For a Cambodian man living in a rural village with few job opportunities, the promise of a $220 monthly salary to work on a fishing boat in Japan for two years was too good to pass up. He accepted the job offer immediately — without signing a contract.
Next thing he knew, he was flown to South Africa, had his passport confiscated, and was then forced to work — repairing fishing nets and cleaning the boat — 14 hours a day without pay. He slept in a narrow room with three other workers in bunk beds made of iron and endured the bullying of another crew member.
Unfortunately, reports of migrant workers deceived to work on fishing vessels are far too common. Nearly 21 million people are being forced to work under slave-like conditions, feeding a $150 billion human trafficking industry, according to estimates from the International Labor Organization. Last year , a U.S. Labor Department report on goods produced by child labor or forced labor lists 136 products from 74 countries — from carpets in Nepal to fish in Thailand.
Human trafficking is a global human rights challenge that preys upon the vulnerable, breaks down the rule of law and corrupts global commerce. Much more needs to be done to curb these crimes. But given these daunting figures and the well-established illicit networks benefiting across the globe, where does one begin to intervene?
As the development agency of the U.S. government, USAID sees human trafficking as a fundamental obstacle to our mission, as it impedes health, economic growth, rule of law, women’s empowerment, and lifetime prospects for youth. It undermines the development objectives we hope to accomplish through our programming.
To fight back, USAID is pioneering a global supply chain approach to better identify and counter human trafficking in sectors rife with these forms of exploitation and abuse. We call this initiative “Supply Unchained” and recently put out a call for ideas via the Global Development Lab’s new Development Innovation Accelerator.
At USAID, we are committed to using our comparative advantage as a development agency at the source of these supply chains by using this new model of development to leverage technology and partnerships to connect individuals and communities in sectors at risk with stakeholders along the supply chain. The ultimate goal of Supply Unchained is to better identify human trafficking risks to prevent new cases.
President Obama proclaimed that “our fight against human trafficking is one of the greatest human rights causes of our time” and that human trafficking has no place in our business, at home or abroad.
None of the products we consume daily should be made by an adult who is forced to produce them, or by a child working under conditions that violate international law. USAID’s Supply Unchained initiative also aligns with an executive order Obama issued in 2012 to ensure that supplies and services obtained through federal contracts are free from practices involving human trafficking.
The story of the Cambodian man who was tricked into working on a fishing boat without pay was documented in a report by USAID’s partner Winrock International, along with several other victims of human trafficking; that report ultimately led to a complaint against Giant Ocean International Fishery Company in Cambodia for exploitative recruitment practices.
The man had managed to contact his father back in Cambodia to seek help. His father then reached out to the team working with a USAID-funded program, who got the man repatriated home, provided him with free legal support for his case at Phnom Penh municipal court, and referred him to an NGO for vocational training in motor repair. The man now runs his own shop.
We hope to prevent more people from experiencing the nightmare that this Cambodian man endured. We are excited to engage with innovative problem-solvers around the globe to create solutions to counter human trafficking in some of the most troubled sectors. We look forward to bringing in new partners, meeting with interested companies, and continuing to provide a platform for innovation and partnerships. Looking down supply chains, we can now begin to envision a world that is free from slavery.
This article originally was published by USAID’s Impact Blog on July 30, 2015. It was lightly edited and republished here with the author’s permission.