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Women's Center hosts lecture on modern slavery

By Zarrin Ahmed
On February 19, 2013

Author, activist and one of the world's foremost experts on modern day slavery, Siddharth Kara, delivered a lecture that outlined modern slavery in the Women's Center as part of the Humanities House Speakers Series.
The focus and intention of the interview, Kara explained, was to give an overview about human trafficking, forced labor and modern slavery, answering questions about what they are, how they relate, what they mean, where they are prevalent and how to attack these issues. The lecture was sponsored by the Humanities House and by the efforts of sophomores David Pereira, RJ Anderson, Amit Bhushan and Zarrin Ahmed under the direction of the Faculty Director of the Humanities House, Cathy Schlund-Vials. Pereira and Anderson are currently spearheading Project Notice, a campaign focused on sex trafficking and creating a documentary based on research, interviews and activism.
"I want to personally thank the Women's Center for their generosity with regard to allowing us to hold this provocative talk in this space," said Schlund-Vials before introducing Kara. "As a fellow academic, what is so striking is that you're able to take something so complex and make it so accessible yet powerful."
Kara is the first Fellow on Human Trafficking with the Kennedy School of Government and a visiting scientist on forced labor at the Harvard School of Public Health. He is best known for his award-winning book, Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery and has also been the recipient of the Frederick Douglass Award.
Kara began with a slideshow and a picture of one of the first slave trading posts in Badagry, Nigeria. Having traveled to Nigeria a few years ago, Kara explained how he was shocked at the things he uncovered, including a baby factory where babies were either used for adoption or voodoo purposes. Explaining how the post was influential during the North Atlantic Slave Trade, the term for slavery has shifted in modern times. To demonstrate the similarities and differences of the eras, Kara read excerpts from "The Interesting Narrative oh the Life of Olaudah Equaino" and an interview he conducted himself of a Bangladeshi man by the name of Mustafa.
Though the accounts were similar in terms of the treatment, journeys, and the exploitation, Kara also showed the audience the differences in the Old World and the world today with a chart that included facts about the length and cost of the journeys, the cost of slaves and their duration of work, and the legality of slaves. Since there are no exact definitions of modern day slavery like there were in the past in terms of legality, it's difficult to tackle each issue of debt bondage, forced labor and slavery.
Kara bases the root of human trafficking in what he calls "globalization of competition," that is, minimizing labor costs to maximize profit and cut prices in order to survive the competition of a globalized economy. He used the example of shrimp factories in Bangladesh, where children catch baby shrimp in disease infested waters, and workers struggle to earn food while others are exploited and hidden away from reporters like Kara with the force of guns. The shrimp industry in Bangladesh exports 75% of its product to the United States alone. This exploitation of labor also occurs in tea and coffee, carpet, clothing and sporting industries.
Leaving time for questions at the end of his lecture, Kara spoke about activism in response to Anderson's question. He stated that it's mostly a lack of awareness about where things come from on the consumer's part. Even so, if consumers demand answers, there isn't enough research to do so. He explained how it took time, research, and firsthand experience to report these facts and encouraged students to organize and create movements by having targets and setting deadlines. With consumer outcries for products that are untainted by exploited labor, he spoke about how individuals can make a difference starting small.
The next Humanities House lecture is on Thursday and is titled "One Colonial Woman's World" by independent scholar and editor Michelle Coughlin.

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