Today (Friday) concluded our second full week at the Academy. The past five days have been a significant shift from last week’s emphasis on combating sex trafficking. Instead, Monday began our discussion into the spectrum of labor abuses and an introduction into the complex world of supply chains. I quickly realized this was an avenue that demanded serious attention because of its influence in so many facets of our society: labor rights, migration issues, cultural and societal values, consumer awareness and consumption patterns and so much more. We were told early on that there are many in the human trafficking field who predict that the labor abuse and trafficking of individuals has surpassed the amount of people being trafficked into the sex industry. However, without more concrete data, this area remains grey and seemed in predictions instead of facts. The prospect of making this area clearer – of exposing trafficking in all its different facets- is one of the major points I have taken away from this week. Perhaps it is because my comfort level has for so long been devoted to the classroom, but I enjoy the prospect of research that backs up the arguments and claims of so many people on the ground working to combat slavery. Considering I will have the opportunity for the next five months to be actively involved in projects that foster research, I am glad the Academy has narrowed yet another interest of mine within the Fellowship. We met some fascinating people this week that exposed more about the goings of the supply chain world. The political scientist in me, that observed the corrupt policies of governments locally and globally, instantly saw a similar course in the backdoor deals made by large cotton suppliers who desire a profit over protecting the rights of laborers. Dan Fibiger from the Bay Area non-profit As You Sow expanded more upon this when describing the atrocious conditions of Uzbekistani children who are forced to work in the cotton fields when they should be in school. Uzbekistan shuts down its schools during the harvest season and forces any able hands to pick cotton, usually starting with children as young as 9 or 10. It is horrific to think that a government would so blatantly choose to sacrifice the knowledge and development of an entire nation solely to maximize the profits of a few elites. At the same time, being a political science major (along with my anthropology classes) has taught me to see hope in of individuals who are raising awareness among their peers and representatives in the government about these happenings. We had the opportunity to visit an organization called “La Luz” that provides housing, food, and health facilities for migrant workers in the vineyards in Sonoma County. Mario, a former migrant worker and a representative for the Vineyard Worker Program of La Luz, was so passionate to give a voice and stability to these workers who were the backbone of this famous wine county. His words were inspiring to many of us who had traveled out to La Luz that day. In the classroom, we were introduced to Free to Work, a campaign established through the efforts of Not For Sale. It is a ranking system based on a series of questions asked to companies about their code of conduct. These cover a variety of categories, including what is their stance on child labor, protection of laborers, transparency, to name a few. I encourage all of you to check out the Free2Work website and see firsthand the work that has and is continuing to be done. I have been amazed by much of the results (they are tough graders!) and am already eager to look more into specific clothing lines’ supply chains. In total, these two weeks at the NFSC Academy were a stupendous opportunity for me to network and meet some fascinating and bright people who are just as committed as I am to ending modern day slavery. While we were not living in the house, we had some great conversations over meals and open discussion time. I look forward to (hopefully) seeing many of them at Global Forum come October. Of course, none of my experiences in San Francisco these past few weeks would have been possible without the support, both financially and prayerfully, of so many of you. Thank you so much for that and continue to be thinking of all the Academy members as we head back to our places of origin and begin to implement what we have been taught.
Hope all is well,