A Note from Sophie

Reflections on 2023

Dear friends,

As we approach the end of 2023, I’d like to reflect on the incredible journey our organization has taken since it was founded and our shift in the past two years to address the issue of modern slavery. There is no doubt that these past three years have been particularly challenging, marked by a convergence of global crises that have tested us and our ability to change and adapt. Personally, the past few months have felt quite heavy as an activist and a citizen of the world. I have consistently asked myself what it means to be in solidarity with all the people fighting for their life and their rights to exist at this time. Many times, words have failed me, and that incoherence led me to write a poem that I want to share here on being present as a form of resistance:

Present

 

The call to be present

Present and be a witness

Present and sit between comfort and chaos

Comfort for us to dream

Chaos for us to be reminded why we dream

 

The call to be present

Present and be a witness

Present to look unprecedented evil in the eye

Present to sit between hope and helplessness

Hope for fuel to create the future

Helplessness reminds us of humility and the purpose of community

 

The call to be present

The call to trust that being is resistance

The call to know that survival can be resistance

The call to remember that we are not the first to survive

The call to remember the seed never dies

It’s a reminder that the seed of resistance never dies, even on days like this when we feel hopeless, and that our efforts fall short of the insurmountable issues that we have to address in the world.

As many of you are now aware, the multifaceted challenges of the past few years compelled us to reevaluate and reshape our organizational strategy to ensure that we are effective in this ever-evolving landscape. We launched our new strategy in January that highlighted our shift to focus on movement building and advocacy led by impacted communities.

One of the first things we did to align with our new strategy was to review our own approach and internal operations with the help of the National Survivor Network. This process led to the development of a first-of-its-kind toolkit on meaningful engagement of people with lived experience. The toolkit is free and has information, including tools to evaluate processes within your organization. The toolkit is being used by the US Office of Drugs and Crime for their partners, and we are in the process of adapting some of it for the Council of Europe on a protocol for meaningful inclusion of survivors of child sexual exploitation. We firmly believe that for a movement to truly be led by impacted people, their engagement in the process has to be meaningful and intentional. Our toolkit provides a path towards that intentionality.

Our advocacy work in Brazil focused on increasing worker voices in the coffee supply chain and led to the development and beginning of the implementation of a worker-centric grievance and mechanism supported by civil society, trade unions, government, and the UN. Under this strategy, we also partnered to develop a methodology to prevent forced labor and promote decent work in high-risk municipalities where vulnerable people are recruited to work under forced labor. In all this, we are proud to support our partners, Instituto Trabalho Decente, Clínica de Trabalho Escravo e Tráfico de Pessoas da Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, Confederação Nacional dos Trabalhadores Assalariados e Assalariadas Rurais and LRQA, to ensure that workers are central in our work to address forced labor in supply chains.

One of the key accomplishments of this year has been moving our headquarters from Washington DC, to Nairobi. The goal was to move the decision-making processes of the organization to communities that are closer to this issue. We officially have a Nairobi office and are hiring staff as we roll out the new strategy. I was also selected as a commissioner in the Global Commission on Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking, which was formed by Theresa May. I will be co-chairing the commission, and I am looking forward to the work that the commission can do at a global level to galvanize political support and collaboration to address this issue.

As we close the 2023 chapter, we carry the lessons learned and successes achieved into the new year. We look forward to doing a lot of movement-building work in the coming year. With your support, we are confident that 2024 will be a year of transformative action, marked by tangible progress and renewed hope.

Thank you for standing with us in addressing the issue of modern slavery.

Wishing you all happy holidays!

With warm regards,

Sophie.

An Initiative of the CAFE Project

Nossa Voz: GFEMS Launches Grievance Mechanism in Brazil

Individuals working in coffee estates in Brazil can now become more aware of their rights and access a helpline where they can ask broad questions about the work within the estates, lodge their complaints regarding the work and their experiences, and find a fair solution to their issues. Grievance mechanisms are key in the realization of due diligence. Protecting the workers in coffee estates in Brazil is the core objective of implementing Nossa Voz (Our Voice) in Brazil, which is a pilot initiative led by the Global Fund to End Modern Slavery (GFEMS) through a grant from the U.S. Department of State Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons.

Learn mora about the Fund’s work in Brazil

Project CAFE

Nossa Voz is a grievance mechanism tool which aims to be a preventative approach and an early warning and response system to potential human rights violations within the coffee supply chain. This tool is within parameters of the international regulatory framework, Human Rights Due Diligence. Adopting this framework is required by international law and drives the global private sector to increase transparency within its operations. The framework was developed through a robust process including local consultation which involved workers, survivors of human rights violations, government, civil society, and the private sector.

What makes this tool unique and innovative is the potential it has to achieve social dialogue and joint solutions between workers at a national level, the National Confederation of Salaried Workers and Rural Employees (CONTAR) which is a key partner of this initiative, and companies within the coffee supply chain.

Presently, Nossa Voz has earned the support of the Rainforest Alliance and the United Nations Global Compact, and has been implemented in partnership with Agrogenius and Mercon. This initiative has been developed in collaboration with LRQA and is monitored by Stanford University. Partnering with Stanford University means that once the pilot has been completed, recommendations can be generated for further improvement.

The first group of farms has already received training on the use of Nossa Voz. Every Sunday, workers at these farms receive information digitally, about their rights as rural workers within the coffee sector. This digital campaign and the overall communication strategy were as a result of an extensive consultation with both male and female workers. This was carried out by GFEMS’ partners in Brazil, LRQA and Instituto Trabalho Decente (ITD).

To learn more about Nossa Voz, you can reach out to Fernanda Carvalho (Country Manager, Brazil)  via email: Fernanda.carvalho@gfems.org.

An Initiative of the CAFE Project

Nossa Voz: GFEMS lança mecanismo de reclamações no Brasil

As pessoas que trabalham em fazendas de café no Brasil agora podem conhecer melhor seus direitos e ter acesso a uma linha de ajuda onde podem tirar dúvidas gerais sobre o trabalho nas fazendas, apresentar suas reclamações sobre o trabalho e suas experiências e encontrar uma solução justa para seus problemas. Os mecanismos de reclamação são fundamentais na realização da devida diligência. Proteger os trabalhadores das fazendas de café no Brasil é o objetivo central da implementação do “Nossa Voz” no Brasil, que é uma iniciativa piloto liderada pelo Fundo Global para o Erradicar a Escravidão Moderna (GFEMS), financiada pelo Departamento de Estado para Monitorar e Combater o Tráfico de Pessoas do governo dos Estados Unidos da América.

Learn mora about the Fund’s work in Brazil

Project CAFE

Nossa Voz é um mecanismo de reclamação que visa trazer uma abordagem preventiva e funcionar como um sistema de alerta e resposta precoce a possíveis violações de direitos humanos na cadeia produtiva do café. Esta ferramenta está dentro dos parâmetros do marco regulatório internacional em Devida Diligência em Direitos Humanos. A adoção dessa estrutura é exigida pela lei internacional e impulsiona o setor privado global a aumentar a transparência em suas operações. O modelo do Nossa Voz foi desenvolvido por meio de um processo robusto, incluindo consulta local que envolveu trabalhadores, sobreviventes de violações de direitos humanos, governo, sociedade civil e setor privado.

O que torna esta ferramenta única e inovadora é o potencial que tem para alcançar o diálogo social e soluções conjuntas entre os trabalhadores a nível nacional, a Confederação Nacional dos Trabalhadores Assalariados e Trabalhadores Rurais (CONTAR) – que é um parceiro fundamental desta iniciativa, e empresas da cadeia produtiva do café.

Atualmente, o Nossa Voz conta com o apoio da Rainforest Alliance e do Pacto Global das Nações Unidas, e é implementado em parceria com as empresas Agrogenius e a Mercon. Esta iniciativa foi desenvolvida em colaboração com a LRQA e é monitorada pela Universidade de Stanford. A parceria com a Universidade de Stanford significa que, uma vez concluído o piloto, recomendações podem ser geradas para aperfeiçoamento da ferramenta.

O primeiro grupo de fazendas já recebeu treinamento sobre o uso do Nossa Voz. Todos os domingos, os trabalhadores dessas fazendas recebem, por meio digital, informações sobre seus direitos como trabalhadores rurais no setor cafeeiro. Esta campanha digital e toda a estratégia de comunicação resultaram de uma ampla consulta a trabalhadores e trabalhadoras, incluindo resgatados. Isso foi realizado pelos parceiros do GFEMS no Brasil, a LRQA e o Instituto Trabalho Decente (ITD).

Para saber mais sobre o Nossa Voz, você pode entrar em contato com Fernanda Carvalho (Diretora do GFEMS no Brasil) pelo e-mail: Fernanda.carvalho@gfems.org.

Letter from the CEO

We are embarking on a new journey in 2023

Dear friends,

Happy new year from the Global Fund to End Modern Slavery! Thank you to each and every person that has been part of the GFEMS journey–our staff, donors, and partners. You have all been, and will continue to be, crucial in shaping our path. 

In 2022, our team took time to evaluate, learn, and shift direction based on feedback we received after implementing our inaugural projects in Asia and Africa. We are excited to share what we have learned and build on those lessons to move in a new strategic direction. 

Our new approach focuses on
1) building a survivor-centric environment,
2) funding and building the foundation for a movement, and
3) supporting advocacy.

I speak about the Fund’s updated approach in more detail here.

The first tenet of our updated direction involves creating a survivor centered environment. We have already begun this work by partnering with the National Survivor Network and completing an internal review of GFEMS addressing the issue of survivor inclusion. Our team engaged in honest conversations about where we are, where we want to be, and the changes needed to center survivors in our own internal operations. Our partnership with NSN has resulted in co-creation of a toolkit, which we believe can help other organizations seeking practical tools to become more inclusive of survivors. 

GFEMS has also made the decision to ultimately shift its core operations from Washington DC to Nairobi, a long-term goal which we will begin working towards this month. This reflects an effort to be more present in and shift power to regions most affected by modern slavery. 

We will continue to update you on the progress and the changes related to our work. As Human Trafficking Awareness Month, January is a time for all of us to amplify this issue and show solidarity with the people most affected. This month, spare some time to learn about a new organization or activist in our space working tirelessly to address human trafficking. We cannot address this issue alone, we have always been stronger together. 

All the best,

Sophie

Pressure to improve treatment of migrant workers has mounted for a decade. What matters now is what comes next.

Calls for Reform, but What Happens After the World Cup?

In the coming weeks, hundreds of thousands of fans from across the globe will converge on Qatar. Donning team colors and filled with fiery anticipation, they will flood the stands of Qatar’s newly-constructed stadiums, ready to cheer their favorite team to World Cup victory. While the chance to glimpse a favorite player will be enough for some, others will shell out close to $35,000 for a hospitality ticket and a more luxurious viewing experience.

Who will be missing from these crowds are thousands of migrant workers who labored over the past decade to prepare Qatar to host such a grand event. Whether by death or deportation, they have been removed from Qatar and the World Cup experience they helped create.

On the eve of the World Cup, accusations of exploitation grow louder, but they are not new

For full quotation and more on migrant workers’ experiences in Qatar, see Migrant-rights.org

Controversy has swelled around Qatar’s World Cup since it was selected to host the epic football tournament way back in 2010. It began with charges of bribery and corruption on how Qatar won the bid in the first place. Since then, much attention has been paid to Qatar’s record on human rights, and especially its treatment of migrant workers.

Qatar has undertaken the largest infrastructure project in World Cup history (by far). Its estimated to have spent more than 200 billion getting ready for the event. Qatar is a small country, both in size and in population, so to meet the labor demand for such a huge project, Qatar has had to rely on hundreds of thousands of migrant workers. Most of these migrants are from Asia and Africa.

Headlines of abuse and exploitation of migrant workers in Qatar are more prominent in recent weeks as the World Cup officially kicks off this month. But the accusations are not new. Indeed, they have been swirling for over a decade, and growing louder each year. Recruiters are accused of charging illegal and often exorbitant recruitment fees. Large construction firms have been charged with nonpayment or underpayment of wages; forcing work in extreme heat; overwork; violating health and safety standards; workplace violence, and even death.

Last year, The Guardian released a report that more than 6,500 migrant workers from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka had died in Qatar since it won the World Cup bid 10 years ago. An in-depth analysis of work-related deaths and injuries in Qatar by the International Labour Organization (ILO) reported that 50 workers lost their lives in 2020 and just over 500 were severely injured (most by falls from heights, road traffic accidents, and falling objects on worksites.) Nearly 38,000 suffered mild to moderate injuries.

Labor reforms lack force to really make a difference for migrant workers

The outcry has been enough to pressure a response from Qatar. Since 2017, the government has passed a number of labor reforms. For example, as part of a public effort to dismantle the kafala system (the sponsorship system that ties a migrant worker to his or her employer), workers are able to move jobs or leave the country without a current employer’s consent. They are entitled to a newly-established minimum wage, and an online platform now functions to receive worker complaints.  But, as many workers’ rights orgs and human rights groups argue, these reforms have not done much to improve conditions for migrant workers.

Amnesty International has maintained a countdown of sorts for the last five years to track Qatar’s progress towards ending migrant worker abuse. One year out, Amnesty’s annual “reality check” report concluded “the government has failed to rigorously implement the reforms, in particular by monitoring their enforcement and holding abusers to account… [throwing] into doubt the pledge by key stakeholders that the World Cup would be a game changer for migrant workers in Qatar.” Migrant-Rights.org, a GCC-based advocacy organization working to advance the rights of migrant workers since 2007, continues to share stories of abuse and exploitation as told by migrant workers. Their voices, though stifled by threats of detention or deportation, prove that Qatar still has a long way to go to ensure its workers are treated with dignity and fairness.

What happens after the World Cup?

So then, what happens after a champion is crowned and the crowds go home? Workers will continue to migrate to Qatar, just as they did before the World Cup bid was won. But, almost certainly, the world’s spotlight on Qatar’s treatment of migrant workers will dim.  

Qatar’s response to international pressure may not have brought about the sea change of reform that the world is calling for, but a decade of scrutiny and criticism has forced Qatar to take some critical first steps. Whether these first steps will lead to more meaningful progress is yet to be determined, but continuing to hold Qatar to account can help sway the outcome.

When the tournament ends on December 18, Qatar will find itself at a fork in the road.  Propelled by the momentum of the last 10 years, Qatar can choose to respect migrant voices, hold employers to account and enforce and strengthen protections for migrant workers. It can choose to be a human rights champion for all of the Middle East.

The Global Fund, in partnership with NORC at the University of Chicago, recently conducted a study to measure the prevalence of forced labor among Kenyan migrant workers returning from GCC countries. Findings showed that 1,007 out of 1,020 respondents reported experiencing conditions consistent with forced labor- nearly 99%.The research team concluded that “although employment-based abuses are not uncommon among migrant workers from developing countries, such high rates of forced labor violations are truly rare, if not unprecedented in current prevalence estimation research, and call for massive as well as systemic efforts to address the situation.” Key among the team’s recommendations was the abolishment of the kafala system.

For more recommendations, read the brief.

It’s not just another day at the office.

You Cannot Give from an Empty Cup: How One Anti-Trafficking Organization Centers Mental Health

This post is co-authored with staff from Awareness Against Human Trafficking (HAART).

It’s Thursday at 3 pm.

Like every Thursday afternoon, staff gather in a small conference room in Nairobi’s city center. Their casual chatter fades as the session’s facilitator enters. She smiles before she opens with her familiar greeting, “So, how do you feel?”  

This meeting between staff and therapist has been a routine part of the HAART workweek for the last one year. Though not required, staff from all departments regularly attend. There is no formal structure or predetermined agenda. Rather, the sessions are just a way of checking in with staff, of making sure that they are ok. 

The Global Fund may not be a direct service provider, but our partner Awareness Against Human Trafficking -HAART is. They have been supporting survivors of human trafficking in Kenya for over a decade- from basic needs support to psychosocial counseling to economic empowerment activities.

They work daily with girls, boys, men and women who have been abused or exploited and who are working to overcome that trauma.  It’s rewarding and necessary work, for sure. But it can take a toll, and that toll can be greater than any even realize. As one member of the HAART team recalls, “I did not know I was experiencing secondary trauma, until during one of our debriefing sessions that I noticed I showed symptoms similar to those of post-traumatic stress disorder.” 

While those who work directly with survivors understand the significance of mental health services for survivors, most give far less attention to their own mental wellbeing. 

The daily stresses of the job are commonly overshadowed by the mission. For example, as HAART staff attest, direct service work is filled with uncertainties. “One-minute a survivor is okay, the next they are having suicidal ideation. You never know when you will receive a call for a rescue.” There is comfort in predictability. And uncertainty, especially when it is a constant, can create anxiety. But treating that anxiety is rarely top of mind when a survivor in your program is battling suicidal thoughts. 

That anxiety is often exacerbated by an organization’s own limitations. There is only so much any one can do. HAART works with survivors to understand their needs and then tries to balance that with what the organization can provide.

While HAART provides counseling, training, economic assistance, school fees, health services, and legal aid to survivors, funds for victim assistance are very limited. 

Staff often have to prioritize what kind of assistance to provide despite wanting to do more. And that too can be draining. 

When these are your typical workday challenges- when hearing trafficking experiences recounted and watching the struggles of recovery is “just another day at the office,” mental health support must similarly be part of the job. At HAART, it is. 

It’s quite admirable really to see how much emphasis HAART puts on staff mental wellbeing. Several years ago, after realizing that staff burnout was not tied to case load but to the nature of the work, HAART committed to doing more to make sure its staff were taking care of themselves, mentally and emotionally. They began small- organizing all staff hiking trips, moving office meetings outdoors, practicing yoga together.  And, like all good practitioners, they listened to feedback and adapted to do better.  

Since then, HAART has added two full-time mental health professionals to its team.

These professionals engage staff in group sessions, including weekly departmental-level check-ins, and provide one-on-one support for any staff who want it. There is no limit to how many sessions staff can access. Managers too keep regular meetings with their staff. Even when there’s not much to discuss, the check-ins say a lot. The opportunity to chat with a supervisor not just about work but about life helps staff “feel valued.”

Mental health is not just a focus at the top, though advice to take time off and turn off after work hours has certainly helped foster that culture.  Staff have their own self-care routines; they journal, they swim, they meditate, some even make dance videos. But what’s more, particularly for the protection team, they each have an accountability partner- a person who holds them accountable for making sure self-care remains a priority. 

It’s human life, and that’s a feeling of responsibility that doesn’t end with the work day.

Of course, there are times when even an accountability partner is not enough. And those days when it seems impossible to abide the best-laid guidance for mental wellbeing. As HAART staff are always aware, “it’s human life,” and that’s a feeling of responsibility that doesn’t end with the work day.

However, staff are more aware of the benefits of taking care of self- a consequence of embedding mental health in HAART’s workplace culture.  Morale is higher, productivity is greater. Decision-making is easier. Knowing that the work requires quick response and that those responses impact the lives of survivors, staff report they are able to make decisions with more clarity and confidence. All of that matters, not just for staff but for all those they work with. And that is why HAART continues to prioritize mental health, for as they frequently remind each other, “You cannot give from an empty cup.” 

To learn more about HAART’s work to empower survivors of labor trafficking in Kenya, supported by GFEMS, click here.To learn more about HAART, click here.

Health is a state of complete physical, mental, and social wellbeing, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.*

Burnout is Real: Practitioners Need Mental Health Support Too

The world is paying more attention to mental health. COVID-19 undoubtedly elevated the conversation as extended lockdowns took their toll on virtually everyone’s mental state. Today, we see advertisements for anti-depression pills and anxiety treatments regularly cross our screens; we hear celebrities talk of managing mental health and sports stars actively promote talk therapy; many doctors accustomed to treating our physical ailments are beginning to inquire about our mental health. The world may be paying more attention, but are we really doing enough to prioritize mental well-being?

According to the World Health Organization, nearly one billion people have a mental disorder. One BILLION. The cost to the global economy is about $1 trillion each year in lost productivity resulting from depression and anxiety, two of the most common mental disorders. Perhaps even more startling- more than 80% of people experiencing mental health conditions are without any form of quality affordable mental health care.

While mental health disorders can affect anyone anywhere, they are especially common among those confronting and coping with crisis, trauma, or a history of abuse. Those like Farishta– who had gone abroad to earn a better wage as a domestic worker but instead met exploitation and abuse at the hands of her employers. Though Farishta eventually returned to Bangladesh, she did so without the money or savings that was expected. She was shunned by a family and community that branded her a failure. Farishta struggled with thoughts of taking her own life before she was introduced to Ovibashi Karmi Unnayan Program (OKUP), a community-based migrant workers’ organization, that helped her heal physically, mentally and emotionally.

For Farishta, mental health services were a critical part of recovery and reintegration. Not only for her but for her family. With both participating in counseling sessions, Farishta was able to reconnect with a son who, after refusing to call her mother, now understood her trauma.

As both practitioners and survivors recognize the importance of mental wellbeing, mental health has become a cornerstone of the modern anti-slavery movement. Indeed, it has to be. Study upon study shows that survivors are more likely to battle depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), even self-harm. We also know that mental health needs, when left unmet, can increase a person’s risk of being trafficked or perpetuate a cycle of victimization.

The call for trauma-informed and survivor-centered care has grown louder in recent years. It’s an approach that guides much of our anti-trafficking programming, supporting survivors to heal in ways that pay mind to the effects of trauma and the experiences of those who live it.

But, even if “the field” is centering mental and emotional well-being, does that mean we are? Mental health may be a central feature of anti-trafficking programs and research, but what about the individuals who are implementing those programs or the researchers conducting the studies? Is mental health a priority? Does it need to be?

Put Your Own Oxygen Mask on First

Its guidance that seems to make more sense when you are 35,000 feet in the air and delivered as part of a flight attendant’s do-or-die safety message, but somehow it feels less applicable when our feet are planted under a desk, our thoughts on programs that support others- even less applicable still when we spend a greater part of everyday working directly with survivors of human trafficking.

As practitioners, we advocate for trauma-informed and survivor-centered approaches to care, and we abide a “do no harm” mantra. We develop guidance and best practices for working with survivors and vulnerable populations and we commit to following them; we share what we know in trainings and convenings and we improve together; and then we monitor and evaluate to make sure what we are doing is working for the people we serve and we try to fix it when it isn’t.

Confronting stories of sexual exploitation, forced labor, and human rights abuse daily, there’s a heaviness about the work we all do. It’s a heaviness that often makes it hard to close the laptop at the end of the day or to ignore that “you have mail” ping first thing in the morning. And for those who engage more directly with survivors, that heaviness can weigh greater.

“Personally, what made me leave direct service work was burnout and the fact that the current system is built on measuring the number of people impacted without thinking about the care of the people actually producing these numbers.


GFEMS is not a direct service provider, but there are some on our team who were. They can attest that “burnout” is in fact very real. One GFEMS staff member recounts how she quite literally witnessed burnout before she herself chose to leave direct service work. “Personally, what made me leave direct service work was burnout and the fact that the current system is built on measuring the number of people impacted without thinking about the care of the people actually producing these numbers. I saw more than three members of my team burnout and have mental breakdown without the system having a process for support.”

So how do we prevent burnout? How do we set up processes for support? How do we continue to do the important and necessary work while still looking after our own mental wellbeing?

It helps when you are part of an organization that takes mental health seriously. And, thanks in no small part to our small and mighty HR team, the Global Fund does. They are our constant reminder that we need to take time for ourselves- advocating for policies like more Administrative Days, peppering our inboxes with self-care tips and words of inspiration, and encouraging us all to use the mental health services and resources the Fund provides.

On a more personal note, we all have activities and people we enjoy. Finding time for them is one of the best things we can do for ourselves, for our work, and for those we seek to support (it’s true, there are studies that say so. See here.) Of course, this looks different for every person.

It may feel selfish to turn your gaze away from the work- even if only for a bit- but ask any new parent how it feels to get a few hours of me-time. It’s reinvigorating, a real game-changer. You tag back in with an energy and enthusiasm to do more and to do it better. It’s good for you. It’s good for them. It’s good for the work.

Or you can ask the former practitioner who burned out and left.

For Mental Health Resources for Human Trafficking Survivors and Allies, see https://www.acf.hhs.gov/

The world is paying more attention to mental health. COVID-19 undoubtedly elevated the conversation as extended lockdowns took their toll on virtually everyone’s mental state. Today, we see advertisements for anti-depression pills and anxiety treatments regularly cross our screens; we hear celebrities talk of managing mental health and sports stars actively promote talk therapy; many doctors accustomed to treating our physical ailments are beginning to inquire about our mental health. The world may be paying more attention, but are we really doing enough to prioritize mental well-being?

According to the World Health Organization, nearly one billion people have a mental disorder. One BILLION. The cost to the global economy is about $1 trillion each year in lost productivity resulting from depression and anxiety, two of the most common mental disorders. Perhaps even more startling- more than 80% of people experiencing mental health conditions are without any form of quality affordable mental health care.

While mental health disorders can affect anyone anywhere, they are especially common among those confronting and coping with crisis, trauma, or a history of abuse. Those like Farishta– who had gone abroad to earn a better wage as a domestic worker but instead met exploitation and abuse at the hands of her employers. Though Farishta eventually returned to Bangladesh, she did so without the money or savings that was expected. She was shunned by a family and community that branded her a failure. Farishta struggled with thoughts of taking her own life before she was introduced to Ovibashi Karmi Unnayan Program (OKUP), a community-based migrant workers’ organization, that helped her heal physically, mentally and emotionally.

For Farishta, mental health services were a critical part of recovery and reintegration. Not only for her but for her family. With both participating in counseling sessions, Farishta was able to reconnect with a son who, after refusing to call her mother, now understood her trauma.

As both practitioners and survivors recognize the importance of mental wellbeing, mental health has become a cornerstone of the modern anti-slavery movement. Indeed, it has to be. Study upon study shows that survivors are more likely to battle depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), even self-harm. We also know that mental health needs, when left unmet, can increase a person’s risk of being trafficked or perpetuate a cycle of victimization.

The call for trauma-informed and survivor-centered care has grown louder in recent years. It’s an approach that guides much of our anti-trafficking programming, supporting survivors to heal in ways that pay mind to the effects of trauma and the experiences of those who live it.

But, even if “the field” is centering mental and emotional well-being, does that mean we are? Mental health may be a central feature of anti-trafficking programs and research, but what about the individuals who are implementing those programs or the researchers conducting the studies? Is mental health a priority? Does it need to be?

Put Your Own Oxygen Mask on First

Its guidance that seems to make more sense when you are 35,000 feet in the air and delivered as part of a flight attendant’s do-or-die safety message, but somehow it feels less applicable when our feet are planted under a desk, our thoughts on programs that support others- even less applicable still when we spend a greater part of everyday working directly with survivors of human trafficking.

As practitioners, we advocate for trauma-informed and survivor-centered approaches to care, and we abide a “do no harm” mantra. We develop guidance and best practices for working with survivors and vulnerable populations and we commit to following them; we share what we know in trainings and convenings and we improve together; and then we monitor and evaluate to make sure what we are doing is working for the people we serve and we try to fix it when it isn’t.

Confronting stories of sexual exploitation, forced labor, and human rights abuse daily, there’s a heaviness about the work we all do. It’s a heaviness that often makes it hard to close the laptop at the end of the day or to ignore that “you have mail” ping first thing in the morning. And for those who engage more directly with survivors, that heaviness can weigh greater.


GFEMS is not a direct service provider, but there are some on our team who were. They can attest that “burnout” is in fact very real. One GFEMS staff member recounts how she quite literally witnessed burnout before she herself chose to leave direct service work. “Personally, what made me leave direct service work was burnout and the fact that the current system is built on measuring the number of people impacted without thinking about the care of the people actually producing these numbers. I saw more than three members of my team burnout and have mental breakdown without the system having a process for support.”

So how do we prevent burnout? How do we set up processes for support? How do we continue to do the important and necessary work while still looking after our own mental wellbeing?

It helps when you are part of an organization that takes mental health seriously. And, thanks in no small part to our small and mighty HR team, the Global Fund does. They are our constant reminder that we need to take time for ourselves- advocating for policies like more Administrative Days, peppering our inboxes with self-care tips and words of inspiration, and encouraging us all to use the mental health services and resources the Fund provides.

On a more personal note, we all have activities and people we enjoy. Finding time for them is one of the best things we can do for ourselves, for our work, and for those we seek to support (it’s true, there are studies that say so. See here.) Of course, this looks different for every person.

It may feel selfish to turn your gaze away from the work- even if only for a bit- but ask any new parent how it feels to get a few hours of me-time. It’s reinvigorating, a real game-changer. You tag back in with an energy and enthusiasm to do more and to do it better. It’s good for you. It’s good for them. It’s good for the work.

Or you can ask the former practitioner who burned out and left.

For Mental Health Resources for Human Trafficking Survivors and Allies, see https://www.acf.hhs.gov/

Centering victims in justice systems is how we support recovery and not re-traumatization

In Uganda, Women Judges are Leading Efforts to Ensure Justice Systems Heal not Harm

This post is co-authored with Justice Joyce Kavuma and the International Association of Women Judges.

In the first of a series of training modules prepared by the International Association of Women Judges (IAWJ) for judicial officers in Uganda, learners are presented a case scenario to demonstrate how courts and judicial processes can re-traumatize a victim.

They are first asked to look at a photograph depicting a young woman standing before a judge. She is the complaining witness in a rape trial. Beside her is the prosecutor and nearly a dozen other men. Most of them are counsel for the defense. One, barely visible in the background, is her father. Another, just a few feet away, is the defendant, the man she accuses of assaulting her. 

Stepping back from the photograph, the trainers provide additional case details. The witness, as the judge informed all parties, waived her right to a forensic examination. The judge nor the witness provide further explanation, but the trainers offer additional context. In the jurisdiction where this case is being adjudicated, a forensic examination requires the accuser to identify the accused in the physical space of a forensics lab. This is to ensure that the accused cannot solicit another person to submit DNA.  In instances where the accusing party lives a distance from the lab, transport is provided. The accused is entitled to the same, meaning accused and accuser may be transported together in the same vehicle, sometimes over a distance as great as 8 hours.

The trainers open the session on victim-centered approaches with this study to show how a case might look different when viewed from a victim’s perspective. Understanding that certain practices can inflict further harm, judges can play a critical role in ensuring victims are not re-traumatized by their experiences in the courtroom. While judges are trained to protect the rights of criminal defendants, a “victim-centered” approach serves as a reminder that victims, too, have rights that judges must protect. Building victim-centered courts is not to tip the scale against neutrality but simply to level it.

Labor Trafficking in Uganda

Africa is the world’s youngest continent; almost 60% of the current population is under the age of 25. As Africa’s population is expected to double by 2050- from 1 billion to nearly 2.4 billion inhabitants-it is apparent that this youthful trend will continue. What is also apparent is that many African economies are struggling to absorb this youth bulge, leading to high youth unemployment rates across the continent. Even among those who do have a job, the vast majority –almost 95%- work in the informal economy. 

In Uganda, where more than 75% of the population is under 30, youth unemployment rates are among the highest in Sub-Saharan Africa. This is especially true in rural areas where most of Uganda’s youth reside, and especially true for girls who are far less likely to enroll and complete their education than boys. The unemployment rate for girls and women is more than double that of boys and men.

Poverty and lack of employment opportunities are a key driver of migration in the region (for more on drivers of migration, read our previous post.) While much migration in Uganda is internal, primarily from rural to urban areas, neighboring countries, including Kenya, continue to attract both skilled and unskilled migrants from Uganda. Uganda is also a destination country for labor migrants from other countries in the region. In recent years, migrants have increasingly begun to look beyond the continent, particularly to the Middle East for employment opportunities. It is estimated that remittances to Uganda’s economy from people working in the Middle East increased from $51.4 million in 2010 to $309.2 million in 2018.

While a boon to the economy and the families that these remittances support, migration is not without risk, especially for the thousands of women employed as domestic workers in Middle Eastern homes. The majority of international trafficking cases identified in Uganda involve young women trafficked into domestic service in the Middle East.

While Uganda continues to implement measures to prevent trafficking, including cracking down on illegal recruitment agencies and investing in awareness raising activities, the justice sector similarly must take action. To ensure victims and survivors of trafficking are not re-traumatized by the justice system, judicial officers must be trained in victim-centered and trauma-informed approaches. This is exactly what IAWJ, with support from the Global Fund, is doing in Uganda.

How Justice Systems Can Re-traumatize Trafficking Survivors

In Uganda, the rights of the accused are outlined and upheld in national law and justice systems. The Ugandan Constitution, for example, provides for the accused’s right to a fair hearing including the right to a speedy and public trial; the right to presumption of innocence until proven guilty; the right to legal counsel; and the right to appear before the court in person. While upholding the rights of the accused is foundational to any meaningful justice system, the rights of the victim must be similarly upheld. This is especially true in trafficking cases where the potential to inflict further trauma runs high.

The 2009 Prevention of Trafficking in Persons Act (PTIP Act) and its corresponding regulations (2019) encourage a victim-centered approach and impose responsibilities on law enforcement, prosecutors, judicial officers, and other government officials to protect and support victims. Indeed, it sets out specific measures to ensure victims are protected and supported. These include not penalizing victims for any crimes committed as a direct result of being trafficked; providing victims access to health, social, medical, counseling and psychological services where possible; protecting the privacy and confidentiality of victims; and providing for compensation and restitution of victims. The PTIP Act lays out clear measures for supporting a victim-centered approach. The problem? Very few people know what it is.

Trafficking is a complicated and multi-faceted crime, and the laws designed to prevent, prosecute and punish it are relatively recent innovations.  One of the challenges of combatting this modern form of slavery is that in the absence of stakeholder training and awareness, trafficking victims are likely to come to court not as victims/witnesses, but rather as civil or criminal defendants.  They may be accused of violating immigration laws, charged in labor disputes, or indicted for petty theft (in cases where the defendant is acting under the control of another.) Judicial actors who know and understand the trafficking statute may recognize that this is at base a trafficking situation.  They may then be able to refer the matter for investigation and prosecution.  At a minimum, if judges and judicial sector officials have the knowledge and skills they need, they can avert further injustice to the victim — who may be in court as a criminal defendant. This is why continuing judicial education is so important.

How IAWJ is Strengthening the Justice Sector’s Response

As part of its training, IAWJ seeks to equip justice sector actors to identify possible TIP victims in such cases. They train participants to recognize red flags of human trafficking and ask appropriate screening questions. Justice Kavuma, notes that until and unless judicial officers undergo training, such as that provided by IAWJ, identifying victims will remain a challenge. 

Unless we are linked together, the chain of justice breaks.

— Justice Joyce Kavuma

Training individual justice sector actors in victim-centered approaches can help ensure survivors access justice and support services. But to ensure victim-centered and trauma-informed approaches at every stage of the criminal justice process, they must be embedded at the local and regional levels. IAWJ’s “Train the Trainers” program drew participants from across districts who can then share that knowledge with judicial officers in their own communities.

IAWJ also supports regional dialogues to build and strengthen a coordinated cross-border response. Judges and Magistrates from Kenya and Uganda gather to share information and experiences and collaborate on best practices to address trafficking in persons and support victims and survivors. “We all work together like a chain. Unless we are linked together, the chain of justice breaks.” For Justice Kavuma, the significance of cross-border dialogues and a coordinated victim-centered approach is paramount if trafficking is truly to be eradicated. IAWJ is currently developing a bench book to reinforce this message.

Justice systems play a critical role in combatting trafficking. Rooting them in trauma-informed and victim-centered approaches is how we ensure these systems support recovery and not re-traumatization.

If you are interested in partnering with the Global Fund, please reach out.

The program referenced in this article is funded by a grant from the United States Department of State. The opinions, findings and conclusions stated herein are those of the author[s] and do not necessarily reflect those of the United States Department of State.

The International Association of Women Judges (IAWJ) is a non-profit, non-governmental organization whose members represent all levels of the judiciary worldwide and share a commitment to equal justice for women and the rule of law. Created in 1991, the IAWJ has grown to a membership of over 6000 in 100 countries.

The impact of COVID-19 on apparel workers in Bangladesh has been devastating, but the pandemic did not create worker vulnerabilities.

COVID Revealed Just How Vulnerable Apparel Workers Are. Now What Do We Do About It?

Bangladesh has long been an epicenter for apparel production.  Its garment industry is the second-largest in the world, behind only China. It accounts for about 84% of Bangladesh’s export revenue, and readymade garments account for almost 16% of the country’s GDP. It is home to some 4,000 factories and employs more than 4 million people. 4 out of five of these workers are women

The cost of labor in Bangladesh apparel factories remains low, among the lowest by global standards. The Bangladeshi government raised the minimum wage for garment workers to 8,000 Tk or $95 USD per month in December 2018, the first increase in 5 years. In response, in January 2019, protestors took to the streets. Workers claimed the increase did not reflect the rising costs of living, and questioned how they were to sustain families and households on poverty wages.

Image Courtesy of UN Women

Then, in 2020, a global pandemic hit.

At least $3 billion of orders were cancelled. More than 1 million workers- mostly women- were laid off or furloughed, representing a quarter of the workforce. Overseas apparel sales fell 18%. Recent data shows that fashion owes $16 billion in outstanding payments.

The numbers are stark, but what’s behind the numbers is even starker.  For those working in Bangladesh’s apparel factories, especially those laboring in the informal economy to produce the “made in Bangladesh” tag, these numbers mean a very grim reality.

They mean that millions living on the margins were suddenly without an income. Most had little or no savings. And many were denied the legally mandated severance benefits to provide any cushion. Workers like Mr. Ali, a knit operator for 17 years owed over $4,000 USD in severance pay, hold out hope that “the money will come” but are so desperate to feed their families that they have contemplated suicide.

They mean that there are more children- school age boys and girls, some not yet 10 years old- in Bangladesh’s apparel factories, working to keep their families afloat. 

COVID-19 is not the root cause of vulnerability but it has shown the world just how vulnerable apparel workers are.

They mean that expecting mothers and older workers are being terminated first because employers do not want to or cannot pay the benefits to which they are entitled.

They mean workers are putting up with more abuse in the workplace because they fear losing their jobs and their only source of income. Women workers, in particular, are reporting increased sexual harassment and verbal abuse.

They mean that, in some of the most vulnerable communities, 95% of households have less than a week of food supplies, and barely 3% are receiving any government aid. Mothers who work long days at the factory are undernourished, going without so that their children can eat.

The impact of COVID-19 on apparel workers in Bangladesh has been devastating, but the pandemic did not create worker vulnerabilities.  Those laboring on the factory floor, under exploitative conditions for up to 12 hours a day, do so because they have few other employment options. They are often young, unskilled, and frequently women and migrants. They are vulnerable to forced labor due to poverty, the fragmented, informal nature of textile supply chains, and the lack of enforcement of legal protections for workers. COVID-19 is not the root cause of vulnerability, but it has shown the world just how vulnerable apparel workers are.

Informal Factories Operate in the Shadows, Leaving Workers Vulnerable

Image courtesy of Trades Union Congress

Since the Rana Plaza disaster in 2013, when more than 1,100 people died in a garment factory collapse, labor standards have improved, at least in Bangladesh’s formal factories. Evidence shows better working conditions, more factory inspections and greater accountability. But, for those working in informal factories, the risks of exploitation remain high.

The informal economy is characterized by one central feature: it is unregulated by the institutions of society, in a legal and social environment in which similar activities are regulated.” In other words, there is little government or corporate oversight, meaning factory owners often have limited awareness or knowledge about labor laws; they operate with little consequence for violating laws and little support to improve working conditions.

Some of the worst labor practices are clustered in the informal economy. Informality is associated with lower and less regular incomes, inadequate and unsafe working conditions, extreme job precarity and exclusion from social security schemes, among other factors. A recent study estimates that as many as 3 million Bangladesh workers producing ready-made garments (RMGs) fall outside the scope of any labor monitoring programs.

Worker Survey Gives Voice to Hidden Workers

To give voice to these invisible workers and increase transparency in the RMG sector, we partnered with ELEVATE to deploy a worker survey in Keraniganj and Narayanganj, two of Bangladesh’s key informal apparel production hubs. A relatively low-tech tool, the survey does not require a respondent to be literate or even own a smartphone. Rather, workers anonymously answer a series of multiple-choice questions by pressing a number on their mobile phone’s keypad using voice response technology. During the weeks after responding to the survey, workers then received a series of informational/educational messages informing them of their rights. In instances where child labor or risk of forced labor was identified, referral operators followed-up to link workers to support services such as skills building activities and/or education. While giving voice to a hidden population, this project not only identified exploitation in informal apparel factories, but supported workers to remove from exploitative conditions.

The Results:

The results of the worker survey revealed high rates of child labor –higher than expected and much higher compared to the formal sector. Poverty, exacerbated by the pandemic, pushed most children into factory jobs. Nearly 9 out of 10 working children reported migrating to the cities for work in the informal sector to be able to support their families’ income. Most of these children live in the nearby slums within walking distance of their workplace. Most had never attended school or were forced to drop out. Children are especially vulnerable to exploitation. Anecdotal evidence shows that employers prefer to engage children because they are more easily convinced to work longer hours for less money. Many children are unaware of their rights and thus less likely to protest when those rights are violated.

Bangladesh Labor Foundation School
School for Child Labor facilitated by Bangladesh Labour Foundation (BLF). Photo courtesy of BLF.
LEEDO school for children from apparel factories, Bangladesh
Mobile school for child laborers facilitated by LEEDO. Photo courtesy of ELEVATE.
Follow-Up:

What to do with these findings? With the Fund’s support, ELEVATE partnered with three local organizations to provide educational and support services to identified victims of child labor. Each of these three organizations- Bangladesh Labour Foundation (BLF), LEEDO, and Community Participation and Development (CPD) – have experience in these two high-risk areas and in implementing educational programs. Each adapted their curriculum and program offerings in response to student needs. 

BLF, for example, amended its traditional curriculum to include Bangla language, mathematics, and English, as these were the courses that young workers most requested. CPD, focused on building technical and vocational skills, enabled students to select a program based on their needs and interest. While some preferred to hone skills relevant to the garment industry, others, especially the younger students, were most interested in learning generic trades to improve their future employability and personal self-development. LEEDO, an organization that runs informal schools for street children, primarily targeted children under the age of 14, complementing their curriculum with recreational activities such as Carom Board, Ludo, and gaming

Of the children who attended these schools, some have left the factory. They have returned to their villages and enrolled in school. Yeasin*, just 9 years old when his father’s injury forced him to quit school and start working, found time to attend one of BLF’s programs in between work shifts. Finding Yeasin eager to exit the factory and continue studying, BLF reached out to his father. Yeasin returned to his family and is now enrolled in the government school in his village.

Other children have moved on to better jobs or better wages. 14-year old Joshin* left school to work in a garment factory after COVID-19 pushed his family into financial crisis. For his labor, he was provided three meals a day, but no wages. After studying English, Bengali, and mathematics as a student in LEEDO’s School under the Sky program- courses that helped him excel in his daily work- Joshin found work in another factory. In his new position, Joshin earns wages that are helping support his family. He expects to earn a promotion soon.

Education is only part of the solution. Reducing vulnerability means changing systems

Educational programs and skills training play an important role in providing children an alternative to working in informal factories, but they are not the solution. Nor is any one program. To ensure children are kept out of factories, we need to address whole systems. This means engaging governments to legislate and enforce labor reform; engaging businesses to change exploitative labor practices; raising awareness to prevent child exploitation; enhancing access to social protection benefits to build financial security; and creating sustainable livelihood options so that mothers, fathers, boys, and girls are not forced into exploitative working conditions.  

The Global Fund supports numerous projects to reduce forced and child labor in Bangladesh’s informal factories. In addition to the worker voice survey and the educational programs that resulted, we support research to identify gaps in existing legislation and we recommend specific actions for policy and law enforcement groups, government officials, and brand representatives to take to end forced labor. We invest in the development of innovative tools to help brands, buyers, and suppliers prevent, detect, and remediate forced labor in their operations. The Fair Capacity Platform, for example, helps businesses plan their production capacity better, reducing the probability that they resort to subcontracting or excessive overtime to meet unrealistic order deadlines. 

The garment industry is a central pillar of the Bangladesh economy, and so are the millions of men, women, and children who sustain it. The outbreak of a global pandemic showed the world just how vulnerable these workers are, especially those laboring in the informal sector. It also reinforced our commitment to reducing that vulnerability. 

If you are interested in partnering with us to end forced and child labor in the apparel sector, please reach out.

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect identities. The legal age of employment in Bangladesh is 14.

Apparel I Bangladesh

Lessons Learned

During follow-up, many children said they couldn’t afford to quit their jobs, or even reduce their workload to participate in the educational programs being offered, despite expressing interest. For some children, engaging in part-time learning could compromise the source of income that their families depend on. Based on findings from the worker voice survey and real-time feedback from children whom the survey engaged, ELEVATE developed the following guidance for governments, donors, civil society, or private sector actors:

  • Efforts to provide education or remediation services to working children must assume that children will not or cannot immediately leave their jobs and should accommodate their work schedules (e.g. by offering part-time courses)
  • Educational and support services should offer income-replacement stipends or allowances and provision of social safety net services to convince children and their families to enroll in the programs, and eventually transition into the mainstream education system.
  • Referral services should target working children as well as their families. Lack of awareness regarding the negative effects of child labor contributes to decisions that put children in factories.
  • Programs aimed at reducing child labor should engage other actors such as factory owners, trade union leaders, and the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishment to eliminate child labor.

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