“Before it was just women who were poor,” she says. “Now it’s women who are educated — lawyers, teachers, graduates — because their education has no value. They don’t get a decent income to provide for their family, but feel they are the ones responsible for providing food and [so they] take the risk of going to places like Saudi Arabia, China, Thailand.”
Whether they go abroad or move within Burma, many end up particularly vulnerable to human traffickers because they don’t know how to protect themselves, says Ohnmar Ei Ei Chaw, national project director of the UN’s anti-trafficking unit in Burma. In many cases, this is because victims often fall prey to family members, like Chit Htet, or to neighbors working on behalf of agents.
Walk Free aims to change that by making businesses a safer place for employees. Founded by mining tycoon Andrew Forrest, the charity is calling on the world’s largest companies to pledge zero tolerance of slavery.
As one of the partners of MTV Exit (End Exploitation and Trafficking), the group organized a concert in Rangoon on Dec. 16 in partnership with USAID, AUSAID, ASEAN and the Burmese government to raise awareness about human trafficking. Videos reenacting trafficking situations were played on large-screen TVs, and speakers, including the US Ambassador to Burma Derek Mitchell, asked the crowd to “promise never to trust anyone who promises you an offer that sounds too good to be true.”
“Business has always been a key driver of social change, shaping modern life through innovation and new technology,” Walk Free says. “If corporate giants — 25 of the world’s top businesses whose net worth makes up US$5 trillion — prioritize the abolition of modern slavery as their next major innovation, we could quickly deal a major blow to the slavery industry in this generation.”
Those targeted by the group include Google, Apple, Microsoft, HSBC and Coca-Cola.
While Walk Free and the Burmese government are still in the initial phases of the agreement, the NGO is calling on the experiences of victims like Chit Htet to help raise awareness about trafficking — by identifying where to place posters, billboards and hotlines in trafficking hotspots in Burma and surrounding countries.
“We [survivors] should be going to communities where there is trafficking and talking about our experiences,” Chit Htet and other survivors recently told Forrest. “So we can show them we are not different — we are just like them.”
(Editor’s note: The Guardian newspaper prefers to retain the designations Burma and Rangoon when writing about the country.)