Where are you from, and why there?
I grew up in a small Wisconsin town to transplant parents who met in divided Berlin during the Cold War – my mother, German, and my father, a US military intelligence officer. After leaving the army to marry my mother and returning to the United States, my father found work in a paper mill, and found purpose as a union steward negotiating for fair pay and benefits. My mother worked as a local beautician and held in confidence thousands of personal stories her clients shared with her throughout the years.
Growing up in this small town, all of my goals from a young age focused on a pathway out to the broader world. I literally ran thousands of miles during high school preparing for my exit. This led to NCAA All-American honors as a scholar-athlete in collegiate cross-country and track. During my final year in college as an International Studies major, I was selected to intern with a Member of Congress in Washington D.C. – a debut for this young woman in our nation’s capital. There was no turning back.
Which issue(s) do you work on/care about, and why?
While working on Capitol Hill, I quickly realized the inequities inherent in the political and economic systems that govern our country and the world. This unsettled me. I then studied potential entry points and concluded that if I was going to have any access into policy-making for marginalized groups and those not “in power,” I would need a law degree.
How did you get involved?
After obtaining my Juris Doctor from UW Madison Law School, I returned to Washington and was determined to find work advocating for women’s human rights. I pursued individuals and organizations doing “the work” until I found my first entry-point at NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund (which has since rebranded to Legal Momentum). The women’s human rights movement was and remains a purposeful movement advocating for meaningful advances in securing legal, economic and social equality for women and girls at home and around the world. The real deal. I supported and worked alongside movement women “too busy” to mentor to help implement policies and programs relating to the landmark Violence Against Women Act. We also advocated for the confirmation of women leaders like Madeline Albright, who became our nation’s first female Secretary of State.
The plumb line of my professional work over the past 25 years has not wavered from the promotion of human rights. I went on to serve as a Policy Analyst in the Office on Violence Against Women at the U.S. Department of Justice; as a Human Rights Liaison in Uzbekistan with the American Bar Association; as the manager of the Doors of Hope program at the National Network to End Domestic Violence; as the Deputy/Interim Director of the International Labor Organization’s Washington Office; as the Director of Policy & Government Relations at ECPAT-USA (ending child prostitution and trafficking); as a Democracy Fellow at USAID; and now I’m serving as a Senior International Relations Officer at the US Department of Labor, managing global programs to eradicate child labor and forced labor around the world.
It is no surprise to me that I’m ensconced in the movement to end the worst forms of child labor, forced labor and human trafficking. These crimes represent the ultimate abuse of power and control over individuals and are present in every country around the world.
What’s the biggest challenge for the issue(s) today?
Advancing from rhetoric to real action. For example, we can all agree that the exploitation of workers on fishing boats toiling without pay on the highs seas for years is unconscionable – but what are we collectively going to do about it?
We must be persistent and expeditious in designing and implementing comprehensive policies and solutions that reduce vulnerability to exploitation, rehabilitate and remediate survivors, and hold all of those responsible for the perpetuation and commission of these crimes accountable under the law.
Who are your most frequent allies? Any surprises?
While at USAID, as I was designing development programs to counter human trafficking, I purposefully built in objectives to actively engage the private sector – not simply to have a private sector partner as a trendy thing to do, but to seek real systemic changes in business operations that have for too long permitted exploitation to thrive and prosper throughout corporate supply chains.
This approach led to engagements with new allies from the private sector to implement protections against abusive labor recruitment practices in their supply chains, policies to help ensure that workers arrive on the job free from debt bondage, and effective grievance mechanisms that provide remedies for wrongs committed against workers.
I am now pleased to see the growth in responsible supply chain tools that go beyond the standard auditing processes to offer real-time transparency into business operations. I’m doing my best to keep up with the innovation in this field as new initiatives are being launched to promote ethical recruitment and sourcing practices while empowering workers and elevating their voices as problem solvers.
What drives you?
The desire to right the wrongs against vulnerable populations and to shift the power and structural imbalances that permit human rights violations to persist in every society and economy around the world. I am heartened today by the cross-section of participants dedicated to countering forced labor and human trafficking from governments, businesses, civil society organizations to large multi-lateral institutions and small community monitoring groups.
What do you want your career/advocacy to stand for?
Changing the nature of power. I am passionate about work that supports collaboration among a diverse set of stakeholders to bring an end to forced labor and human trafficking by promoting social, economic and human rights that benefit people and the planet. I also believe that we live in an interdependent world and that our FUTURE is ours to create. Let’s make it a good and equitable one!
The views expressed are the author’s and not necessarily those of her agency or the U.S. Government.