On International Migrants’ Day, we should be talking about the root causes of trafficking and labor exploitation: global inequality.
This International Migrants’ Day, I’m still thinking about those impacted by Typhoon Haiyan. Just a month later, the death toll has surpassed 6000, inching ever closer to the 10,000 projection.
And then there’s the other side of the story: the four million impacted Filipinos who survived the typhoon and are trying to rebuild their lives.
You might imagine that after having their homes and family members swept away that the worse is over. But the ensuing instability and lack of access to basic needs coupled with the lingering trauma of the disaster has created an intense vulnerability.
In a country where feudal patriarchy is still strong, women and children become targets for exploitation and sexual abuse in this environment. And these desperate, unsafe conditions drive many Filipinos to leave altogether to seek a better life abroad, sometimes by any means possible.
Already, the GABRIELA Women’s Party in the Philippines is criticizing the Aquino administration of government neglect and not responding swiftly to provide support and safety of their citizens, as cases of violence against women and children have increased in disaster areas.
Last month, UK development secretary Justine Greening made a plea to UN heads and funders to take proactive steps to guarantee the safety of women and children during relief efforts.
Unfortunately, it’s not new news that human trafficking and violence against women usually increase following natural disasters. We saw this in the aftermath of the earthquakes in Haiti in 2010, where child exploitation skyrocketed, from organ harvesting to forced adoption. After Hurricane Katrina, when 500 guest workers from India were trafficked by the marine industry company Signal International to fill in for ship yard workers displaced by the storm.
Human trafficking is shockingly prevalent today. According to local non-profit Seattle Against Slavery Seattle is a huge thoroughfare is because of our coastal location and proximity to the Canadian border. The majority of those trafficked are women and children between the ages of 12-35, most of them undocumented immigrants lured here with promises of work.
A couple of years ago, Seattle Against Slavery launched a bus billboard campaign and has since seen an increase in the use of their various help hotlines.
“Human trafficking has a huge impact on our communities and unfortunately, many people are unaware that our city is such a hot spot for it,” Sara Porkalob of Seattle Against Slavery said in an email. “Women bear the brunt of human trafficking consequence. They are reduced to objects and their rights exploited. A lot of these women feel that they can’t go back to their families — they feel ashamed and are afraid that they won’t be accepted back into their communities.”
Washington State has some of the most progressive legislation regarding trafficking. But this issue won’t go away unless we address the economics of it.
Neoliberalism — an economic model that has been pushed onto the world by the United States — espouses a global free market where everything from toothpaste to human beings can be sold. It’s a racialized and gendered system that profits on the labors of people from the global south, the majority of who are women. And it exploits cultures and traditions by taking advantage of people’s values of hard work, dedication to their family, and the desire to lift themselves out of poverty.
In the Philippines, people are the number one export (followed by coconut oil) and the economy is powered by remittances from the family members working abroad. According to the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration, 3,000 to 4,000 Filipinos leave home every day to work abroad.
This week, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is in the Philippines meeting with top government and business leaders. He’s there to push the Trans Pacific Partnership (a new trade agreement some have called “NAFTA on steroids”), and to promote the increase of US military presence in the Pacific.
The U.S. and the Philippines should be having a different conversation.We should be talking about the safety and genuine support of typhoon victims, especially women and children.We should be talking about those trafficked as migrant workers being exploited in the worst way. We should be critical of the economic policies and unsafe conditions that are forcing thousands of women away their homes and families.
That’s what I’ll be talking about this International Migrants Day.