When it comes to fighting slavery, creativity and innovation are essential. So Free the Slaves and our frontline partners use art to teach community members around the world about their rights.
We’ve found that picture strips are remarkably successful. The images allow those in slavery—and those who are vulnerable to slavery—to quickly see that life can be different.
“They came to identify their own situation when looking at these cartoons,” says Xavier Plassat, a FTS board member and frontline organizer with the Pastoral Land Commission in Brazil.
“They used to tell me, in their own words: ‘eu me achei‘ (translation: I found myself),” Xavier says. ”Because the laborers were able to visualize themselves in the pictures, they could learn how to prevent similar situations from happening to them or others.”
In Haiti, picture books are used for small-group discussions in remote villages where parents often send children away to work as domestic help in cities, in hopes they’ll be fed and educated. Many of the children end up in slavery, and the books “open the eyes of parents who sent children” according to FTS Haiti Coordinator Smith Maxime.
The pictures act “like a fire that heats the consciousness of parents,” Smith says. Village leaders, trained by our Haitian partner Fondasyon Limyè Lavi, guide parents through a story of children falling into slavery.
“At first contact with the book, parents feel the need to go retrieve their children,” Smith says. “Pictures speak a thousand words.”
Pictures are carefully crafted to tell stories of individuals in risky situations, such as those intending to migrate, as well as stories of enslaved individuals and the abuse they are suffering. The stories are designed to teach community members what their rights are, and how to assert them.
In Nepal, for example, one strip tells the story of a woman who is offered a job abroad by a tricky trafficker. She is enslaved, and then jailed for being undocumented. When she eventually returns home, she seeks justice – ultimately sending the trafficker to jail – and she shares her story to warn others. The strip was developed by FTS partner AATWIN, and is being used by all our Nepali partner groups.
Pictures help FTS bridge communication gaps between communities and activists, making learning more accessible and interesting. Art is particularly effective in areas where people are unable to read.
“The reality is that children often don’t have the words to convey what they are needing and wanting,” says FTS Associate Programs Director Ginny Baumann. “So the pictures form stories that allow adult participants to try to imagine what the children might be feeling.”
In some cases, pictures help people escape slavery.
“There’s a situation where a trafficked worker in another part of India, where he didn’t speak the language, used a comic strip picture about slavery to show the police the situation he was in,” Ginny explains. “Using the leaflet, the police could then help him get back home with the help of our partner organization.”
Slavery thrives when the vulnerable are discouraged from thinking and reflecting on their situation. Visual images can be helpful because they sometimes raise questions more effectively than words can. Art can get groups of people to think together about their lives, what is happening, and what is right and wrong.
In a landmark vote that may set a global example for getting tough with traffickers, Brazilian lawmakers approved a constitutional amendment this week that allows authorities to confiscate land owned by slaveholders.
FTS supporters helped make this happen, by joining the 61,000 people who signed a global petition urging Brazil to take this trailblazing step.
The move will create a powerful anti-slavery enforcement tool, by targeting “one of the most sacred values of the country’s elite — the sacred right to property,” according to Xavier Plassat of the Pastoral Land Commission, one of FTS’ frontline partner groups in Brazil.
Work on the final wording of the law and the rules to implement it are now underway. The amendment still requires final passage, but observers say the biggest hurdle has been passed with Tuesday’s historic vote by the Brazilian House.
You can learn more in a story by the Associated Press.
We write a lot in the FTS Blog about frontline heroes who free slaves and dismantle the economic, political, social and legal systems that allow slavery to still exist. But there are dedicated heroes behind the scenes, too. Without them, FTS would not exist.
Two new board members and two new committee members are now energizing the FTS board of directors. With diverse skills, global experience and seasoned judgment, these new leaders enhance the depth and sophistication of our efforts to eradicate modern-day slavery in our lifetime.
The two new board members are Jane Covey and Timothy Patrick McCarthy. The two new committee members are Rishi Bhatia and Owen Brown. Welcome!
Read all about our board after the jump:
A Sunday article in the Guardian, connecting globalization to slavery, sourced two Free the Slaves representatives: our President Kevin Bales, and our board member and 2008 Freedom Award winner Xavier Plassat.
Journalist Felicity Lawrence specializes in exposing hidden humanitarian and ecological costs of the global food industry. In Sunday’s article titled “We’ve got to stamp out modern slavery,” Lawrence writes, “It is no accident that globalisation [sic] has seen the reemergence of slavery.” But modern slavery, she says, takes an elusive form:
“The straightforward ownership of chattel slavery is gone, replaced instead by an outsourced, subcontracted kind of control over people, which can be terminated when they have served their purpose. The transnationals universally abhor any idea of slavery or forced labour and yet it is found in their supply chains. Slaves and exploited migrants, often driven into migration by the squeeze on family agriculture, are what make the economics of today’s agribusiness work.” [emphasis added]
Lawrence refers to Bales’ book Disposable People that illustrates how “peasant farmers,” driven from home in search of employment are easy prey for traffickers, who seek cheap labor. And she writes about Plassat, an anti-slavery activist in Brazil, who says that multi-national “agribusiness” creates the perfect storm of conditions for slavery to thrive.