by Rev. Danielle Marie Hewitt
Does human trafficking happen in America? Absolutely.
My daughter Rochelle Keyhan was an assistant district attorney when she came upon Philadelphia’s first case of human trafficking. An underground world that can be called nothing less than a slave trade came to light, she faced an uphill battle to prosecute due to the lack of understanding, funding, collaboration, and connections among the law enforcement and prosecutorial agencies. Ultimately, she prevailed, but there is much still to be done.
The awareness of human trafficking in our own country was simply not on the radar at that time. She was so inspired by what she learned on this case, that her next career step took her to Washington DC where she worked for a nonprofit organization called Polaris whose mission statement is to assist federal and state law enforcement officials understand, seek, prosecute and disrupt human trafficking.
Perhaps like you, I thought this was a thing of the past, but nothing could be further from the truth. Why would I choose to share such frightening and dark of news with you? Because, until we know better, we cannot do better. Right action is called for in every circumstance where basic human rights are withheld from any individual.
What is human trafficking? It presents itself in several subgenres. They are generally, sex trade, slave labor, child labor, and orphan trafficking. Sex trade is a form of human trafficking where small to large organizations regularly and abusively hold in fear young women or in some cases young men who are forced into having paid sexual relations. The victims of the sex trade are usually very young and are runaways or have been taken from or even sold by their families. They are driven by fear and threats to comply with those who cannot be called anything other than “captors.” Sex trade happens worldwide, including inside the United States.
Slave labor occurs when manufacturers, agricultural, mining or any other such organizations maximize their profits by having the supply of human resources cost either nothing or virtually nothing in places with severe economic poverty or where political refugees or victims of natural disasters have rendered them in a state of disempowerment. They become vulnerable to taking work in whatever form even if it means not being paid as long as they have a roof over their heads and are being fed even the most meager amounts of food. Saudi Arabia is one of the largest perpetrators of slave labor to build their new cities and skyscrapers using people from the most impoverished nations in deplorable working conditions.
Child labor is another form of human trafficking which happens in many industries, more prevalently in agricultural, textiles, mining, and soap. Many regions where poverty is so abject the parents not only have to work long hours themselves but also bring their children to work in order to make enough money to feed the entire family because the wages paid to the parents are so exploitive . Many US companies have come under fire for utilizing supply chains of child labor (Nike, H&M, Nestle, Phillip Morris, Walmart and more…).
The most horrific form of trafficking that I discovered is called orphan trafficking. This situation occurs where someone exploits the charity, government funding and good intentions of charitable organizations who wish to help orphanages. I was shocked to learn that human traffickers in impoverished areas or those of refugee camps and areas of natural disasters will approach parents offering them, for a fee no less, to take their children and provide an education, a warm bed, and food for them. They promise the children will return in good health and educated and be able to earn a living to help provide for families. Then the human traffickers pocket the funds, neglect the orphans and even abuse them. This last one shocked me on many levels; it was difficult to understand how a human being could do such a thing.
My daughter Rochelle has spent the last eight years working in the Crimes Against Women Department of the Philadelphia district attorney’s office as well as in exposing human trafficking in her position with Polaris. Her title: Director of Disruption Strategies. In her capacity at Polaris, she was nominated for a Hero Award by the Thomson Reuters Foundation which produces an annual conference where like-minded people who are diligently and actively providing solutions to all forms of human trafficking gather, network and strategize. Her father and I travelled to London in November to proudly support her while we watched her receive an acknowledgment from a very relevant and respectful collection of her peers. As we sat in the two-day conference, we listened to the panelists and speakers who are either surviving victims of such forms of human trafficking and/or are advocates and leaders in making positive changes. I experienced polarized emotions. On one hand, I was shocked by what I learned regarding the types, depth and prevalence of human trafficking, and on the other so inspired to hear the work and innovative solutions these leaders and advocates in the treatment of humanity are actively doing. It was both heartbreaking and inspiring.
The Thomson Reuters Foundation which conducts this annual Trust Conference in London employs the tagline “Putting the rule of law behind human rights.” The CEO, Monique Villa is a remarkable woman. I quickly learned she is so much more than the host of this conference, but also a driving force of innovation, right action, and accomplishments with a clear vision and ability to evoke action in people who hold positions of power to make positive changes. The videos of the speakers and panel discussions of these inspired activists doing work in this area may be seen at www.Trustconference.Com. They will describe in detail both the problems and the solutions in human trafficking. I was so proud to be in a room with people who dedicate their daily lives to the most necessary form of change we can do, the restoration of humanity for all.
Of the 50 speakers and panelists in attendance, I was impressed by Cyrus R. Vance, Jr. who is the New York County District Attorney. He has been working since 2010 to spearhead his vision of not just the prosecution of criminal activity, but more proactively, the prevention. He spoke on the panel where sex trade was the topic. I could hardly believe my ears when I heard him declare he and his team of hundreds of assistant district attorneys now understand that women who engage in the sex trade are not the criminals, but rather, they are the victims. He now understands his job is to stop the traffickers who force them into it. I appreciated his acknowledgment. This more accurate understanding has been a long time coming.
I was additionally impressed with Andrew Zolli, VP of Global Impact Initiatives with a firm called Planet. Their company produces and regularly monitors satellite systems that orbit the Earth and gather information daily on patterns and changes in topography and other conditions that indicate where slave trade operations are active..
The CEO Monique Villa facilitated a panel discussion called the “Banks Alliance.” She and Cyrus Vance, Jr working together asked banks in the U.S. to assist in detecting and providing evidence of money laundering of both sex trade and slave trade activities. Not only was this successful in the U.S. but it inspired banks worldwide to join the effort. Many of the slave trade activities have been disrupted and the traffickers prosecuted by everyday bank tellers who are trained to detect trafficking behavior patterns.
Chloe Setter, the senior advisor for Lumos which was founded by J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter books. Rowling, because of her heartfelt connection to her fictional character Harry Potter who was orphaned and lived in an uncaring situation without a loving family, was inspired to understand the plight of orphans worldwide. She and her organization advocate and work diligently in their dream of having the 8 million orphans worldwide be placed in homes and the complete removal and disintegration of institutionalized orphanages by the year 2050. Twenty years of studies have proven the ill effects on a human child going into adulthood who has experienced an institutionalized orphanage.
James Bartle, founding CEO of Outland Denim and his wife have created a beautiful denim jean for both ladies and men, but they have a unique approach to being a fashion designer and manufacturer. The women who work in their factories are from Cambodia and have been trained to make the entire garment (where conversely most foreign clothing manufacturers only train them on one part which renders them in a state of being unskilled labor and therefore unable to find employment elsewhere). Outlander Denim provides living wages (as compared to minimum wages) and educates their workers in business education, language, and management skills. Their goal is to make them dignified independent workers who can manage their own lives. (It is important to note that of the thousands of fashion industry manufacturers none of them until now have ever been honored with an award by the Thomson Reuters Foundation. In fact, 71% of this industry has actually disclosed anonymously they are aware their supply chain comes from slave trade labor.)
Arjen Boekhold, Cocoa Game Changer at Tony’s Chocolonely discovered in the chocolate industry that the supply chain of all of the luxury chocolate lines comes from cocoa farms which employ child labor. Their chocolate bar, on the other hand, is not only delicious but more importantly, is made from 100% adult fair trade labor. It’s a little pricier than many chocolates, but market studies indicate 56% of the people surveyed are willing to pay a little bit more for something if the supply chain comes from humanitarian efforts exclusively. Millennials demonstrated a 71% willingness to pay more for something if the supply chain was clean.
Apple was awarded as a winner of the 2018 Stop Slavery Award for being a leader in every category of the corporate criteria. The Judges especially highlighted Apple’s supplier engagement and monitoring and its extremely robust audit program, which includes annual audits and spot audits. Judges praised its wide variety of industry collaborations, the fact that it openly shared its learnings with the public and its innovative solutions to push forward its supplier responsibility program. (Apple had in previous years been poor in its vigilance of monitoring its supply chain.)
Unilever was also named a winner of the 2018 Stop Slavery Award, with recognition given for the outstanding leadership of its CEO, Paul Polman, in the fight to clean one of the highest risk supply chains in the world. Judges noted its highly complex, global and high-risk supply chain, including the use of palm oil in many of its products and praised its participation in the Consumer Goods Forum, where it facilitates industry collaboration.
Triveni Acharya, Founder of the Rescue Foundation, was awarded the Stop Slavery Hero Award for her “outstanding work on the frontlines” in rescuing, rehabilitating and repatriating victims of sex trafficking in India. Particularly impressive was her commitment to the cause, despite great personal risk. She was recognized for the tremendous impact of her work in lives of almost 16,000 girls so far, and it was noted that because of her efforts, “traumatized girls have been counseled so well that they are able to live progressive lives by forgetting their past trauma and developing a positive attitude.”
My daughter Rochelle Keyhan was awarded the Stop Slavery Hero Award “for creating an impact on a regional or global scale.” She was recognized for work building relationships with anti-trafficking stakeholders, from victim advocates to law enforcement, to create sustainable local solutions. Rochelle’s success in training hundreds of law and code enforcement officers to identify trafficking and build victim-centered cases, transforming some of the largest jurisdictions in the country, was highlighted. She was also awarded for her work with dozens of cities, counties and states to pass laws making it impossible for traffickers to hide behind storefronts.
This article does not allow for the time and space needed to share all of the innovations and inspired work that these human rights activists are doing. I would ask you to go to the trust conference website and learn for yourself (www.trustconference.com) in order to discover the heroic efforts being done for our global community. You may ask what is it that you can do? Remember to think globally and act locally. And if you are unsure of the level of contribution that you might be able to make, remember a mosquito can bring down a 200 lb man. You and your voice matter. I share this with you because without this knowledge and awareness we would not have the ability to enact positive change. For it is said, “Once you are aware, you are responsible for your action and your inaction.”
Particularly impressive was her commitment to the cause, despite great personal risk.