New York, NY – When Ricky Martin took the stage at the Clinton Global Initiative on Thursday, he did not sing, or dance, or even flash his trademark grin. Following the same stage directions as dozens of other celebrities who dropped by Clinton's 5th annual global summit, from Brad Pitt to Bono to Jessica Alba, Martin struck a somber note while discussing the fight against human trafficking.
"I feel that my heart is going to come out of my mouth," he said, recounting his sadness for the "millions of children that didn't make it." Martin was followed by testimony from a woman who, along with her two children, was kidnapped and held for four years of forced labor. Then Luis CdeBaca, a former counsel to Rep. John Conyers who now serves as President Obama's chief diplomat for combating human trafficking, explained that between 12 and 27 million people are enslaved around the world today. In its official materials, The Clinton Global Initiative notes that the higher estimates mean there are more people enslaved "than at any other time in human history," though that's the kind of factoid that says more about population growth than the scope of the problem. But the numbers are daunting by any measure. And the policy experts who huddled on Thursday stressed that many obvious measures to combat trafficking are simply not being applied.
About 90 percent of countries do not have dedicated police units for investigating trafficking, according to Clinton's organization, and many governments simply look the other way. Only one out of three governments around the world provide basics like emergency phone lines for children and families who do not know where to turn when faced with a kidnapping.
While just about everyone is against slavery, on Thursday several panelists advocated a "different kind of capitalism" to punish companies that support forced labor at any point in their supply chain. Some American companies have agreed to boycott suppliers that use forced labor, as the International Labor Rights Forum's Tim Newman has documented, but not all. (He credits Wal-Mart, Target, Levi's, Gap, and H&M for boycotting Uzbek cotton produced through forced labor, for example, while Fruit of the Loom did not.)
President Clinton personally highlighted the fight against human trafficking by giving a "2009 Global Citizen Award" to Ruchira Gupta, who made the Emmy-award winning 1997 documentary Selling of Innocents. She went on to create an organization that combats sex trafficking with education and preventive programs in India.