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Change Your Role in Forced and Child Labor | P.J. Tobia | TEDxNashville

November 3, 2019


Translator: Norma Wong
Reviewer: Ellen Maloney First, I’d like to dedicate this talk
to the memory of Jim Ridley, who’s a fantastic
newspaper editor, alright. (Applause) And an even better person. He taught me a lot about story telling so if you like this TED talk,
say a prayer for Jim. If you don’t like this TED talk,
just keep that to yourselves. Alright, to get this started, I am going to need your help
with a very quick “show of hands” survey. I can see most of you underneath
these hot, bright lights. Who here has bought a laptop, smartphone, or tablet computer device
in the last year? That’s a lot of people, okay. It’s more than I thought,
but I’ll keep going anyway How about a gold product: baubles,
bangles, beads, that kind of thing? Gold products? Not that many fancy people here. What about a glass of tea? Who has bought
a glass of tea, hot or iced? That’s good. And finally, frozen shrimp. You get them in the freezer
section, obviously, got a lot of shrimp lovers, delicious
wrapped in bacon. OK good. So, pretty much everyone in this room, myself included, although
I wasn’t raising my hand, raised their hands during
my annoying little survey. And that’s great because it means
we are all complicit in what I am about to say
and show to you. As a foreign affairs producer
of the PBS News hours in Washington, it’s my great privilege and pleasure to help tell the stories of people
who live in other countries, and make some of the products
that we buy and use everyday. And I want to introduce you
to a couple of those people. I’ll show you a short clip from a piece
that I wrote and produce last year. These pictures where shot by Larry Price of the Pulitzer Centre
for Crisis Reporting [Video]
Narrator: These best friends, Duku and Yoyo, eight and ten years old earn just a few dollars a day, everyday, mining gold in Sulaweisi, Indonesia. Yoyo’s mother thinks
it may be all they ever do. Yoyo’s mother: I have a plan
to get out of here, just no money. Narrator: Duku and Yoyo
have worked the mines for two years. They don’t get many breaks,
they don’t have any toys, and they are not in school regularly. Yoyo’s mother: Yoyo can read
a little, but Duku cannot, because he hasn’t gone to school yet. Narrator: When asked if he’d rather
be in school, Duku just shrugs and gets back to work. Other children labor underground, unfortunately well suited
for this grueling labor. Tiny tunnels, tiny bodies. Alright, that was also my voice
on the track there. Commodity analysts I have spoken with
and interviewed say about 15 per cent of the global gold supply comes from small artisanal mines
like the kind we just saw in Indonesia. This is also a photo by Larry Price
of another artisanal mine. It is not just gold. Every product I mentioned
in my annoying little survey has a strong connection to slave labor,
child labor, forced labor, or at least some absolutely
terrible working conditions. The US Department of Labor keeps a list
of products made overseas, manufactured by slaves and children There’s more than
350 products on that list, and some of them are available
at supermarkets and shopping centres right down the street from your house. According to the United Nations, between 20 and 35 million people
live in slavery today, Five million of them are children. Just as we all play a role
in consuming the goods, that these children and slaves
and trafficked people make, it’s time we start playing a role
in how these goods are made. Now, TEDx is all about ideas. And I have got an idea about what
each of you can do to help fight this. But first, you need to know a few things. Right off, if you look
at the US Department of Labor’s list of slaves and child-made goods, you may not recognize
a lot of them or use a lot of them. I sincerely doubt many people in this room have consumed beef
from the African nation of Chad, at least I really hope not. But that tall, cool glass of sweet tea
you had with lunch, or the piping hot mug
of Assam Breakfast Blend you started your day with? That’s a very different story. The United States get a lot
of our tea from India, where it’s grown on this massive farms
called “tea plantations.” Each leaf is picked by hand
by tea pickers. According to academics,
researchers, and journalists that have visited these plantations,
they are horrible places. The workers, they live on the plantations, they live in ramshackle huts with holes
in the roofs, right next to open sewers. This slide is from a bunch
of researchers at Columbia University. You can see on the right, you see water source, top right there, that’s the water source they use
for cooking and washing, on the left, that’s an open sewer. It’s just a pit of human waste. Same deal down here. On the right, you’ve got open sewers, and on the left, where food
is being prepared. These are right next to each other. The workers on these plantations
make about $3.50 a day, but it can be less if they don’t meet
their daily leaf picking quota, and some of them, of course, are children. Then there’s the frozen shrimp,
I mentioned. Last fall, the Associated Press
produced a series of reports on the Thai shrimp fishing industry. Men from all over Asia
were trafficked, sold into slavery, forced onto these boats, and worked for days on end. Worked until they drop dead in some cases. When they did, their corpses were just thrown
over the side of the boat. Back on land, they were kept in cages
so they wouldn’t escape. This is a photo of a Thai shrimp slave
in a cage from the Associated Press. The shrimp they harvested
from the deep ocean ended up in freezer sections
of grocery stores that you have absolutely heard of. In this state, in this country,
and in the UK. Some of it also went into pet food,
into cat food, specifically. Some of the cocoa you may have drank
this winter might have come from leaves picked by west African children. The soccer balls your children
kick around on the weekend might have been hand-sewed
by someone else’s kids in China or India. There’s palm oil from Indonesia made by children and adults
who live in debt bondage. This is an old problem, and it’s not new. I mean, in the history of the world, has anyone ever wanted to live or work,
excuse me, in a coltan mine? Of course not. And it’s very, very hard to avoid
these products, even if you could. I host a podcast for the PBS
News Hours called “Shortwave.” It is all about the connection
of foreign affairs and American life. I interviewed one of the researchers
from that Columbia team, that worked on the tea
plantation study in India. He told me there is no such thing
as “fair trade tea.” Sure, there are organizations that will label a product
or a supply chain as “Fair Trade,” but that’s not often
indicative of anything. He was on plantations
that had the fair trade label, and he saw children picking leaves. On other plantations with no such labels,
he didn’t see any kids. We’ve had this problem for a long time, and it hasn’t always been
an Asia-Africa issue either. 1906, The Jungle, a novel
by Upton Sinclair about the terrible conditions
in American factory life. 1960, Harvest of Shame,
legendary TV Newsman and my hero, Edward R. Murrow, makes a documentary
about agricultural workers, who pick fruits and vegetables in Florida. It aired on Thanksgiving day. I would argue that to this day, the people who pick
our fruits and vegetables still do so in terrible conditions,
for not a lot of money. So this is an old problem. But what’s new about
this old problem, is the scale. The US is one of the largest importers
of goods and services from other countries in the world. There is a very good chance
that every stitch of clothing you have on right now,
comes from some place else. Some place with not strict labor laws,
or if it does have strict labor laws, they are not very well enforced. The interconnected nature
of the modern global economy is such that every purchase you make
puts you in direct contact with hundreds, maybe thousands
of workers in that supply chain. Our impact as a nation,
your impact as individuals, isn’t only felt when American bombers
goes some place to blow something up. Decisions you make about what you buy
and where you buy them can have an impact on families
nine and a half time zones away. So what can you do? When I first start reporting this stuff,
I just kind of threw up my hands. I was like, “Forget about it I am moving to a cave in the woods, I am going to subsist on sustainably
harvested jute leaves, and we are going to fashion
our own clothes out of sisal twine.” My wife was not into that option. You may have different results
with your significant others. And when I started telling other people
about what I was learning, ruining cocktail parties
and dinner parties, telling everybody about where
their bacon-wrapped shrimp came from, I almost always get a pledge
of a boycott in return. I always get the, “Alright PJ, no more tea for us.
We are coffee family from now on!” Fine, fine. That’s as far as it goes. But here is the thing about boycotts;
they have unintended consequences, right? Successful boycott lowers the price
of the good that is being boycotted. That means that people who make it, even if they’e not making much
to begin with, and they’re probably not, are going to be making less. Second, in some cases,
some of these jobs, not the slavery conditions, but the hard labor,
dangerous, low paying jobs, may actually be the best wages
available in that region. Also, some of these companies,
the global corporations, are so big and their supply chain
are so complex, they may not even know what kind of labor
is at the bottom of that supply chain. This is complicated stuff, but that does not get you off the hook. Which brings me to my strategy: Just pick one. Just pick one product in your life made by slaves, or children,
or trafficked persons. Just pick one product
like that in your life. It doesn’t have to be the most important
product in your life, but it should be something meaningful, something that you use
at least a few times a month. Just pick one product and learn everything you can
about that supply chain. Check out the US Department
of Labor’s website, find out why that product
is on their list. Maybe it’s not on their list,
but on another of the many lists kept by nongovernmental organizations,
other countries, and the UN. Speaking of the UN, check out the UN’s
International Labor Organization. They may have done a study, research,
or produced papers on this supply chain. They almost certainly have,
they are very thorough. Google around, find out what the lives
of these workers are like. find out how they ended up
doing these jobs, and where they come from. International Labor Organization,
they do great work, a lot of research and studies
on these kinds of supply chains. Learn about the people themselves. How did they end up in these positions? Often they are trafficked people who come
from places where there’s conflict, famine, that kind of thing,
and they are looking for an opportunity. Someone shows up in their village
with a truck and says, “Who wants a job?” And they get on the truck, they go away,
and they are never seen again. Their passports are confiscated,
and they are forced to work. Research the industry, find out why
companies use forced labor. Is there an alternative labor pool? What would the cost of your good be
if the workers earned a decent salary and could live in decent conditions? Maybe there is a non-governmental
organization, or a nonprofit that focuses on this product
or supply chain, or the region in which it is made. Maybe there is an organization
that focuses on these workers, that tries to meet their needs,
improve their lives. Maybe they are advocating
for a solution that already exists. Maybe you can become an advocate
in your community for these laborers by raising money or awareness
through your school, or church group. Bring it up at your book club. Maybe there is a connection
between these laborers, the place they are laboring, or the product their labor produces,
and your community. In my business, in journalism,
we call this a local angle Maybe there is a local angle
to this story. Pitch it to a local journalist,
or better yet, write a guest editorial
or a blogpost some place yourself. All companies hate bad press,
let me tell you. When the Associated Press wrote
that series on the Thai shrimp industry, within months, hundreds
of those slaves were freed, and the shrimp industry
and Thai government pledged to drastically change
how they did business. Another very important step you can take is to contact the company
from which you buy the product. Tell them you like their product,
you like what it does for your life, but they have to make this right. The only thing companies hate more
than bad press, are mad customers. Now may be the time in American history when a single individual can have
a greater impact on this issue than at any other time. There is a number of reasons for that. In February, congress passed,
and President Obama signed into law, a bill closing the loophole allowing goods made by children and slaves
in other countries into US markets. Now there is still a long way to go
before this bill fully takes hold. But right now, law makers and bureaucrats
in Washington are debating just how the bill will take hold,
and your voice could be decisive in the decisions made
during those conversations. There’s another bill making its way
through Congress right now called the “End Modern
Slavery Initiative.” It was actually introduced
by Tennessee Senator Bob Corker. It would establish an organization
in Washington with the goal of cutting slavery in half
among targeted populations. It would be funded by the US Government
as well as international partners and the private sector. It has wide by-partisan support. Now look, I am a journalist. I don’t advocate for, or lobby for any kind of legislation, or laws,
or political maneuvers. That is not what I do. But the reason
I am telling you about this is because if you just pick one product,
one supply chain, and learn about it, you can make your own decisions
about these kind of legislations and bills through the lens of that product. Maybe Senator Corker’s bill doesn’t help
the laborers that you’re going to focus on or maybe it does, but your elected
representative doesn’t support the bill. Or maybe you don’t like this bill, and think there’s a better
alternative out there our government should take,
that a private sector should take. Well, now is the time
to pick up the phone, send an email, do some lobbying. It’s not as easy as doing nothing. But there are slaves, women, children working 20 plus hour days
for weeks on end, making little or nothing, in very difficult
circumstances out there. And just picking one product
and getting smart about it, is a heck of a lot easier than that. Thank you. (Applause)

5 Comments

  • Reply Juan April 24, 2017 at 6:23 am

    What the heck? How does this video has less than 1k views?!?! In a 7M subscribers channel? Wow.

  • Reply amy powell December 13, 2018 at 8:49 am

    You want to sit in on her conference that she says she's in or its your invisible home and your supposedly kept from it ( invisible) right in a skistsofrenic story of some sorts that you don't seem to ask her about .

  • Reply AILC Rockstars April 11, 2019 at 2:32 pm

    IF YOU SEE A KID IN A CAGE BRAKE THEM OUT AND TAKE THEM HOME THEY WILL BE GREAT FOR A FRIEND OR EVEN THE BROTHER YOU NEVER HAD

  • Reply anmol ghose May 14, 2019 at 3:17 am

    This is so upsetting, seeing such young kids doing such hard labor that probably a older person couldn’t do. It’s so sad to find out that most of the products we buy are made by people suffering such horrible labor. This video always reminds me to be grateful for what I have and that these kids deserve better.

  • Reply Julian Shively June 22, 2019 at 7:43 pm

    how does this have so little views omg

    guys step up your youtube game, then step up your consumer game

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