We tend to think of charities and governments when we think about ending human trafficking. But do we think of businesses? During the month of November, we will be focusing on Heroes that utilize business strategies and ideas and put them to work fighting modern slavery!
Pierre founded Hagar, and now works as a social entrepreneur creating businesses to help at-risk populations.
If you live in the United States, it seems like every other new business or restaurant that opens has a social component to its business model. This development is a revolution. It’s the revolution of the social enterprise, of entrepreneurs and sharp businessmen who aren’t satisfied with traditional notions of profit and bottom-line thinking. The revolution happened quietly and is still in progress. Twenty years ago, social enterprises rarely made it into the public discourse. Americans still held to the traditional view of charity work as diametrically opposed to the profit-driven work of businesspeople.
But business priorities and strategies have changed and are continuing to change. As consumers begin to demand responsibly-produced goods, social ventures are popular, and existing businesses focus on corporate social responsibility. We can witness this shift in the anti-slavery field. Organizations like Made in a Free World, Made by Survivors, Freeset, Polished Pearl, and countless others apply business models and business solutions to the complex problem of human trafficking. In fact, the problem of modern-day slavery highlights the inadequacy of basic social work as a sole solution and the absolute necessity of business provisions to combat human trafficking. Why? As committed men and women around the world began to combat human trafficking, they found that they needed investigators to infiltrate criminal networks and brothels, lawyers to prosecute the offenders, and social workers to help counsel the victims. But this chain of people would put in years of work, only to see victims re-trafficked or other vulnerable people enslaved. They began to realize that business did indeed have something to offer: a way for survivors to transcend the conditions that originally left them vulnerable to human trafficking and a way to prevent others from being trafficked.
Those types of solutions fall into three broad categories: solutions that help prevent trafficking in vulnerable populations, solutions that empower survivors and provide them with vocational skills, and solutions that businesses utilize to make sure they are not unknowing compliers with slave labor.
Human trafficking is a horrendous crime. While it is true that victims can come from different social strata and from many different walks of life, it is also true that certain conditions make some vulnerable to modern-day slavery in ways that others are not. For example, people looking for and accepting jobs abroad is a common story in Eastern Europe. 2015 TIP Hero Gita Miruškina illustrates that, in Latvia, brokers and job recruiters lure workers with promises of jobs abroad and subsequently exploit them in the commercial sex industry. People who are in poverty, people who migrate for work, youth with bad home lives, low-caste people in various South Asian contexts—these people are often vulnerable to all types of exploitation, including slavery.
The question of how to combat these preconditions, how to prevent human trafficking, is a complex one. Poverty reduction schemes do help, as does good immigration policy and civil society organizations that follow-up with overseas workers (like the Blas F. Ople Center, run by senatorial candidate Susan Ople). One solution is to provide jobs where there are none. Pierre Tami, for example, focuses now on various social enterprises around Southeast Asia and the Greater Mekong Subregion and providing employment for vulnerable populations. Joma Bakery Café, a business throughout Southeast Asia, is an investment of his, and each café reserves staff positions for hiring at-risk populations. He first moved to Cambodia in 1994 to open a shelter, Hagar. His first venture was a soymilk company that employed survivors from Hagar's shelter, followed by Hagar catering and then Hagar Design Limited. He resigned from Hagar International in order to focus on his current efforts: shift360, an organization that promotes social entrepreneurshipand recruits venture capital to do so. As they put it: "We facilitate market-based solutions that address critical social inequalities in the Greater Mekong Subregion..." The picture below is one of their ventures, the Khmer World Food Court, in Aeon Mall in Phnom Penh.
Almost eight months ago, we shared the story of a survivor we met in Lithuania. When she was 16 years old, Gabriele (not her actual name) answered an ad for a job overseas but ended up being prostituted in the UK. After her rescue, Gabriele testified against her traffickers and attempted to start over with the money she received in exchange for her testimony. She returned to Lithuania without any skills, with several children, and a deadbeat boyfriend. Poor and desperate, Gabriele escaped sex trafficking only to return to the same conditions that made her vulnerable to exploitation in the first place. Her story highlights an essential question: what is after aftercare?
The point is that a rescue is only effective when followed by holistic aftercare and survivor empowerment. Gabriele’s story, like so many others’, is no surprise to the practitioners who run shelters, but it wasn’t until the last decade that business solutions began to provide ways for practitioners to provide survivors with necessary skills and experience. New businesses, centered on survivor employment and survivor-made goods, began to form and gain popularity. Informally, established anti-trafficking organizations strengthened their business partnerships in order to connect their clients to employers. Monica Boseff of the Open Door Foundation helped some of her shelter residents get jobs with a local Starbucks. Esme Kisting of Namibia teamed up with Bicycles for Humanity, an organization that employs trafficking survivors to repair bicycles used by the Council of Churches of Namibia. Whether serving at a café or fixing bicycles, being employed allows survivors to develop skills and build the stability they need in their recovery progress.
Corporate Social Responsibility
Existing businesses have a stake in slavery. Whether they like it or not, they do. They may unknowingly pull from first or second level suppliers that use slave labor, or they may own establishments or employ persons that come into direct contact with both traffickers and survivors. In Marilyn Carlson Nelson’s case, it was the latter. She was the CEO of an enormous hotel conglomerate. Carlson Companies, a family company, owns Radisson brand hotels around the world. It also provides other types of travel services. In the early 2000s, Marilyn Carlson Nelson showed incredible business leadership when her company became the first North American travel company to sign ECPAT’s Code of Conduct for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation in Travel and Tourism (The Code). Members of The Code provide training and tools against child sex trafficking and commit to the prevention of child sexual exploitation in their establishments.
The Carlson Companies is a great example of a business committed to eradicating human trafficking, but there is much further to go. Many companies have supply chains found to contain instances of forced and child labor. The California Transparency in Supply Chains Act, passed in 2010 and in effect since January of 2012, requires certain retailers to report human trafficking and slavery in their supply chains. The act is part of a global move towards supply chain transparency. The United Kingdom passed a similar law this year, and it will soon go into effect. These laws are a step in the right direction, despite concerns about their efficacy. At the very least, these laws bring attention to the importance of ethical supply chain management.
When we talk about business solutions to human trafficking, we're not limited to business strategies that help survivors or nonprofits. We're also referring to ways nonprofits help businesses by assessing their supply chains and collaborating on sustainable, slavery-free options.
Stay tuned for the rest of November, and look for an upcoming blog post from Pierre Tami!