By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
I did a lot of research (with the help of an amazing research assistant, Mary Bowers, who had just graduated from Columbia Journalism School when I found her) while writing this book, particularly on Sudan and Iraq. I think the reader will be as surprised as I was to see the parallels. I also found out, largely by reading the experts on this issue (namely Kevin Bales, author of Ending Slavery and his new book, The Slave Next Door, co-authored with Ron Soodalter), that although modern-day slavery is more widespread than ever, it is very much in our power to wipe it out within a generation. That's not just naive optimism talking!
Your story on Aaron appeared in the Weekly in 2007. Do you know if since that time, with the work of the anti-trafficking initiatives here in Orange County, if it has made a dent in the problem. Is it possible some of those ladies at the local nail salons are still slaves?
Aaron can answer this better than I can, since I'm based in Paris and am not clocking the situation in OC very closely at the moment. But yes, I'm sure there are still slaves working in the local massage (a.k.a. prostitution) parlors and nail salons, but also in restaurants
and private homes as domestics. Slaves are everywhere (remember, as many as 17,000 new slaves are brought into this country every year, which means there are somewhere around 50,000 slaves in the U.S. at any one time), and anywhere from 40 percent to 50 percent of them are NOT sex slaves (the media tends to focus on this because it gets big ratings/hits).
Let's not forget about the agricultural workers brought in under false pretenses and held by force or threats in the fields of California, Florida, Texas and elsewhere while they pick our tomatoes and oranges. Most people do not want to know why certain items they buy are so cheap. The answer is that somewhere along the line, someone is not getting paid. We now have the resources to investigate slave labor in corporations' supply chains. Some corps have agreed to do so, but many others have not yet signed on. The good news is that no major industry has more than 2 percent to 3 percent slave labor in its supply chain. So boycotting is not the answer; this will just harm all of the farmers. The solution is to call upon the corporations to take responsibility for what's happenin,g even on the bottom rung of their supply chain. I Tweet regularly on this issue. Here's one place people can go to do this: www.chainstorereaction.com.
It sounds as if there are slaves all around us?
I really think it's important to stress that there are MANY kinds of slaves, not just sex slaves. And also crucial for you to give readers the tools they need to identify victims and help prevent the slavery that is prevalent in all of our communities. Once we tune into it, we can't help but see it. Once we've seen it, we're unable to forget it, and so we refuse to tolerate it . . . and next thing you know, the traffickers and slaveholders will be forced to find themselves a new business. And America will truly be the land of the free.
What do you think of the early, positive reaction to the book?
I'm thankful and hopeful that it raises awareness of human trafficking and draws people into the cause, spurs activism. We don't purport to have written an academic work. Other people can do (and already have done) that better than us. But in telling Aaron's action-packed life
story and recounting the tales of victims through his eyes, I hope we've honored them and made sure that their suffering will help prevent others from the same fate.
A portion of the proceeds will go to Abolish Slavery Coalition, an umbrella organization Aaron has founded to bring together many of the nonprofits and activists working on the cause. Sometimes the cause gets lost when individual egos get in the way. As I say in the epilogue, "Well-meaning activists, policy makers and journalists have wasted time squabbling over the definition of human trafficking or slavery, choosing sides and allowing personal agendas to get in the way of collective progress." The idea of Abolish Slavery is that we all need to join forces to truly wipe this crime against humanity off the planet.
Any other projects coming up?
This summer I'm helping a friend of mine, John Bowe (the guy who broke the story of slave labor in the fields of Immokalee, Florida, in The New Yorker and published the book Nobodies) out with some editing and interviews for his next book, an oral history collection in the Studs Turkel mold called Dear: Americans Talk About Love (to be published by Faber on Valentine's Day 2010). A bit of a change from human trafficking. But it reminds me that love, too, seems to cause us universal suffering.
[This month,] I'll go back to France and join a good friend harvesting organic strawberries and hanging out with donkeys in Corsica while working on my own book. Healthy eating/growing practices and sustainable living are passions of mine. The second book is a bit of a
memoir about the many strange jobs, adventures and travels I've undertaken in the past decade. And yes, it will actually be funny.