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

09 October 2014

Celebrating a Community of More Than 1,000 Advocates! (Join Today)

The Freedom Collaborative and Freedom Registry Story

The vision of this project is to see the global anti-trafficking movement increase its capacity to collaborate, develop inter-country and cross-border referral mechanisms and learn from one another on evidence-based practices and emerging issues.

Evidenced-based practice was drawn from many years of implementing a grassroots level coalition in Cambodia working together to end trafficking and slavery.

Chab Dai’s Freedom Registry project began in 2009. While contextualizing the organization’s ethos and vision in the development of Chab Dai USA, we carried out research among the anti-trafficking movement on the gaps that existed.

The result was a need for a registry with vetted organisations  that could be used as a mapping tool and searchable referral mechanism.

This was initially piloted in 2011 among  U.S. stakeholders, and subsequently launched to the public in March 2012.

Global Expansion

In December 2013,  the full platform, including the Freedom Registry, was launched internationally and integrated with the additional tools of Freedom Library, Freedom News and Freedom Dialogues as the all-encompassing Freedom Collaborative.

As of today, this is how the community of anti-trafficking and anti-slavery movement are using the platform:


1,007 Registered Individual Users from

135 Countries  who have registered

926 Organisations from diverse program focus within the 4 P's
Protection: 574
Prosecution: 42

Spending 2,775 total hours on the platform


2,087 User-added studies, reports, journal articles, laws, articles, books and videos. from

245 Countries and territories, in

29 Languages

Expanding into the Future

After years of working with our partners, building grassroots organisations and developing Freedom Collaborative, we still see so much potential for growth that will see the platform expand from its current form into an interactive, macro-level tool that helps us address human trafficking and slavery from a multi-sectoral perspective working not only in victim referral mechanisms but also developing tools to suppress the environment that allows and enables slavery to flourish in this world.

Watch this space…

07 October 2014

Telling Better Stories: Where "Compassion Campaigns" Fail

Have you ever faced the challenge of summarizing a very complex issue in a succinct yet engaging manner? I have. When I was visiting home recently, I was asked about my work in counter-trafficking and what is it that I do.  I always appreciate these moments and try to share information on human trafficking and Chab Dai's work in raising the standards of care for vulnerable people and building collaboration. I can think of many examples, such as our support team working on cases of forced marriage in China, the labor cases on Thai fishing boats or the thousands of villagers and community leaders in Cambodia that are now educated on safe migration, human trafficking and/or parenting skills. But these opportunities are also challenging as I try to describe what I've been working on for the past couple of years; a process that has been so challenging and precious that it hard to put into words, let alone a 30 second response.

I found it hard to share these stories in a way that sums up the complexity of these issues in a dignified and non-sensationalist manner. And the more I talk with my peers and colleagues about the reasons for this struggle, the more I realize that others in the field are facing the same challenges. Rachel Kurzyp, the Communications Director at WhyDev, wrote in her blog post, NGOs Need to Tell Better Stories, "When I re-tell these stories and others, I feel conflicted. I want the individuals within the stories to be respected and have dignity. I don’t want them to be viewed as helpless and weak. I try to make sense of their situation the best way I can. But I know the supporters and donors don’t like to read stories without happy endings or pieces that question the world’s inequality and their part in it."

There is almost always an expectation to hear an emotionally charged story with a dramatic rescue and heroic finish. A call to action usually comes through heart-wrenching images such as a powerless woman in a prison cell or a child picking up rubbish at a garbage dump. However, such stories often fall into a narrative of saviors and victims, glorifying images of rescuers during brothel raids while other seemingly more mundane, but equally important, actions go unnoticed. This kind of "compassion" marketing oversimplifies and dilutes the stories of individuals who live in these very complex sets of circumstances.

A proven risk of these "compassion" marketing campaigns is that they end up hurting the very people they set out to help. Many of the people we see in the images and we hear telling their stories end up being re-traumatized from the constant re-living of their experiences or through the stigma they face in their communities if their stories leak out. Another risk of such marketing is that once donors get tired of the same story, they move on to a new one, resulting in a loss of funding that forces projects and cases to close down. 

Many quick-fix campaigns lack a more holistic and long-term solution. They may even misidentify the underlining problems. Even though donations to these programs are given in good faith, the solutions they support in the long run might be creating more dependency rather than true empowerment.

And at the end of the day, the individuals and communities we advocate with and for are the ones who will ultimately either benefit or be deprived.

Still, there are good examples of dignified story-telling and community engagement. Contrary to the scenarios unpacked above, there are organizations and individuals who are conscious of the complexities of working alongside those who are vulnerable. More often than not, these programs run quietly and steadily with the dedication of a team of committed staff and volunteers. I have friends and colleagues who work very hard to bring change to their communities. This gives me hope. Hope that there are good initiatives to be part of with those that are informed by grassroots strategies and can galvanize a community of well-informed people who are committed to a cause that is sustainable, and one that promotes long term engagement and commitment to maintaining the dignity of the very population they serve.