June 20, 2012
BOSTON — U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on June 19 that currently there are "nearly 21 million people who have been sold for labor or the sex trade." And though the State Department's report is titled "Trafficking in Persons," Clinton changed the language, saying, "Labeling this for what it is, 'slavery,' has brought it to another dimension."
Is trafficking slavery?
"You find dozens of activists here in Vietnam and in Thailand, where I was just a couple days ago, who absolutely agree with that," said WGBH News' Phillip Martin, who is reporting on the issue in Southeast Asia. "They believe that what's happening is indeed slavery."
They believe the term "modern-day" slavery is inaccurate because "it's never stopped — it's simply that we are shocked by its existence."
Martin went to Southeast Asia because in the U.S., "many foreign victims are in fact of Thai origin," he said. A smaller number are from Vietnam and other countries in the region. Because Thailand is relatively prosperous, "you have large numbers of people who cross the borders" into that country, where they are then "dragooned into various occupations." He noted that being sold for labor is far more common than being sold into prostitution.
Trafficking, or slavery, means "treating a kid like a good, to be traded or to be sold," a French intelligence agent in the region told Martin.
As an example, take one 13-year-old victim, who now lives in a Thai-run shelter. "They asked me to go with them," he said through a translator. "They never tell me where they're from."
And while anti-slavery advocates haven't given up, the internet has made their work much harder, Martin said. "For the traffickers, it's more expedient — they're able to obfuscate or hide their acts a lot easier and they're able to carry out these transaction acts fairly easily … where money changes hands."
The reporting project is part of a fellowship from the International Center for Journalists. Martin's 2010 series on trafficking in New England won an Edward R. Murrow Award.
> > From NPR: A man forced to work on a Thai fishing boat makes a daring escape.
SERIES: TRAFFICKING IN NEW ENGLAND