A call to abolish slavery and human trafficking

Matt Friedman in Burma | Photo courtesy of Matt Friedman

Matt Friedman in Burma | Photo courtesy of Matt Friedman

There are more slaves today than in any time in human history,” says Matt Friedman, current CEO for the Mekong Club, one of the first not-for-profit organizations of its kind in Asia to use a ‘business-to-business’ approach to fight slavery. 

Forced labour and forced prostitution is growing at an unprecedented rate while there is relatively little awareness and information on these crimes against humanity worldwide.

Of the 45.8 million people in slavery, says Friedman, the world helped 0.1 percent or less than 50,000 of the victims, last year.

“According to the 2016 Slavery Index, it is estimated that there are 6,500 slaves in Canada. Canada is one of the countries that is actually doing well in addressing this issue,” says Friedman.

Slavery in our day and age

Friedman speaks from experience. For over 25 years he has worked as regional project manager of the United Nations Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking (UNIAP) and deputy director of the United States Agency for International Development Office of Public Health at the Regional Development Asia Region Mission (USAID).

A modern-day abolitionist, Friedman is setting out to initiate change by teaming up with a consortium of counter-trafficking organizations on his upcoming North American lecture tour of 21 cities. He plans to offer an informative and inspiring update on the issue of human trafficking. His wife, Sylvia Yu is an award-winning human rights filmmaker. She will accompany him on the ambitious 70-day trip that will include 100 presentations. To launch the tour, Friedman will give a local lecture on June 17 at 7 p.m. at the Vancouver Public Library’s Central Branch entitled Human Trafficking: Slavery in our Day and Age.

“The objective of this trip is not only to educate and inform the general public but to encourage them to actively join the fight,” says Friedman.

The numbers are high. According to Friedman, every five seconds another human being is forced into slavery.

“One minute it might be a 13-year-old girl who is forced to provide sex to up to ten men a day, seven days a week – a form of commercial rape,” he says.

Another example, says Friedman, would be a teenage boy who is placed on a slave boat in Thailand, working 18 hours a day for four years without proper food, rest or remuneration.

Alarmingly common, says Friedman, are the cases of children separated from their family and forced to work in a sweatshop to make clothes and electronics that are then sold worldwide.

Concrete changes needed

Matt Friedman and Sylvia Yu. | Photo courtesy of Matt Friedman

Matt Friedman and Sylvia Yu. | Photo courtesy of Matt Friedman

During his presentation Friedman will explore the changing human trafficking paradigm as well as the relationship between human trafficking and slavery. He will also examine global trends and patterns, new emerging responses, evolving funding trends, successes and challenges and the role of the private sector.

“The presentation will offer a glimpse behind the curtain of this terrible human rights abuse –
one that is much closer to home than we might expect,” Friedman says.

We are losing the fight against human slavery, says Friedman,

According to Friedman, if we want to see concrete change we need a second-generation abolitionist movement with individuals and nations coming together to address the crisis.

“This approach has worked before, 150 years ago in the USA, and can work again today. To make this happen, we need a positive, assertive campaign to reach people with the information they need to understand the issue and to offer a ‘call to action’ that is in line with what they have to offer,” says Friedman.

Friedman is the author of nine books on human trafficking and other subjects. Bridging the gap between the public and private sectors, the Mekong Club helps companies of all sizes to understand the complexities of human trafficking and to reduce their vulnerability within their supply chains. In his TEDx Talk entitled “Every Fifteen Seconds,” Friedman describes what compelled him to devote his life to eradicating human slavery and trafficking.

“Nearly 99.8 percent of the victims are left waiting. Put another way, every day 19,600 people enter slavery. In the same time period, only 137 people are saved. Until something changes, this trend will increase unabated,” he says.

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