Monthly Archives: May 2009

5 Companies that Take a Stand against Slave Labor

One of my favorite organizations, Change.org, has recently posted a list of five corporations who have dedicated time, money and corporate practices to the fight against human trafficking and slavery. It was written by Amanda Kloer, and you can read the full article here. This is their list – good information to know!

1.) MTV: It may be common knowledge that MTV rarely plays music videos these days, but what’s less known is that the network has devoted an entire campaign to the issue: the EXIT campaign.  They have have created a ton of documentaries, short films, and original videos, many of which have been featured here.  The best part of the EXIT campaign is that they combine accuracy with that cool/young/hip MTV look and feel. (On a related note, check out this awesome Radiohead music video for “All I Need” that brings attention to child labor – you can also watch at the bottom of this post)

2.) LexisNexis: Known by attorneys, students, and academics as a comprehensive database, LexisNexis has also created an online legal resource center, with information about anti-trafficking laws and policies all around the world.  In additional, they provide direct financial support for organizations and events around the world aimed at raising awareness of the existence of human trafficking.

3.) Microsoft: Bill and Melinda Gates may have more money than God, but at least they’re using it for a great cause.  They recently awarded anti-trafficking NGO International Justice Mission $5 million to create a replicable model of combating sex trafficking.  Additionally, the Microsoft Corporation has partnered with NGOs around the world, and has worked with other NGOs to prevent Microsoft products from being used to exploit children sexually.

4.) Carlson Companies: The owners of the Raddison and T.G.I.Friday brands, among others, has made a worldwide commitment to preventing child sex trafficking in their hotels, restaurants, and tour companies.  They were the first U.S.-based company to sign the Code of Conduct for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation in Travel and Tourism, which involved taking advanced steps to eliminate child trafficking.

5.) Manpower, Inc.: As a worldwide employment services corporation, Manpower, Inc. is in a great place to call on over 1000 of the world’s leading corporations to join the fight to end human trafficking.  They have been extremely involved and supportive of the End Human Trafficking Now campaign and have committed have committed to the Athens Ethical Principles, a zero-tolerance policy toward human trafficking.

Amanda Kloer, author of this article on Change.org

So the next time you have an opportunity to choose one of these companies over their competitors, please do so. They are truly committed to fighting human trafficking through their time, resources, and funding.

We must continue to involve corporations in the anti-trafficking effort, and support those which have already taken up the fight.

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Radiohead video for MTV’s Exit Campaign
“Some Things Cost More Than You Realize”

The Slave Next Door: U.S. Government Sanctioned Slavery

Here’s a quick quiz for you: When did the U.S. government last use slave labor to build something?  1776? 1865?

Actually, the answer is 2003.

In a riveting new book called The Slave Next Door, authors Kevin Bales and Ron Soodalter expose the disturbing phenomenon of human trafficking and slavery that exists now in the United States. In The Slave Next Door we find that slaves are all around us, hidden in plain sight: the dishwasher in the kitchen of the neighborhood restaurant, the kids on the corner selling cheap trinkets, the man sweeping the floor of the local department store. In these pages we also meet some unexpected slaveholders, such as a 27-year old middle-class Texas housewife who is currently serving a life sentence for offences including slavery.

Weaving together a wealth of voices—from slaves, slaveholders, and traffickers as well as from experts, counselors, law enforcement officers, rescue and support groups, and others—this book is also a call to action, telling what we, as private citizens, can do to finally bring an end to this horrific crime. An excerpt from the book tells us:

Boondoggles, pork barrels, and shoddy work are scandalous, but it was another, uglier issue that brought First Kuwaiti to the world’s attention. Some of their contract workers had been trafficked to Iraq against their will, held by force, and paid little or nothing. First Kuwaiti – and by association, the U.S. Department of State – were using slave labor to build the embassy. Taxpayers were footing the bill. The idea of a U.S. subcontractor trafficking enslaved workers into the country where we are waging a war to introduce freedom and democracy, is unthinkable. And yet, in case after case, the construction company hired workers, normally through sub-contractors, from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Sierra Leone, Egypt, Turkey, and the Philippines under false pretenses. Falsely promised work in Dubai, they were landed in a combat zone. Once in Iraq contractors confiscated the workers’ passports, forced them to live in squalid conditions, and to work long hours for little or no pay.

But it’s not only the government bringing slavery to America.  The old slave ship of the 1800s has been replaced by the 747. Victims come from every region and are exploited in every state. They exist specifically to work, they are unable to leave, and are forced to live under the constant threat and reality of violence. By definition, they are slaves. Today, we call it human trafficking, but make no mistake: It is the slave trade.Throughout history, slavery has meant the complete and violent control of one person by another, the use of slaves for economic gain, and work for no payment. The one part of slavery that is new is the complete collapse in the price of slaves. For most of human history slaves were expensive, the average cost being around $40,000 in today’s money. That price has now fallen to an all-time historical low. The average slave costs around $90 today.

This is the kind of knowledge you can’t “unlearn”; the only question is, what do you do with the information once you have it? It’s a question we must all address for ourselves. We tend to think of our America as the country where slavery has no place; the dire truth is, we are pretty far from freedom, and it will take a lot of work and dedication – by the government, and by us – to make it so.

You can buy a copy of The Slave Next Door here, and you can take action against slavery here. Or visit the author’s website: Free The Slaves

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Voluntary Traveler Q&A with Shelley – Sat. May 16th!

The Invisible Children of India, Q&A Discussion with Shelley Seale

Read the Q&A discussion transcript

Saturday May 16th
10:00am – 4:00pm

The Voluntary Traveler Book Project is proudly presenting an online discussion with Shelley Seale, author of the upcoming book, ‘The Weight of Silence: Invisible Children of India’ (June 15, 2009). Shelley is an active freelance writer, avid vagabond and serial volunteer. Please feel free to drop by the group early, read Shelley’s bio and post your questions, thoughts and ideas.

This is a special chance for our group to gather personal insight from an expert in a topic much in today’s headlines – think Slumdog Millionaire. Please make her feel welcome and make the most out of this special occasion.

About The Weight of Silence: Invisible Children of India:

Amidst the growing prosperity of India, there is an entire generation of parentless children growing up. They are everywhere. They fill the streets, the railway stations, the shanty villages. Some scrounge through trash for newspapers, rags or anything they can sell at traffic intersections. Others, often as young as two or three years old, beg. Many are homeless, overflowing orphanages and other institutional homes to live on the streets. The Weight of Silence: Invisible Children of India is a non-fiction narrative by Shelley Seale that gives a strong and hopeful voice to its most vulnerable citizens.

About The Voluntary Traveler:

The Voluntary Traveler is a travel anthology penned by writers from all over the world. Focused on inspiring volunteer vacations and/or encouraging adventure-minded people to see volunteer work as a part of ones longer journey, the book will also include a volunteer guide section, listing charities needing volunteer assistance, plus organizations that coordinate service orientated travel.

The Voluntary Traveler is being published by Dog’s Eye View Media. The book’s creator and content editor, author Nola Lee Kelsey, has a goal of producing a title that helps people see the best aspects of making a positive impact through “voluntourism” and dispels the perception of volunteer vacations as a sacrifice. We focus on the good, the amusing, the mind-expanding and the adventurous facets of this type of travel.

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The Miracle is Us

Saturday I am the guest on a Voluntary Traveler Q&A Discussion, about my book and volunteer travel experiences to India with The Miracle Foundation, which recruits sponsors for children without parental care who live in their homes.

Tonight I went to a sponsorship party for The Miracle Foundation – a party at which I imagined I would see a few of my India volunteer travel buddies and catch up with Caroline Boudreaux, founder of the organization. Have a nice evening, listen to some music, eat some great Indian food.

I did all of this. And then, perhaps an hour or so after the party started, Caroline took the microphone to thank us for coming and tell the guests her story – why we were all there in the first place. A story I have heard many times before, have written about numerous times – a story I thought I knew well. Perhaps was even a little immune to.

But something happened. Caroline took the microphone and said, “Nine years ago tonight was the worst night of my entire life.

Sheebani Das the night Caroline met her, Mothers Day 2000

Sheebani Das the night Caroline met her, Mother's Day 2000

Nine years ago was the birth of The Miracle Foundation – although she didn’t fully realize it at the time. Nine years ago tonight, May 14, 2000, was Mother’s Day in the United States. And on that day Caroline was in India, invited to dinner at the home of Damador Sahoo, whom she had just met. She had no idea what awaited her.

“I arrived at his house,” Caroline recounted tonight with her voice cracking, “and was surrounded by dozens of bald, filthy, starving children.They were so starved for affection they literally pushed themselves into my body. At one point I had about fourteen children all over me, just trying to touch me. And then Sheebani Das came and laid her head on my knee.

I sang her a lullaby, and at that minute I knew that no one else had ever done this for her before. Ever. I picked that baby up and wanted to go put her down in her crib to sleep. When I walked into the room where she lived with the other girls, it was like walking into an oven. The stench was unbearable.”

The room where Sheebani lived, 2000

The room where Sheebani lived, 2000

Caroline has described this scene to me as looking like the barracks of a concentration camp – and I’ve seen the pictures that look so. The room was filled with wooden slats for beds – no mattresses, pillows or sheets. Putting that baby down on a hard wood plank, hearing her bones clatter against the “bed,” broke Caroline and changed the course of her future – and the lives of those children.

“When I said it was the worst night of my life,” she told the group tonight, “I wasn’t exaggerating. I went back to my hotel room and told the friend I was traveling with that I was never going back to that place again. I wasn’t ever going to face that again, couldn’t face it. It was just too heart-breaking. But she looked at me and said, you can and you will.”

Like I said, I have heard this story before. But never in the same way twice, it seems. And here it was, nine years later, and Caroline’s eyes still filled with tears and her voice still shook when she recalled that night, and Sheebani Das. She often had to pause to collect herself before continuing.

“Up until then, I had never donated to anything,” she told us. “I wasn’t philanthropic at all. Just the month before, I had spent $5,000 on a diamond tennis bracelet for myself.” Here she had to stop again, fighting back tears as if coming face to face with a previous self that she no longer even recognized. “I had everything money could buy – but I had a pit in the bottom of my stomach, a hole in my heart. I knew that if I didn’t help Sheebani, no one else was going to.

That is the truth, but here’s another truth: Caroline didn’t save these children – they saved her. From an outwardly successful, but utterly meaningless interior life that she readily admits she had been so busy setting herself up for.

The rest is history, and one I have written an entire book about. Caroline came back to the U.S. and began the long and brutal process of setting up the nonprofit organization that, today, supports over 500 children in several orphanages throughout India – and even tonight, is recruiting more sponsors so that more children can be taken in. For every child that is sponsored, another can be helped.

And the flow of those children seems never-ending. India is home to 25 million children living without parents or homes – on the streets, begging, or trafficked into child labor or the sex trade.

Sheebani Das in March 2009 - I took this picture on my last visit

Sheebani Das today - I took this picture in March 2009

But slowly, Caroline and her sponsors and volunteers are changing the lives and futures of many of these children – although it’s never enough. She always wants to do more. I think, listening to her tonight, that Sheebani whispers to her nightly, never letting her forget why she started this in the first place – reminding her that there are thousands more Sheebanis, out there waiting for someone, somewhere, to care.

“Give, and get rich,” Caroline said tonight. “You can get the things that money can’t buy – peace, fulfillment. The definition of responsibility is the ability to respond – and we have that ability. We are the lucky ones, because we get to be the givers. You can change the future of someone like Sheebani, too. And I promise, you will get more out of it than you ever thought was possible.”

All it takes is a miracle. But the good news is, that miracle is us.

Find out how you can make a difference in the life and future of a child, too!
Give the gift of that most basic of children’s rights – the right to have a childhood.

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