out the rocks). Ending demand for slavery means ending demand for the goods and services trafficked people produce -- everything from t-shirts to commercial sex to house cleaning. The idea of buying from sources that avoid slavery sounds simple, but is actually complicated. It's why we have a number of petitions asking companies to make their products slave-free.
Slavery shouldn't be topping the business charts. And if we reduce supply and and demand, it doesn't have to be.
From Change.org, written by Amanda Kloer
The city of Pattaya, Thailand, never intended for a pillar of their economy to be foreign men buying sex with children. Nor did they intended to become world-famous as a playground for pedophiles. And they certainly didn't expect to see celebrities arrested on their streets for sex crimes. So how, then, did this small Thai city become the world capitol of child sex trafficking? In Pattaya alone, there are an estimated 2,000 children involved in the prostitution industry year round, with an additional 900 or so traveling to the area for tourist season each year. These children are, for the most part, controlled by someone else, like a family member, a brothel owner, or a pimp. In addition to being deprived of an education, children in the sex industry are at increased risk for contracting HIV and other STDs, rape, and physical assault. Survivors of child sex trafficking are marred for years by the physical and emotional scars of their abuse.
Thailand, in general, and Pattaya specifically have become notorious for their child sex tourism industry through a combination of social, political, and economic circumstances. In Thailand, there is a massive wealth gap between the elite of the country and the populous, many of whom are very poor. The lack of social services and support for poor families and homeless children means there are few ways to get extra money other than prostitution. There has also been a long tradition of political corruption in Thailand, making it easy for pedophiles to buy their way out of trouble when caught with a child. As the availability of children and the laxity of law enforcement became known, Thailand grew as a destination for men seeking sex, and the child sex tourism industry grew in response.
Now, especially in areas like Pattaya, the money (spent at hotels, bars, restaurants, etc.) brought in by people traveling to Thailand for sex with children is a major component of the local economy. These factors can lead to a culture of tolerance for child sex tourism, which exists in many parts of Thailand.
None of these factors, however, is unique to Thailand. There's a huge wealth gap in the U.S., and Nigeria is famous for its political corruption. So why has the child sex industry boomed in Thailand and not in the U.S. or Nigeria? The answer to that question will be key to preventing other countries with smaller child sex tourism industries from seeing theirs grow to Thai proportions. But since the DNA of child sex tourism is so common to so many other countries, we can't forget that the crisis in Thailand is no more uniquely Thai than poverty, corruption, or economic uncertainty are. And it might just as easily pop up in Los Angeles or Abuja tomorrow.
Regardless of circumstance, however, child sex tourism is ultimately caused by the demand for sex with children. But combinations of circumstances like the ones present in Pattaya can direct that demand towards one area and away from another. Until we start to address the demand for sex with children, the industry may follow the political and economic circumstances, but will never really go away.
From Change.org, by Maia Blume
Juliet was only 14 years old, home on vacation from school, when the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) invaded her town, beat and raped men, women, and children, and took her away from her family. She was raped repeatedly by one of the commanders of the LRA before being forced to marry him. Two years later, she was pregnant with his child and later endured two weeks in labor, while being forced to walk long distances and travel. The fetus eventually died inside of her, and it was days before a doctor performed an operation — with no anesthetic — to remove the body. Juliet also had to fight for the LRA. Like all the other child soldiers she lived with, she had to steal and kill to find enough food to feed herself. They would walk miles and miles every day, carrying guns and younger children on their backs and food on their heads.
However horrifying Juliet's story sounds, stories like hers are not uncommon in conflict zones. Over 250,000 young boys and girls under the age of 18 are forced to fight in war. They are taken from their families, drugged, given weapons, and told to shoot, maim and kill if they want to survive. Many do not.
Juliet is one of the lucky few that has had the opportunity to go back to school, catch up on her education, and reintegrate into society. But girls often have a much more difficult time returning to their communities than boys. Throughout Africa, where child soldiers are particularly prevalent, social ties and family relationships are incredibly important. Girls often must rely on their communities for stability, but when their images are tainted by what they endured in wartime — whether it was forced marriage, known as a "bush marriage," sexual relationships, or murder and violence — they have a much more difficult time blending in and finding a way to return to some semblance of a normal life.
Very few opportunities to better their lives are available; sometimes, the girls' families are so disgraced by what their daughters "have done," that they keep them locked up inside day after day. So what are their options? Well, according to Juliet, education is a must. And she's right. With education, these young girls will have opportunities they may otherwise never see. After all, look at Juliet: she has risen to the post of Head Girl at her school, she is well spoken, she is smart, she is ambitious, motivated and determined to make a difference and to protect young children so they never have to experience what she, and so many others, already have. The world needs a few more people like her.
But one problem, many families cannot afford school fees, and if they can, they'll send the boys first.
As Juliet travels around London sharing her story, and inspiring and teaching on the horrors of life as a child soldier, she has also taken on the ambition mission of urging the British government to invest in schooling for children returning from war. Her courage and determination is not very common amongst children that have suffered from such horrors, but her bravery will create better opportunities for the thousands of boys and girls around the world forced to fight for their lives.
Change.org, written by Amanda Kloer
Yesterday, a group of activists gathered at Craigslist's San Fransisco headquarters to protest the continued exploitation and sale of human trafficking victims, including children, on the site. Then, another group of activists showed up to counter-protest. Then a whole lot of members of the media showed up to cover the protest and the counter-protest. In fact, the only person missing from that San Fransisco sidewalk was Craig himself. The Craigslist protest was organized by a number of anti-trafficking organizations, including the Coalition Against Trafficking Women. They (along with the rest of us) are outraged at the continued exploitation and sale of human trafficking victims, both children and unwilling adults, for sex on Craigslist. And since they claim one lawsuit and several communications from members of Congress have failed to move the company, they are bringing the issue to their doorstep and asking them to remove their adult services section.
But they weren't the only ones at Craig's doortstep. The US PROStitutes Collective showed up as well, claiming that closing down the adult services section would put women who were willingly advertising for sex on the site at more risk, forcing them out on the streets. The San Fransisco Citizen has some great pictures of the event, though I have serious qualms about their cynical and glib reporting (for some reason, they thought protesters were calling Craig Newmark "Craig Newpimp" because he's bald, not because they were protesting his company's facilitation of pimping children). Like any good protest/counterprotest, there were people filming each other and waving signs at each other. But thankfully, it looks like no one got violent.
Verbal San Fransisco street brawls aside, almost 8000 of you have asked Craigslist to reform their adult services section to prevent the exploitaiton of human trafficking victims on the popular website. So far, we haven't heard a response from the company as to whether they're willing to work more closely with law enforcement, anti-trafficking, and human rights groups to prevent the exploitation of women and children on their website. But maybe the next signature will be the one that finally encourages them to respond.
Craigslist was able to ignore both a protest and a counter protest when it landed on their doorstep. Maybe they won't able able to ignore 10,000 signatures asking them to protect women and children from human trafficking.
Change.org, by Amanda Kloer
The great recession may be stalling the housing markets and automobile industries in countries around the world, but in China, one business is booming. The trafficking of foreign women into China for marriage is on the rise, in response to the growing gender gap China's one-child policy has created. Are these unwilling brides modern-day comfort women? Comfort women, for those not familiar, is the common name given to the (mostly) Korean and Chinese women who were forced into sexual servitude for the Japanese military around World War II. Only in the past few years has the Japanese government even acknowledged the violations which were systematically perpetrated against these women, but have refused to provide any sort of compensation to them. Today, it's China where North Korean, Vietnamese, Filipina, and other Asian women are being trafficked. And while some are forced into prostitution, many find themselves sold into a marriage. And according to some people who work with trafficked women in China, the gender gap that has catalyzed this trafficking is not going away any time soon, and the problem will continue to grow.
Women come to China in a number of different ways. Many of them are offered jobs and a chance to send money home, but find themselves sold into a forced marriage for as little as $700. Others intentionally travel to China to marry, but believe they will have the freedom to stay in touch with their family, hold a job, and exercise other rights their husband ends up taking away. Some are even kidnapped from their homes, smuggled into China, and sold as wives. Much of the bride trafficking of foreign women takes place in the rural parts of China, where the gender gap may be even more pronounced.
Stopping this form of trafficking in China is extremely challenging. The one-child policy has left China with a generation short on women and full of young men willing to buy a wife in order to marry and have a family. Many of the source countries where victims come from, like North Korea, Burma, and Laos, lack either the political will or the resources to really prevent human trafficking from their end. So the onus for preventing bride trafficking falls on China, the country demanding a supply of brides. And since they can't make a generation of Chinese women, they'll need to find a new way to deal with their one-child policy.
Today's forced marriage victims aren't as directly victimized by the Chinese government as the comfort women of the 1930s and 40s were by the Japanese government, but it was Chinese government policy which created the situation now driving most of the foreign bride trafficking in China. That makes me wonder if in 60 or 70 years, there will be a group of women waiting for an apology or compensation from China, watching as history repeats itself again.
From Change.org, written by Amanda Kloer
While there has been much discussion of the increased human trafficking in Haiti following the earthquake, 2010 is by no means the beginning of slavery for Haitian people. This week, court documents were unsealed which indicate over 50 Haitian nationals were trafficked to the U.S. and forced into farm work in 2008. And what the traffickers did to keep their slaves hidden from prying eyes was extraordinary, if not uncommon in modern-day slavery. Three Haitian nationals, one of whom had been a long-time farm worker in the South Florida area, were accused of trafficking dozens of their countrymen into the U.S. to force them into farm labor. Back in Haiti, the workers were offered lucrative jobs with the U.S. guest worker program (which, incidentally, has been often criticized for its frequent use in human trafficking). The visas were false, though. Once in the U.S., workers' travel documents were confiscated, effectively confining them to their work sites. They suffered from poor food and sanitation conditions, and were made to work in fields so recently sprayed with chemicals that some of them left with permanent scars. One of the female workers even reported being raped on the job.
When the farms where the workers were enslaved were inspected by federal agents, the traffickers forced the men and women to put on drumming and dancing shows for the inspectors, threatening that anyone who didn't look happy would be deported to Haiti. They also hid workers at a nearby Walmart to fool inspectors as to the number of people working on the farm and how much they were being paid. During the rare times inspectors were able to communicate with the workers, one of the traffickers acted as interpreter, claiming that the federal inspectors gave them permission to withhold food from the workers. Eventually, however, the inspectors and local law enforcement were able to identify the horrible and dangerous working conditions, and arrested those responsible. But for too long, Haitian slaves remained hidden in plain view.
One of the most interesting elements of this case is the lengths traffickers will go to to hide their crime from the authorities. This is one of the major reason human trafficking is so hard to identify. In this case, the exploiters employed smart and creative techniques to hide their abuse from inspectors. Forcing the workers to smile and perform is especially effective, because who would suspect someone is a slave if he's smiling and playing the drums? And despite the abuses in the U.S., deportation back to Haiti was a very real threat to these workers, and when their only way to communicate with people who might help them is through their exploiter's interpretation, well, you can imagine how hopeless that must feel. The deception in this case may sound extraordinary, but these are not uncommon steps for traffickers to take to protect the financial investment in their slaves.
The Haitian workers are now getting services, including rape crisis counseling, from a number of South Florida agencies. And the three men who brought them to the U.S. face charges of forced labor and fraud.
From change.org, written by Amanda Kloer
Rosita Curry is a remarkable young woman. As she walked across a Columbus, Ohio, stage to receive her high school diploma, she did so with her head held high as her class valedictorian. But just 15 months prior, Rosita was trapped in a life of slavery and abuse. Rosita's walk across that stage really began six years ago, when she was just thirteen. Her parents had died several years earlier, and she had become separated from her two brothers. Finally old enough to track down her family, she began searching for them on the streets of Columbus, Ohio. But instead of meeting them, she met an older man who bought her food, offered her a place to stay, and claimed he cared for her. Then he began to pimp her out.
While her peers were playing sports and getting excited about proms, Rosita spent her teen years addicted to drugs, sleeping in cardboard boxes, and being raped, abused, and forced to have sex by pimps and the men who paid for her. She was a victim of child sex trafficking, trapped by addiction, pimp control, and a lack of other options in life. Her life had spiraled out of control, until one rainy night, she was arrested for offering to give an undercover police officer oral sex for for $20.
Ironically, the arrest was Rosita's chance for salvation. That's because the Columbus police were able to identify her as a victim of human trafficking and set her up with social services, instead of jail time. The arresting officer called Rahab's Hideaway, a small local shelter for human-trafficking victims. Marlene Carson, the founder, met with Rosita to talk about her experiences. She set Rosita up with a place to live, got her enrolled in drug rehab, and encouraged her to enroll in a special high school for teens who have dropped out of school. With a lot of hard work, Rosita achieved something almost unthinkable 15 months prior — a high school diploma and the highest grade point average in the class.
Rosita Curry's story is one of tremendous personal triumph. But it's also one of hope for all child trafficking victims. When trafficking victims are identified as such and given help to overcome their enslavement, they can do much more than just survive after slavery. They can thrive after it.
Congratulations, Rosita, on your well-earned accomplishment.