Google.org $40 million in grants includes antislavery groups

Organizations that work to educate people about slavery and put an end to the practice are among recipients of Google's largesse.

SlaveryFootprint.org lets you calculate how many people working in forced labor situations likely contribute to your lifestyle based on where the products in the home come from and how they are made.
SlaveryFootprint.org lets you calculate how many people working in forced labor situations likely contribute to your lifestyle based on where the products in the home come from and how they are made. For instance, much of the sparkly makeup used in the U.S. includes mica which comes from mines worked by children in India, as this graphic from the Web site illustrates. Slavery Footprint

Google.org is spreading some end-of-the-year cheer to about four dozen nonprofits with $40 million in grants, including recipients that are fighting to eradicate slavery.

Many of the grant recipients are typical tech world targets, such as groups that encourage students to study math, science, technology and engineering; that help girls in developing countries get education; and that use innovative technology to help people in different ways.

But this time around Google is adding another target group -- modern-day slaves, such as forced laborers in African mines and sex trafficking in the U.S. -- a situation many people don't realize is occurring today, enabled by global trade.

"Our areas of focus change from year to year," Google org spokeswoman Kate Hurowitz said in an interview about the grants. "We look for proven impact and potential to scale. This year a lot of the focus is on education, making help accessible through technology, and slavery. That is a hidden, underfunded issue where we thought we could make a difference."

Many people think slavery ended with abolition in the 19th century, but that is far from the case. There are an estimated 27 million people "who are forced to work without pay under threat of violence and who are being economically exploited and unable to walk away," Justin Dillon of Slavery Footprint said in an interview.

Slavery Footprint and two other organizations -- International Justice Mission and Polaris Project -- received a $1.8 million grant to work together to help eradicate slavery through public education, corporate social responsibility and international human rights legislation and law enforcement. International Justice Mission has provided aid to more than 9,000 people who were forced into labor or sex trafficking since 2005. Polaris Project pushes for stronger laws and runs a hotline.

From tungsten miners in the Democratic Republic of Congo and cotton pickers in Burkina Faso to workers in gold mines in Western Africa and children weaving carpets in India, much of the end product finds its way into homes in richer countries. The sad and hopeless life of child laborers working on a Burkina Faso fair trade organic cotton farm was chronicled in a recent Bloomberg article. The connection between the slave labor used to supply the product and the end user demand in the developed world is clear -- the crop that 13-year-old Clarisse Kambire spends long days picking ends up in fancy underwear sold at Victoria's Secret.

"You can't really walk out of your house in the morning without touching something made with slavery," Dillon said. To help understand the link between the everyday items people buy and the practice of slavery Slavery Footprint offers an online tool to assess how much of your lifestyle is dependent on items created using forced labor.

The idea is similar to how the green or animal welfare movements operate -- educate consumers about how their products are made and at what cost in suffering, and encourage them to pressure manufacturers and merchants to distribute and sell only ethically made products.

"The voice has to come from the marketplace, not government and not advocates," Dillon said. "We're not trying to bum anyone out. We're trying to encourage people and say you can have a part in fixing it."

The grants bring Google.org's total money given out this year to more than $100 million. Other end-of-the-year recipients include: Samasource, which is building an online platform for workers in the developing world; Switchboard, which is creating a free calling network for doctors and nurses to better communicate in Tanzania; and Mercy Corps, which focuses on disaster response, health services, and sustainable economic development. To see a list of all the grant recipients visit the Google.org site.

 

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