The touch and feel of cotton, especially in Uzbekistan, has gotten rougher. According to reports from Anti-Slavery International (Free the Slaves’ partner organization in the U.K.), hundreds of thousands of students from the age of nine are being forced by government mandate to drop out of school and pick cotton for the world’s third largest exporter.
The pressure heats up around Uzbekistan’s international Cotton and Textile Fair in Tashkent, a time when over 330 companies from 38countries flock to Uzbekistan to examine over 800 different varieties of cotton fibers.
Despite boycotting and international condemnation, the event’s website states that the “primary goal of such an endeavor is to further expand long-term cooperation with international organizations and foreign companies.”
Presently, Uzbekistan continues to force its children to pick cotton, and the European Union continues to offer Uzbekistan reduced trading tariffs.
According to the Uzbekistan news website RFERL.org, the children are only allowed to sleep four hours a night, cursed at, and forced to pick 220 pounds of cotton a day, more than three times their average possible body weight.
“We don’t have normal drinking water.” One student said. “They wake us up whenever they want and force us to go out onto the field.”
What happens if a student fails to pick the government mandated quota? Javlon Toghaev was one of many students expelled from his University last year for not being able to pick his share.
Though the news is grim, there is something you can do. Sign the petition at Anti-Slavery.org to stop the European Union from offering reduced trading tariffs to a known exporter of slave goods.
In addition, more than 60 apparel companies worldwide, representing over 800 brands, have signed a pledge to not knowingly source cotton from Uzbekistan until the International Labor Organization guarantees its elimination. Companies on the signatory list include Target, Walt Disney, Wal-Mart, H&M, and ANNE inc.
How else can you help?
Watch the video above, tell your friends, post it on your Facebook, educate your classrooms, or start a campaign. Go to the Free the Slaves website to learn more details about starting your own benefit.
Last week’s Village Voice article, “Real Men Get Their Facts Straight,” touches on an important challenge in combating trafficking and slavery: the lack of universally-agreed on numbers about the scope of the problem. We are disappointed that the Village Voice did not devote much space to examine or endorse solutions to this aspect of child sex slavery in America. We hope the Village Voice isn’t proposing a do-nothing approach for the children who are trapped in sex slavery today.
The Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, introduced on June 29, includes funding for ongoing scientifically-conducted, peer-reviewed research into the extent of slavery inside the United States. We urge the Village Voice to publically endorse this bill’s passage.
We should note that arrest records for underage prostitution might actually be the tip of the iceberg, and shouldn’t be taken as the only indicator of the extent of child sex slavery. There are often discrepancies between the number of crimes reported and the number of crimes committed. For example, the FBI’s annual Crime in the United States report often differs from the Justice Department’s National Crime Victimization Survey. The FBI relies on reported crimes; the Justice Department conducts a survey of 77,000 households.
This underscores the need for more research into child sex slavery. The methodology used by the Village Voice—conducting an informal head count of arrests—is not a scientifically-valid approach. Relying on unscientific methods to question the work of others is misguided.
The Village Voice article also mentions a bipartisan bill to provide federal funding for rescue and rehab shelters for sex slavery survivors. We would urge the Village Voice to endorse this bill’s passage.
While different anti-slavery activists quote different figures, we’re all engaged in fighting one of the world’s most important violations of basic human rights. Everyone has a role to play, including actors, authors, athletes, musicians and others who can spread the word. There’s even a role for the news media.
We would urge the Village Voice and its readers to join us in taking a public stand against slavery.
Editor’s note: This post is written by musician and activist Jason Mraz. In 2010, Jason traveled to Ghana with Free the Slaves to visit our frontline partner organizations. He also performed at the most recent Freedom Awards. Watch the awards in their entirety here. Stay up to date with the latest Jason Mraz news here.
This last year of my life has been incredible; the kind of life that envelops you all of a sudden and echoes “be careful what you wish for.” Having come off of a two year world tour I wanted to remain in the flow of public service so at the dawn of 2010 I decided to flex my activist muscles and see what else was possible in the world. One of the first places I went was Free The Slaves.
The Freedom Awards of 2009 was the initial invitation. The heroes acknowledged that evening made saving lives and improving the quality of life on earth look fun and possible. I was enrolled. A half a year later I’d find myself on a rescue boat in central Ghana patrolling Lake Volta and its surrounding villages, in search of children who were being held captive and forced to work without the opportunity to be what they were: children.
Outside of a day-care center in my hometown of Virginia, I had never worked with kids. I had also never been on a waterway that was operated largely by children. Only a short flight away from coastal USA, I couldn’t believe the harsh, dangerous conditions. I was given a first hand look at a very real problem that exists all over the world; one that is largely caused by poverty, a difference between the haves and the have-nots. I was also given the opportunity to play with children who had just been rescued and were back in school and on the playground. The difference in the eyes and spirit to those kids compared to those who were working on the lake was one of total transformation. I became a walking jungle gym to their rambunctious energies. We sang songs. We kicked and passed the ball. We ate together. We laughed and danced together. And that’s all anyone deserves to have. No matter what age, we all deserve the right to be a child, free to laugh at our victories and mistakes.
A year later I’m still active and learning to use my voice in a way that demonstrates fighting for freedom as a fun and exciting way to spend your time. The tireless workers and the kids at the Challenging Heights shelter in Ghana are my fuel and for them I’ve written a few songs that people around the world are already singing. One being, Rescue, a song that reminds us everybody deserves to be heard, and for those who don’t think they are, we’re on our way to help. It’s by acknowledging heroes that others will be inspired to be heroes as well. That’s what got me going and it’s what I look forward to doing more of.
This week marks the one-year anniversary of the devastating earthquake in Haiti. Free the Slaves has been part of the global humanitarian response, and caseworkers report they’ve reunited nearly 1000 children with their families. Many were in slavery, and others were at high risk of falling into slavery.
Under the entrenched restavèk system of slavery, poor families send a child to a wealthier home, hoping they’ll receive food and an education. In reality, most kids end up as household slaves.
After the earthquake, thousands of unaccompanied children roamed the streets. Our grassroots partners helped identify which children were actually restavèk slaves so they could be returned to their families. This helped prevent global aid agencies from mistaking these children as earthquake orphans, or returning them to their slaveholders.
This child protection team, formed in alliance with the group Beyond Borders, continues to advocate on behalf of child slaves. Nearly 120 case workers are still on the job. They’re training more than 100 community-level child rights groups to prevent more children from falling into slavery. Our team is also providing children with education.
Thanks to your continuing support, our efforts won’t stop now that a year has passed. In fact, we’re expanding. Smith Maximé has just joined the effort as our Port-au-Prince-based Haiti coordinator. “The earthquake increased the many problems faced by Haiti,” Smith says, “and the destruction of families could aggravate the restavèk problem. It’s not spoken of widely—the link between the earthquake and restavèk slavery, so our work is now even more important.”
Recently, a new website has launched, focusing on modern day slavery. Human Goods, run by Seattle-based journalist Christa Hillstrom, takes a “big picture” look at slavery, putting it into global, economic, social and cultural context. We’ve been avidly reading Human Goods, because currently, there are very few media outlets that consistently produce magazine-style, feature length articles on human trafficking, and the movement to eradicate it.
Last week, Human Goods put out a thoughtful article on the 2010 Commonwealth Games, currently taking place in Delhi, India. This is the first time the games have been hosted in India. And, there are hopes that the event can showcase the asian nation as a “world class” country—an economic and cultural powerhouse. But the games have been shrouded in controversy. Child labor has contributed to the construction of stadiums and buildings, and sex trafficking has increased, to meet the demands of foreign tourists coming for the games.
Samir Goswami reports for Human Goods, in an article titled “Let the Games Begin”:
In 2008, the construction site was just a dusty field swarming with hundreds of men, many in tattered clothing and shorts, wearing boots and flimsy hard hats. Hundreds of thousands of visitors would one day go through the New Delhi airport they were rebuilding to attend the 2010 Commonwealth Games, hosted by India for the first time in a sweeping attempt to mold its 17-million-resident capital into a first-rate destination for the sporting fans of the world. For the next two years, the city would rumble with migrants and machines erecting stadiums, metro lines, hotels, and bridges, some of which were doomed to collapse before even being used. But this summer night, a Bobcat was the only piece of heavy machinery on the entire site.
Since the Indian government was spending millions on infrastructure improvements in anticipation of the CWG, my friend had decided to dabble in the construction business. In that typically adventurous and entrepreneurial spirit characteristic of many Delhi-ites, he bought himself a sub-contract to build an exterior wall for one of the new terminals at Indira Gandhi International Airport.
The prevailing wage for an unskilled laborer was 120 Indian Rupees per day ($2.60), and skilled workers earned 40 Rupees (90 cents) more. My friend, who provided about twenty-five of the hundreds of laborers for the section of the wall that he was sub-contracted to build, made a 20 percent profit over his costs. Later, I met the general contractor and asked, if the laborers were offered a better wage and the contractors increased safety precautions—would that not reduce both the financial and human cost of completing the project?
He replied, “Why should I invest in a Bobcat, and pay to train someone to run it, when I can just hire thirty men for half that cost to dig a hole?”
Digging a Hole
Two years later, Delhi finds itself in a hole of its own digging, the depth of which no one is yet quite sure of. From October 3 – 14 New Delhi is hosting the 19th Commonwealth Games, held every four years. Since 1930 the Games have been open to athletes from countries once under the colonial rule of Great Britain. According to the Commonwealth Federation (CGF), “Underlying every decision made by the CGF are three core values: HUMANITY – EQUALITY – DESTINY. These values help to inspire and unite millions of people and symbolize the broad mandate of the CGF within the Commonwealth.”