In January last year I took a six-month sabbatical to study everything I could about the global justice issue of modern day slavery and the slave trade (aka human trafficking). I noticed three distinct overall trends (apart from the numbers and atrocities that come with this subject matter).
Firstly, slavery and the trading of slaves is very sophisticated.
As I began to understand the economics of modern-day slavery I became acutely aware of how sophisticated the network of buying and selling slaves is around the world. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates that the slave ‘business’ generates around $32 billion per year (USD). It is relatively cheap to buy slaves and they are very profitable. There is huge demand for slaves and they are easy to supply. The only complication is that it is illegal. Some might scream at me and say it is also immoral, and a few other adjectives, but that is only a matter of perspective. Some slave owners might suggest that it’s a right to own a slave, yet almost every nation in the world has some form of legislation against it.
Secondly, in general terms, the abolition movement is not very sophisticated or well co-ordinated.
The tribe of many helpers who are fighting this terrible injustice and human rights issue is not organised very well. Are there sophisticated organisations out there? Absolutely. Are there well-connected collaborations? Again, absolutely. However, by and large, the majority of effort to eradicate slavery and the slave trade around the world is way behind the sophistication of the entrepreneurial network that operates it, largely untouched. Most of the focus of the abolition movement is on the enslaved, that is, freeing and helping slaves. Very little is being done about the people and networks that allow it to happen. Yes, there is more and more prosecution of front-line slave owners or slave traders, but it doesn’t really touch the mega networks that drive this $32 billion enterprise.
Here in New Zealand there have been attempts to collaborate and there are certainly some strong relationships building. Those individuals and organisations who are committed to collaboration are also committed to on-the-ground anti-slavery activities somewhere in the world which creates a priority dilemma. Having spent over eight years in a sphere where organisations try to work together but no one really has the time to do it effectively, I have come to the conclusion that collaboration by institutional networking doesn’t really work. One reason is our lack of understanding of what true collaboration looks like. That is why I am very pleased to have Helen Sworn come to New Zealand to explore this with us.
Collaboration is not mildly-interested people getting together to hug each other. No, collaboration is about channelling energy and resources (real resources) together to ensure the main thing, in this case eradication of slavery and the slave trade, is the main thing and is successfully dealt with. As I have observed this reality, not only in the anti-slavery movement but also across many different not-for-profit organisations and networks, successful collaboration happens when one trusted organisation takes a position and genuinely invites other people/organisations to participate. It’s certainly not an easy road but it is a more fruitful road to take in the end.
Thirdly, it is extremely overwhelming for an interested party to get involved.
As I visited organisations, in person and online, I was overwhelmed by how many are doing something in the anti-slavery arena. If you Google ‘modern slavery’ the number of websites returned is staggering. Usually with those sorts of numbers on a Google search only the first two or three pages are worth looking at. Not so with anti-slavery! There are pages and pages of legitimate organisations worth investigating. I currently follow on Twitter about twenty-five organisations or people I believe to be the cream of knowledge and information on anti-slavery. For me it’s brilliant – I’m getting hourly, up-to-date information on what’s happening around the world.
However, for the general public this is far too overwhelming and it causes some people to turn off and just say “it’s too hard”. Over the years, working with a great anti-slavery organisation in India, I have seen young New Zealanders go and visit our work, get inspired and come back to New Zealand ready to become the next William Wilberforce. They establish an organisation, they challenge their friends, family and workmates to contribute, they set up websites, have events, and they are ‘all guns blazing’. After about eighteen months the money has dried up, their enthusiasm has waned, and their energy and resources have been exhausted. Worse, some experience vicarious trauma from being exposed to the realities of slavery and the slave trade. They feel incredibly guilty but they are exhausted and tapped out.
That’s terrible – really it is. Snuffing out the enthusiasm of a generation with justice flowing through their veins is just terrible. Who is standing in the gap, inspiring, resourcing and investing in them?
In observing these three trends I can see a gap that needs filling. What is needed is an organisation with the primary purpose of bringing people together to genuinely collaborate, mobilising people into sustainable activity, building capacity in people and organisations, and giving New Zealanders opportunities to advocate at all levels of society.
These are some of the key reasons why Stand Against Slavery has been established. It sees the need to harness the energy of all New Zealanders for the cause of the enslaved in this world – whether individuals, community groups, NGO organisations or Government.
Come along to CAS’14 and join a truly collaborative movement. Click here to register.