Your ignorance is not bliss

A while ago this video was making its way around the Internet and I was sent the link a few times.

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I am fascinated by the change in expressions from the bystanders in a matter of seconds. When the girls first start dancing, the bystander’s expressions are those of amusement and intrigue. When the final words go up on the screen, there is a bewildered confusion on their faces that would allude to the fact that this information is something that never crossed their minds.

Prostitution is currently legal in Amsterdam. The original thought behind the decision was that legalizing prostitution would help to control it. If it is illegal, it will go underground and we won’t be able to help them. There is a lot of disagreement as to whether or not this works, and both sides have valid arguments.There are more than 25,000 girls in the Netherlands who work in prostitution. Even if they originally enter if by their own free will (which is rare), chances are they will get caught up in exploitation and are not free to leave.

Prostitution is usually a result of economic issues, which is why Not For Sale is creating alternative options for women and children who would otherwise be forced to sell their bodies for sex in order to feed their families or send money back home. Every week the Not For Sale Amsterdam staff walk the same streets in the red light district giving out homemade soup. Because of this new venture, they are able to notice who is new and have conversations with the girls behind the windows, learning where they are coming from and why they are there. They approach the women with respect and have normal conversations with them, usually getting a chance to explain what Not For Sale does. I would also be willing to bet that this is one of the few times these women are being talked to as equals, shown love, and not judged.

The men who are often responsible for the trafficking victims use psychological games and co-dependent relationships to coerced girls to start working in prostitution. This leads to grave dangers; girls quickly learn to disassociate with their customers, causing harmful psychological damage and identity issues. How can you trust men, have a normal relationship, or raise children after enduring something like this? The physical harm, emotional trauma, and psychological damage after this is something most people cannot begin to imagine.

Most of the men who purchase sex are married. I believe that many are under the impression that these girls want to be there, have come to Amsterdam by choice to make money, and enjoy their jobs. The ignorance that goes into this thought process is astounding to me. What on earth would make you think that anybody would choose this life for themselves? What kind of denial must you be in to think that someone wants to spend their day in a ‘profession’ that consists of standing half naked in a window, sleeping with hundreds of men in order to make money, being starved and beaten when you don’t get enough customers?

To all the men who purchase sex- that is someone’s daughter, someone’s mother, and I can guarantee you that they are not there because they want to be. If there was no demand, there would be no need for a supply of thousands of women who have been trafficked to Amsterdam, who have shut down and have been stripped of their dignity and respect. Ashton Kutchner is right; real men don’t buy sex.

Want to learn more? Check out ‘A Crime so Monstrous’ by E. Benjamin Skinner, or ‘Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery’ by Siddharth Kara

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The Mission Statement

Not For Sale was given a hard time for covering so much ground with all of their different platforms. True, it’s a lot to take in. But, look at their mission statement: “Not For Sale creates tools that engage business, government, and grassroots in order to incubate and grow social enterprises to benefit enslaved and vulnerable communities.” How can you engage and involve every single person on this planet in the same exact way? It would be nearly impossible. The organization believes that everyone has something to add to the movement against global slavery. And it’s so true. The importance of having so many platforms finally resonated with me recently. My brother didn’t seem to relate to my sudden interest in joining a non-profit and the fight to end modern-day slavery. In my family’s world, the topic of human rights wasn’t part of our everyday dinner table conversation. So, when the Free2Play app launched, I knew it would grab my brother’s attention. I casually mentioned all of the players that were involved with Not For Sale’s Free2Play campaign. Jeremy Affeldt, Ian Kennedy, Matt Holiday, Jaime Garcia… Finally, there was a spark of interest.  A couple nights later, I saw on Facebook that my little brother had pledged to donate money every time The Nationals, one of his favorite baseball teams, won. I wasn’t expecting to feel what I felt at that very moment. Sheer pride and happiness. It’s not that I didn’t think my brother had any interest in the abolition of modern-day slavery. I just never thought he’d actually take on any action in the movement.  Another friend, who like my brother doesn’t know much about Not For Sale or even non-profits, was drawn to our Impact Report. She’s a graphic designer and had pinned the report to her Pinterest board on design. I couldn’t have been more surprised and shocked to see that the repinning of our Impact Report on Pinterest was in fact, my friend’s doing.

It finally clicked that Not For Sale’s methodology worked. Our goal to get everyone involved. To include everyone’s interests. To somehow “herd all the cats” in the world towards one mission and that is, to end modern-day slavery once and for all.

Are we the problem?

When we talk about solutions to human rights breaches, we often think about what others can do.  How can government create stricter legislation?  What can NGOs do to become more effective in filling in the gaps?  How can businesses refrain from contributing to fuelling injustices?  Seldom do we consider what our role might be in fighting for human rights.  It is much easier to offload responsibility onto another entity, even though the true problem might lie with us.

Free2Work Last month, our fellowship program focused on studying curriculum based on Not For Sale’s Free2Work platform.  One central component involved a lengthy discussion about conflict minerals.  Much of the electronic devices we use on a regular basis contain tin, tantalum, and tungsten, which are frequently sourced from the killing fields of eastern Congo.    Armed government troops and militias are fighting for control of mines in order to trade these raw materials.  They earn hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue, which is used to wage unjust war where civilians are murdered and raped as a method of fracturing communities.

For years, grassroots and non-profit organizations have been increasing pressure on electronics companies to refrain from using conflict minerals in their products.  Lobbying for increased transparency and more ethical practices in their supply chains is, of course, a vital step towards justice.  However, the amelioration of such complex issues as forced and child labour or government-sponsored warfare requires something deeper than external activist efforts.  It requires a shift in mentality.

Assuming an entitlement to electronic devices has become embedded in Western culture.  We have structured our society in a way that our workplaces and personal life revolve around technology almost entirely.  We ‘need’ to own a car to get to work (and thus, we also ‘need’ a GPS to efficiently navigate our way).  Laptops are required for most every work-related activity in an office.  Cell phones are no longer simply popular, but are practically mandatory—and not just with adults anymore, either.  In the U.S., about half of children between ages 12 and 14 are using mobile phones and sending a stunning average of 2,779 text messages per month.  We don’t just want to own electronic devices—we expect it.

There is a direct connection between the products we purchase and the person who was exploited or enslaved in order to make that product.  Perhaps, then, many of the social injustices in our world—such as the war being fuelled in the Congo—are actually a result of our own greed.  Is being able to film a concert on your digital camera or being able to play Tetris or Angry Birds on your iPhone worth compromising somebody’s freedom?  How do we validate our ‘need’ to own cell phones and iPads when we know they are fuelling sexual violence and forced labour in the Congo?

We need to demand more of corporations—more attention to fair labour practices in their supply chains, more environmentally sustainable practices… But while we demand more of others, we should also consider demanding less for ourselves.

Week 16 | Canada’s Two-Tier Wage System

One of my closest friends from Toronto came to visit me last week.  I took a day off from work so that we could catch up on 4 months of developments  – what’s happened in our lives since January, relationship statuses, family updates, cross country moves… but one thing I was extremely curious about was  – what’s happened to our country?  I honestly admit that with keeping up with the Fellowship and Free2Work projects, I’ve back-benched my love for following Canadian politics.  The extent of my involvement is a quick skim over CBC in the morning, and this is proving to be less than sufficient.  I was shocked to find out what had happened in Canada this week; this is what I found out.

We Canadians have dealt with our fair share of governmental deceptions over the past term and a half.  Under the current government – we’ve endured 1.7 billion dollars worth of childcare cuts, frozen foreign aid to some of the most economically improvised countries, and cut funding for women advocacy groups by 43%.  With all these fallbacks, we still somehow managed to invest 29 million dollars in new fighter jets. But all that aside, the one item on the agenda that surfaced this past week – that really made my heart sink – was the Conservative Government’s introduction to the two-tier wage system.

Under this new rule, employers will now be able to pay foreign temporary workers 15 percent less than the average wage.  This new system was created to “respond to local labor market demands and support Canada through economic recovery.”  The targets for this new rule were employees working in already marginalized industrial sectors – mining, agriculture and fishing – areas where labor abuses have been documented.

Employers don’t have to prove there is a shortage in many occupational categories or even post a domestic ad. Employers can undercut the prevailing wage of jobs, which in turn reduces the demand by domestic experienced workers, thereby creating a market and “need” for foreign workers.  Migrant workers already lack the rights that domestic workers have.  This new rule will inevitably open new doors for poorer regulations, weaker worker rights, and exploitation of people that already have limited legal representation in Canada.

This new system will, not only impacts foreign workers, but it will inevitably impact domestic hires as well.  While this system will allow employers to cheaply exploit foreign workers, this system will bring down prevailing wages and benefits for all Canadians, keeping skilled Canadians unemployed.  Systems like this increase attitudes of bias, discrimination and xenophobia as Canadians lose their jobs and see temporary, foreigner workers move in.

Who gains from a system like this?

Please stand up for those that lack a voice in our country.  Being a multicultural, diverse country is one of the characteristics that makes Canada so incredibly special, don’t let this new rule take that away from us. Stand in solidarity with those that are fighting for worker’s rights and keep yourself up to date on what’s happening with labor abuses and worker rights in Canada.

Making a lasting impact.

I recently read an article that stopped me in my tracks. In it, Piers Fawkes states that “the result of everything you do today will last forever.”

“When our great, great grandchildren finally work out how to solve the selfish errors of our time, we will be considered primitive: our balance with our habitat ignored in pursuit of progress. But as humans we strive for progress. We will not live alone self sufficiently on our rural hectare and therefore we must bring simple common sense to everything we buy, own and consume.” The article goes on to discuss reusing and recycling our daily products, but I couldn’t help but think about impact; not in quantitative way, but in the qualitative way we spend our days, our nights and even our years. Am I creating something that will last forever that I can be proud of?

For most of my life, I studied music. I spent years taking piano & voice lessons, studying ear training & music theory, and eventually agonizing over writing four-part counterpoint and memorizing Vivaldi and Chopin. When people asked me what I was going to do with a degree in music – and everyone asked – I honestly wasn’t sure. I’m still not sure where that fits into the grand scheme of things. But if you asked me why I studied music and what I loved about music, that was easy. I could give you an ever growing list of reasons. But in light of thinking about forever, I found another reason. I love that artists can create something that lasts forever. Even terrible musicians are capable of creating something that will physically last in this world forever, but great artists, true artists, create records that can be rearranged, remixed, and passed between generations to be listened to and loved by multitudes of people – forever.

Somewhere along the line, my goals and passions changed. Music will always be an important part of my life, but I want my vocation to be something different, something bigger. While I know that I want to make a difference in this world, I often feel like that is too big of an end goal that I’ll never be able to reach. In my day-to-day tasks and responsibilities it’s hard to remember that what I am doing today will last forever. Without a tangible product, I get frustrated that I’m not accomplishing anything. But all it takes is a shift in perspective. Making a difference won’t just happen someday, it’s happening right now. We are doing it.

The fellowship program means different things to all of us, but most of us are just trying to figure out where we fit into the movement and how we can use our skills moving forward. Time is quickly creeping up on us and we’re a little stressed out about what’s coming next, and sometimes I get lost in those next steps. But I want to take a moment to step back and look at what we’ve done so far and how far we’ve come. I’m so proud of and impressed by the other fellows. We have all dedicated six months of our lives to work for a cause and an organization we believe in. Some of us quit our jobs, some of us moved across country, some of us had to work two jobs to make ends meet- we’ve all made sacrifices in our own ways. But we are all here. And what we are doing today, right now, is making a lasting impact. Our projects might fail, or we might have to pivot and rethink a program we’ve put hours into – but we’re willing to do that. The entire Not For Sale staff is willing to do that, because at the end of the day we are creating something that we are proud of. We intend to end slavery in our lifetime, and when I look at the passion and dedication of my coworkers, I think it just might happen.

Mexico’s Congress Approves Anti-HT Bill

Just this past week Mexico’s Congress approved of a bill to combat human trafficking. The bill sounds promising enough as it doesn’t simply deal with prosecution, but it also includes protection and aftercare of victims. However, it’s also important to consider who the bill is aimed at, and who gets left out.

The bill includes prison sentences of up to 40 years for those convicted of sexual exploitation and abuse. While this sounds substantial only time will tell whether offenders being prosecuted will receive such lengthy sentences or not. For example, in the Netherlands the average sentence that offenders of human trafficking receive is around 4 years while the maximum penalty is 16 years.

The bill also is to create a fund to offer car to victims. It is crucial to include the 3 P’s: prevention, prosecution, and protection. Through law enforcement we hope that the first 2 P’s will be covered, and through this bill it is hoped that victims will begin to receive protection through aftercare services. Furthermore, a separate bill was approved to provide protection and rewards to victims of human trafficking who assist in the investigations and prosecutions against offenders. While the idea of offering protection is good, it should not be dependent on whether or not victims assist law enforcement. So, while both of these bills seem strong in offering protection to victims I am not convinced on how effective they will be. In order to be effective law enforcement cannot force victims to participate in investigations and prosecutions and there must be robustly detailed directions on how the fund to offer care to victims will be used.

A big thing the bill seems to be missing is that it does not cover labor trafficking. As I have discussed in my previous blog posts there amount of labor trafficking cases is much higher than sex trafficking. According to a report received by Congress last month regarding sex trafficking, the federal Attorney General’s Office estimated that at least 47 sex-trafficking rings operate in Mexico and 800,000 adults and 20,000 children fall victim each year. That is a very high number and that is only in relation to sex trafficking. The number, then, of labor trafficking victims is at least the same and most likely much higher. Labor trafficking victims cannot afford to be ignored by this bill.

Finally, while this bill is promising, as are many anti-human trafficking bills passed in countries, the effectiveness of enforcement and support to victims will be determined over time. Many countries pass such bills as this, but due to the complicated nature of human trafficking, as well as corruption, the bills lack teeth. In fact, Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index (CPI) correlates most strongly with the amount of trafficking occurring in a country when compared to other indexes such as poverty level, education level, infant mortality level, and GDP. No country is immune to corruption and it is corruption that plays a huge part in the proliferation of human trafficking. We can only hope that overtime corruption will decrease and the human trafficking bills put forward by countries such as Mexico and Thailand will prove effective and unhindered in their purpose.

Check out the article HERE.

Week 15 | A mantra worth living your life by

Fourteen weeks have passed since the fellowship has started and I am still learning something new everyday. At Not For Sale, they have their own lexicon that they use on an everyday basis. They should really just put it all into a dictionary and publish it! One of their mantras is “Be better than you were yesterday. Be smarter than you were last week.” I can honestly say that I came into the fellowship knowing very little about nonprofits and human trafficking. Even though I had the passion to end slavery inside of me, I was overwhelmed with the abundance of information that I had to learn. I felt as if I had gone back to school! Ten days into the fellowship, I represented Not For Sale at an event with another fellow. Still very much a newbie, I was so nervous to go there on behalf of the organization. I felt inadequate to answer questions about human trafficking and Not For Sale. I had memorized the mission statement, but didn’t have a full grasp on the ins and outs of the organization quite yet. I wasn’t confident enough to speak about each of our platforms that we had just learned that week. What was the difference between Free2Play and Free2Challenge? What were we doing in South AfricaAmsterdamPeru…? What was our relationship with 31bitsand AllSaints? I hated not being able to sum up the organization in one sentence. “We fight human trafficking” just didn’t cut it. I was frustrated that I didn’t have the Not For Sale elevator pitch down pat. I wanted to be eloquent. I wanted to articulate exactly what Not For Sale did and who they were- because I was proud to work on behalf of them. I believed in what they stood for… and I wanted to get people involved in the movement.

Fourteen weeks in and I’m still not an expert. But, I’m smarter than I was the first day of the fellowship. I finally memorized the three numbers- 657- in the “SB 657,” or the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act. I can now tell you about each of our platforms and our passion and methodology behind each of them. I can discern what Not For Sale would believe in and what they wouldn’t deem worthy of their time. I can speak with more confidence about the organization, though with some stutter- as I tend to stumble over my words when I get excited. When I left Virginia, I told my friends I was going to work for an anti-human trafficking organization. Now, I force them to listen to me talk about our Free2Work board on Pinterest, buy from ourAllSaints NFS collection, and read our impact report. I’m better than I was yesterday.

There are exactly two months left. I’m anxious to keep pushing myself to be better, smarter. I’m eager to work my hardest, not for myself… but for the bottom billion. There are sixty days left to make a difference. I know that the session five fellows will leave a successful mark in Not For Sale history. But, I also know that even after we all leave the fellowship and our house in Half Moon Bay that we were able to call home for six months… we will each continue to push ourselves in creating justice for the bottom billion. We will persist as abolitionists in our own unique way as the fellowship has molded us to be. We will use smart activism to advocate for the 30 million human beings enslaved in our world today. And even though we won’t be together in person, we will still stand in solidarity to act against injustice. We will be better than we were yesterday.