Recently, Chaos & Harmony creative director Beks Anderson travelled to Thailand with Tearfund to learn more about the causes and effects of trafficking in Southeast Asia and what Tearfund's partner, Nvader, is doing to fight it. Here, she discusses the trip with Tearfund engagement manager Katy Tait.
Beks: Let's talk about the causes of human trafficking in Southeast Asia.
Katy: The usual causes are poverty, lack of opportunity, debt and unemployment, and not knowing the risk. But there are also things people don't think about, such as globalisation. You know, recruitment and travel is so easy nowadays. It's [also] culturally common for the child to bear the financial obligations for their family.
B: In Thailand, the eldest female is the one that financially provides for her family. That explains why you've got such a disproportionate range of women, both in exploitation and trafficking.
K: Because of the lack of opportunity around them, they have that hope for a better life. There's desperation which can lead to them finding themselves in very vulnerable situations.
B: I was hugely impacted by the number of people trafficked to Bangkok from other continents and the fact they have been trafficked into Thailand.
Obviously there's a demand, but they have got to that place out of their own poverty, which can often be through natural disasters. I never made that link before - that natural disasters impact economies and therefore people are seeking work and provision for their families. And they answer ads in papers and on the internet seeking a better life and better provision. That really hurt me because I felt these people are just trying to live. And they're sucked into this horrible lie and then they get to a place like Thailand and suddenly they owe their traffickers a ridiculous amount for the travel and accommodation costs and have a huge amount of debt to pay off.
K: We often hear Thailand described as the land of milk and honey because of its location, where it is in Southeast Asia, and because of its economic development compared to the neighbouring countries. It was really special, when we were walking down the street, to think that we have hope for the victims as Nvader is working to fight against the criminals that enslave them. It's pretty cool to think that through Nvader's work they are are shifting the vulnerability from the victims to the traffickers.
B: I hold that dearly. I was thinking you don't have hope, but I have hope for you. I will carry that weight for you because I know what people are trying to do to get you out of this situation.
K: You can't help but feel so proud of Nvader's work when you see them working alongside Thai law enforcement agencies to increase their reach and strengthen their operational strategies to convict traffickers. They believe rescue is important but there is no point rescuing a victim without the evidence gathered to convict the traffickers.
B: Another interesting thing for people to understand is the difference between human trafficking and exploitation. So, within human trafficking there are different types. There's labour trafficking, which we are talking about hugely in fashion at the moment, and brands having ethical values that don't exploit people. Then there's sex trafficking, which we saw in Thailand, along with the reasons why people do it and understanding that Thailand is surrounded by really, really poor countries seeking a better life. And then there is forced begging. As a mum, watching women on the side of street at midnight with their brand new babies, that was very, very difficult to walk past knowing I can't give you what you need. I don't think people understand the impact - they think they're doing a good thing, by giving them money. But what is actually happening is that these people are forced to beg and the money is not going to them, it is going to their captors and the mafia.
K: And how at the end of the day, they will just be given a small meal - that's their payment. And often the children are actually being cycled around different women. It's evil, it's organised crime.
B: It's encouraging to know Nvader was responsible for 25 per cent of all convictions against sex trafficking cases in Thailand in 2016, because of the highly specialised team of New Zealand and Thai covert investigators, lawyers, and social workers. I've been reading about our level of tolerance and that we need to shift it. You know how sometimes we just tolerate something because change is either too painful or too inconvenient and how unhealthy that is. I think it's important for people to understand what exploitation is, too. We need to really understand, as Westerners going to those places, how we impact exploitation. One of the people we travelled with said it's not tourism, it is sexual exploitation for tourism. I wholeheartedly agree with that.
K: Yes, exploitation is preying on people's vulnerability to profit for their own gain. People are exploited into situations because of their circumstances, such as being in debt, lack of jobs, or because they're ostracised due to their status. Trafficking is the exploitation of vulnerability.
B: When we went into the red light district, one of the girls we watched was having her dinner next to us. She looked like a child ... she finished her food and went into work mode - she came over to me and was trying to pull me into the bars. Just watching her go from this innocent human being to switching into gear and what she needs to do to make her money, it stuck with me.
K: As anyone could imagine, there are some serious emotional, physical, health and social effects that come from being a victim of human trafficking. Tearfund's holistic approach to this fight means we have key partners addressing each of these. Nvader specifically helps through social effects. Once a victim is able to return to their community, they have a rough start, due to being stereotyped or having shame. After all they have been through, we need to give them a head start. We saw how Nvader are pursuing better compensation for survivors, and recently won on of the highest rewards for compensation for a survivor in Thailand.
B: So what can we suggest as a tangible thing people in the Bay of Plenty can do? I always talk about global, modern-day slavery and understanding it's not historic. It's present and increasing exponentially. We need to start pushing into that and derail it.
K: It is a difficult conversation to have, but we have to speak up even if it feels uncomfortable. It's important to be gentle when you have that conversation, but also stand up and say it's not okay for people to be used as a commodity. And then we need to look for ways to do something about it. Tearfund believes in a holistic end-to-end approach to combat human trafficking, through prevention, prosecution, rescue and rehabilitation. In order for these organisations to continue their great work, they need funding.
B: You can support Tearfund's approach at tearfund.org.nz. Educate yourselves about it. Go online. There are amazing TED talks and articles. Be knowledgeable about the cause. My advice is to find an organisation that is actively working in this field and connect and support them in whatever way you can.
*To find out more about the work Tear Fund and Nvader do in Southeast Asia, head to tearfund.org.nz.