Saturday, October 13, 2012

Challenging Slavery

On Thursday, at an event hosted by Pepperdine University, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) rolled out a new project designed to engage university students everywhere in an effort to find solutions to the problem of human trafficking. Centered on a new website called, the project seeks to crowd-source ideas designed to bring an end to modern slavery.

Dr. Rajiv Shah, administrator of USAID, began by referencing President Obama's speech to the Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting on September 25 in which the President spoke of human trafficking in the following terms:
It ought to concern every person, because it is a debasement of our common humanity. It ought to concern every community, because it tears at our social fabric. It ought to concern every business, because it distorts markets. It ought to concern every nation, because it endangers public health and fuels violence and organized crime. I’m talking about the injustice, the outrage, of human trafficking, which must be called by its true name--modern slavery.

Now, I do not use that word, "slavery" lightly. It evokes obviously one of the most painful chapters in our nation’s history. But around the world, there’s no denying the awful reality. When a man, desperate for work, finds himself in a factory or on a fishing boat or in a field, working, toiling, for little or no pay, and beaten if he tries to escape--that is slavery. When a woman is locked in a sweatshop, or trapped in a home as a domestic servant, alone and abused and incapable of leaving--that’s slavery.

When a little boy is kidnapped, turned into a child soldier, forced to kill or be killed--that’s slavery. When a little girl is sold by her impoverished family--girls my daughters’ age--runs away from home, or is lured by the false promises of a better life, and then imprisoned in a brothel and tortured if she resists--that’s slavery.  It is barbaric, and it is evil, and it has no place in a civilized world.
Dr. Shah went on to laud the good work on human trafficking being done at Pepperdine by the Global Justice Program, the campus chapters of International Justice Mission, and by individuals such as third-year law student Amy Massey and law alumnus Jonathan Derby. He then presented USAID's Challenge Slavery project and turned the discussion over to a panel moderated by Dr. Sarah Mendelson, assistant administrator of USAID, and including Massey, Jocelyn White of IJM, Sam Baker of Not for Sale, and Justin Kosslyn of Google Ideas. The discussion of the work that is already being done--and the work that is  being envisioned in the form of government-NGO partnerships--was, in a word, inspiring.

To participate in the conversation on this issue--and to contribute to the solution of the problem of modern slavery--go to and sign up to join the online community. And to learn how you currently contribute to the problem of human trafficking--unwittingly, one hopes--go to