03 December 2014

Rise of the Corporate by Guest Blogger Diane Wilkinson

Our latest GUEST BLOG from Diane Wilkinson, National Freedom Network, South Africa

Rise of the Corporate

As a South African network of actors and stakeholders, we have seen all sorts of people emerge with a desire to somehow get involved in counter-human trafficking. These include individuals and organizations who want to spread awareness, social clubs, church ministries who reach out to those working in prostitution and strip clubs (we even have a team working with pimps, some of whom have been trafficked themselves), government representatives, supporters of existing programs and volunteers who naively wish to ‘break down brothel doors and rescue girls’.

This year, though, has seen the rise of another role player in South Africa. All of a sudden, as if on some silent cue, there has been a burst of interest from corporate actors wanting to know more about the issue and how they can get involved - beyond just handing over a nice big cheque.

LexisNexis were, to our knowledge, the first corporate actor to really step up to the challenge in South Africa and take counter-trafficking on as their Corporate Social Investment initiative, setting the standard high for corporate involvement. A bold step, but over the past few years they have been amazing not only with raising funds for their designated Anti Human Trafficking Fund to help support various network partners across South Africa, but also by using their position to make available human trafficking information, including creating their Human Trafficking Awareness Index (http://www.lexisnexis.co.za/pdf/LexisNexis-Human-Trafficking-Index.pdf). What followed was a succession of corporate actors following the example set by LexisNexis and offering their own unique and valuable support.

Nielsen Cares (the social responsibility team of Nielsen SA) sponsored a set of our Story Board banners that showcase local South African stories of human trafficking, which we were then able to donate to the Kwa-Zulu Natal network for use by partners in their awareness events and campaigns. It’s wonderful to be able to use local resources with real “homegrown” stories to show that this is not just an issue happening ‘out there’ in Eastern Europe and South East Asia, but also right here in South Africa.

The Thomson Reuters Foundation generously offered free legal advice to any of the registered NGOs in the network, and they also hosted a live streaming of London’s annual Trust Women conference (focusing on female economic empowerment and anti-human trafficking) here in Johannesburg, which network partners were able to attend for free.

Production company MoviWorld created a 60 second PSA for us and one of our network partners that is now available for all network partners to use across South Africa. Trigger warning for survivors: you can watch Ruby’s Story here. ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bRGLfXoEZoQ )

The latest offering has come from advertising company Ad OutPost, who have offered us billboards and other outdoor media space to create awareness.

For us here in South Africa, these initiatives represent a big step forward and we are grateful to each of these companies for caring, sharing and supporting the cause.

Diane Wilkinson
Network Coordinator & Gauteng Provincial Networker
National Freedom Network
Operations Manager
Project Tshireletso

21 November 2014

Retracing the Vision

I am still learning that the journey of life and vision passes in seasons.. Sometimes the sun shines and other times it's hard to see a way through the darkness.

My most recent season has certainly consisted of more darkness than sunshine and a friend reminded me the importance of reflecting on the beginning of the vision to remember the start of the journey and why I took this path.

Last month we had the delight of having our daughter visit from university.  While she was here we had a sort out (one of the things my kids dread about me entering their rooms!) and she decided to clear out some of her childhood soft toys. While she was sorting them, she was explaining to me the ones that she would never get rid of as they had significant emotional memories and attachment.

As she was pulling them out of the bag, she set aside the ones she wanted to keep and among them I saw a familiar small doll hand made out of pink wool.  I asked her why she kept that doll and she explained that she wanted to keep it because the girl gave it to me for her and she always wanted to remember how a little girl who had nothing but this doll and had gone through so much wanted to give it to her. Seeing the doll took me back to an event more than 15 years ago that was a catalyst for the beginning of a vision and the work I am now doing.

The event involved both a physical and metaphorical journey that was instrumental in the immediate project work I was involved in and unknown to me at the time, planted the vision for founding Chab Dai.

The physical journey involved a few hopeful (and naive) expats and Cambodians who were disturbed by the increasing events and stories of children being traded and transited through the Cambodia/Thai border in Poipet.  At the time we didn't understand that this was indeed trafficking but knew that this was something that could not be ignored and so set out to research the issues and to see if other organisations were seeing the same as us and were trying to address it.

The more than ten hour journey (which today would take about two!) on roads that had potholes the depth of a car, in an old Toyota land cruiser with very little in the way of suspension was pretty brutal to say the least!  On more than one occasion did I wonder what I was doing on this journey!

During our time in Poipet I met a young girl of about five years old who had been trafficked to Bangkok with her baby brother to beg on the streets.  She had been separated from her family and had no idea where they were or where her home village was.  I talked to her and explained that I had a daughter her age and a son her brothers age.  As we talked she showed me a doll she had made out of wool in the shelter she was in.. And as I was about to leave, she gave me the doll and asked me to give it as a gift of friendship to my daughter.  I was deeply touched by her generosity and selflessness.  This was my first interaction with a survivor and one I have never forgot.

I have no idea where that girl or her brother are today, which is one of the agonies of working with survivors.

However, that meeting forever changed the course of my vision and of my life journey and my hope is that in turn it has touched and changed the lives of many others.

A fellow pilgrim,

04 November 2014

The Ends Justify the Means

Most people are familiar with the concept of consequentialism, where the consequences of one's conduct are more important than the rightness or wrongness of the conduct. We often phrase it as "the ends justify the means," or, "As long as it turns out well, it doesn't matter what measures I had to take to get there." These justifications are generally employed in an attempt to excuse poor or immoral behavior. I would venture to say that the majority of people would agree living according to this concept is unpredictable, unreliable and generally harmful.

However, there are those who make reckless decisions and engage in irresponsible activity as an attempt to reach their desired outcome faster and more easily. Sometimes these decisions are the best ones even with the risks involved; I'm not here to say it's a black-and-white issue or even to suggest that we always have the option of “safe” measures attached to tried-and-true results. We don't. But I do want to talk about the instances where we should know better, and do better.

Remember back in May when Newsweek ran that article about Somaly Mam fabricating parts of her story? Shortly thereafter she resigned from her leadership role with the Somaly Mam Foundation (SMF), but the board members were adamant that their work would continue on, serving the girls they had rescued from trafficking, and those they would rescue in the future. Unfortunately, this is no longer the case. SMF ceased their current projects and shut their doors on September 30, as announced in an official statement two weeks ago.

My biggest question brought up by this news is, what will happen to the girls and women SMF served? These are vulnerable individuals who need specific care, attention and services, and now a major provider for these needs has permanently closed.

When Somaly encouraged narratives that lacked truth, I do not think she was trying to be cruel. I think she wanted the spotlight and the accolades that come with a story of overcoming life's brutality. I also believe she knew donors respond more hastily and with bigger checks when they're met with such inspiration. And I don't doubt she truly wanted to make a positive difference in the world. However, her false tale only carried her so far. She was granted the spotlight and the accolades. She was handed large checks to fund her work. She was featured in a high-profile documentary. She did get to make a difference. But her end in no way justifies her means.

With the revelation of Somaly's falsehoods and her subsequent resignation, the reputation of the entire counter-trafficking sector has been called into question. Donors are more wary of supporting programs. SMF has had to cease operations. One person's irresponsible means could very well cause widespread "ends" prematurely. How do organizations convince supporters they are legitimate? The girls SMF was tending to – where do they go now? Initially, Somaly was able to make beneficial waves. She brought some awareness to an important cause. She attracted funding to help provide necessary services. But where is all of that now? It's been diminished to a moment's worth of positive change, shrouded in the shadow of a lie. Was her time of glory worth the cost?

We can't only focus on the short term effects of our actions. We have to realize that there are long term outcomes to be considered, too, and weigh those as part of our decision-making process. We have to be aware of the implications of our choices, not just for ourselves but also for others who they may touch. I can make up a compelling story to sell an idea and cultivate compassion for my cause, but I'm going to be found out. Maybe not immediately, but eventually, and the fallout may well outweigh any good I'd initially accomplished. (Especially with the accessibility of information via the internet. The truth can't hide, and there is always somebody looking to uncover it.)

We can do better. Let's be more conscientious in our pursuits. Let's be careful with our methods. Let's be mindful of both the probable and possible effects of our actions. Let's be honest.

28 October 2014

Awareness Equips Us for Appropriate Action

Human Trafficking. These two words arranged together evoke such a gut wrenching jolt. The New Oxford American Dictionary defines “trafficking” as a verb, “a deal or trade in something illegal.” The trading of human beings? It just sounds awful. It is awful. But what is it exactly? We all think we know what human trafficking is. I myself once watched a documentary of creepy men wandering through dark alleyways of a slum looking for young girls. I thought that was trafficking. Oh, if it was only that simple…

The United Nations definition is: 

Trafficking in persons "shall mean the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs;

(b) The consent of a victim of trafficking in persons to the intended exploitation set forth in subparagraph (a) of this article shall be irrelevant where any of the means set forth in subparagraph (a) have been used;

(c) The recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of a child for the purpose of exploitation shall be considered "trafficking in persons" even if this does not involve any of the means set forth in subparagraph (a) of this article;

(d) "Child" shall mean any person under eighteen years of age.

Protocol to prevent, suppress, and punish trafficking in persons, especially women and children, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organised Crime

Well, sadly, according to this definition, we all have probably seen a form of human trafficking. It is not confined to a certain part of the world nor does it discriminate between races. It may be occurring in your neighborhood or it may be happening on the other side of the world. 

It bothers me to think that I may have seen someone trafficked and had done nothing because I did not fully understand the situation. We often see trafficking as this mythical beast in a far away land. Our media has shaped our minds on what trafficking is. If only everyone understood the actual definition.

A while back while I was traveling, due to unfortunate events, I was stranded at a bus station. While trying to figure out what my next move was I noticed an odd pairing of what I thought was a date. The female was significantly younger than the male. They were different races and the male had given the female some money to buy food in the empty bus station’s food court. She didn’t appear to look distressed. 

Yeah it looked weird. But who was I to judge? I got embarrassed for questioning why they were in each others' company. Maybe they were just really good friends. I told myself to forget it. I was by myself; what could I do? I had my own problems to worry about (being lost in another country and all). But thinking back, there was clearly something off about that situation. I forgot all about it, but after I started learning more about what human trafficking actually is this memory jumped back to my attention.

The definition of human trafficking needs to be well-established in all of our minds. Understanding the difference between force and coercion should be common knowledge. This would allow a case of trafficking to be detected sooner than later. 

We get so involved in our own lives that we do not think twice. Sometimes subconsciously we realize that something may be wrong, but we are too afraid to think a situation is something other that it appears because we don't want to look stupid. But in the meantime that little voice in your head is screaming otherwise. A deep understanding of what human trafficking is can be the tipping point of someone reporting a case versus just walking away. We as human beings have that gut instinct. We all need to trust it. But too often we fear disturbing the norm and do not listen. I myself am guilty of that because I always give anyone and everyone the benefit of the doubt.

So how does one counter the human trafficking issue? First, by getting educated on what human trafficking is. Then, by learning of all of the resources available. If ever you run across an odd circumstance, you will know how to properly address the situation and who to report it to. The worst case scenario is that you are wrong and look sheepishly dumb. But it is better to over analyze than to overlook. 

21 October 2014

The Power of “Soft Power”

          The concept of “power” is frequently used but rarely is understood in all of its intricacies. How often in academic literature, political debates and even personal conversations do we ascribe power to a person or group without really discussing what this entails? In what ways is power expressed and how do we know when a person or group has power? Within the anti-human trafficking movement it is easy to fall prey to feelings of powerlessness. In our efforts to confront this global atrocity, the power of states, the power of the global economic system and the power of traffickers themselves may all seem superior to any power we possess. I would strongly argue, however, that the power of the anti-trafficking movement is quite formidable, especially if we know where to look.

Joseph S. Nye, a Harvard professor, famously introduced the concept of soft power and hard power into the academic and political worlds during the late 1980s, and suggested that power is not simply the capacity to coerce others into behaving in a certain manner such as through military force and economic strength. Rather, power also entails the capacity to attract and persuade others into behaving a particular way. While Nye focused his astute analysis primarily on states, we can extend this way of looking at power into the anti-trafficking movement. No one would ever argue that the movement possesses sufficient hard power to bring about positive changes. Chab Dai is certainly not going to threaten a state with military strikes, nor is any other nongovernmental organization. Instead, the anti-trafficking movement excels in the use of soft power and, in this sense, our power is continuously growing. 

In a multitude of contexts, through various public and private campaigns, the movement has produced positive changes in the fight against human trafficking. Take, for example, the U.S. TIP Report; while it is certainly produced and enforced by a state, it arguably would not exist at all if not for the soft power of the anti-trafficking movement. In order to create this revolutionary tool (putting aside arguments about its effectiveness or shortcomings), it was necessary to first persuade American politicians to enact appropriate legislation. This was not a victory due to the hard power of the anti-trafficking movement; the TIP reports are the direct result of the development and effective use of soft power. Not convinced? Numerous companies are now attempting to certify that their supply chains are “slave free.” This is remarkable, considering the fact that the exploitation of workers can often be concealed by major corporations fairly easily.   

Moreover, the use of exploited labour can potentially offer significant savings in labour costs for the company. Nevertheless, the soft power of the anti-trafficking movement is producing positive changes (check out FreeTheSlaves for more details). Still dubious? Thanks to the magic of “Google trends” we can see that “human trafficking,” as a search term, has steadily increased since 2004. Why does this matter? It shows that people are becoming more interested in the issue. While this clearly does not constitute an academic study, it is quite reasonable to suggest that the soft power of the anti-trafficking movement is attracting or persuading greater numbers of people of the worthiness of our cause. After all, more and more people are choosing to educate themselves on the issue, and global support is needed to effectively fight this global problem.

So the next time you find yourself wondering if we really stand a chance against the power of those who promote or benefit from human trafficking, take a closer look around at the victories being won due to the soft power of the movement. While Joseph S. Nye may argue that soft power brought down the Berlin Wall, I would argue it can also end human trafficking.

By Tyler Girard, Strategic Planning Officer for Chab Dai