Slavery/human trafficking tourism

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A couple of weeks ago, I came across an "international human rights organisation" by the name of Global Exchange. They organise something called "reality tours". In their own words, reality tours "offer participants an opportunity to journey to other countries to examine a situation first-hand, to see beyond what is communicated by the mass media". There are about 100 of these tours every year to places like Mexico, Cuba and India. One of the tours caught my eye: "Cambodia: Delegation to End Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking."

In essence, this is a trip to Cambodia to see first-hand the work of NGOs involved in projects related to slavery and human trafficking. One line in the trip's description raised alarm bells with me:

Participants will meet with those who have been freed from slavery and learn what it means to rebuild one's life after having been a victim of trafficking.

Looking at the itinerary, it also looked as if participants on the trip will meet vulnerable children, which is a big no-no, especially if there aren't any kind of child-protection policies in place, which there don't appear to be.

Is this voyeurism? Is it taking the concept of a reality tour too far? Does it dehumanise victims of slavery and human trafficking and turn them into novelty attractions, on display so people can spend $2,000 to have an "experience".

Or is this a valid form of cultural exchange? Does it help raise awareness of serious, neglected issues? Do the victims slavery and human trafficking benefit in some way?

I was unable to answer any of these questions myself, so I got in touch with Global Exchange to delve a little deeper. Here's what they had to say to my questions:

What do the victims of slavery/human trafficking who the people on the tour will meet get out of the experience?

From our perspective we are running public education tours that seek to educate and inspire people to get involved. Each itinerary to every destination, seeks to maximize a participant's exposure the history and culture of the unique country we are visiting. On each of our delegations on this issue we highlight the stories and experiences of individual groups and organizations that are working literally in the streets and on the borders to hear from them about the issue, the challenges, the successes, the struggles. We also visit with health care and hospice providers, legal teams, vocational training centers, educational institutions and even meet with IGO and governmental representatives to assess the complexities in country.

Thus while the delegates traveling learn and link, the groups and folks we meet with share their story. We also give NGO donations for their time, we try to also eat lunch and dinner at organizationally supporting restaurants. Reality Tours runs only socially responsible tours. That is of course ethical but it is also good, alternative travel business. We make sure that the majority of the funds folks pay us goes to the local and national economy.

Thus we use hotels that are locally owned OR that have signed ECPAT’s Code (FYI Global exchange is a signatory too).

We hire folks locally to guide us and transport. Our program officer for Cambodia and Thailand is Boreth Sun. On our Blog you can see a bit about his thoughts on his work with us.

Also when we partner with Not For Sale as most of these tours do. $300 per person is budgeted for donations. Plus when folks get back as you can see from the toolkit we try to facilitate their way into activism. This is what personally and professionally compels me to do this work (with Global Exchange, with Ecpat, with NFS and also with MISSSEY locally.) I know that folks get involved on their own , with GX or also with NFS. They have chapters in every state and folks engage in the academy, with their forums, and legistlation. But we also forward other resources to our delegates like CAST if they are in LA for example.

What does the organization we are visiting get? Again it depends. Each varies. Yet if I take an example like the Recycled Child Project, I remember following up personally with Alexandra and I learned that from my visit with 9 pax, that 1 had donated the laptops she had wanted to build up her capicity for her community (young men and boys), one a social worker had come to work as a volunteer long term, and 2 from Australia organized and invited her to do a faith based speaking and fundraising tour.

Will people on the tour be meeting vulnerable children? If so, what positive outcomes will there be for the children from the meetings?

We do not interview children or take pictures of the children that are in treatment facilities either. We are clear in the orientation meeting that the pax always have to ask to take pics and they can’t use any of minors publically. Yes folks do meet facilities where there are kids. I remember myself doing so on many occasions but the meeting is usually with the director of the facility and others there. At times the kids or youth are there, there is exchange yes. Sometimes we eat together, play soccer, see them preform, etc. but again we are not there alone or unsupervised.

We have our code of conduct and the tour is facilitated. During the pre trip conference call and during the orientation meeting the participants are reminded of our code and well if there are issues it is the person leading (Boreth) that has to monitor any disprespectful behavior (rare but it can happen).

Do you have any kind of child-protection policies in place? Is there any kind of vetting people must go through to be able to go on the tour and meet these vulnerable groups?

I must say that the people that are attracted to GX are usually a pretty smart, sophisticated and curious lot. We are a human rights organization and thus there is a high degree of self selection/attraction. We have a lot of students and academics that join and thus there is a base knowledge base most are coming with. People do of course apply to come and pay. I cannot honestly say that we do a 100% job vetting. We however do our due diligence to best manage the expectations of our delegates. If someone was frankly totally unsuited to join or disrepespectful on the registration form we would not accept them.

Where, broken down item by item, does the $2,000 fee for the tour go?

For a 10 day tour this is our usually framework:

  • $350 stays at Reality Tours this is our admin cost for salary, rent, processing funds, etc. plus $50 tax donation to Global Exchange
  • $300 Donations in country to ngos
  • $250 for our program officer cost to set u the tour, lead it and join it (usually $100 a day to set it ups, 150 to lead) or $2000-3000 per trip
  • $20 a day for meals or about $200 (with daily water)
  • Then we budget about $40 a night for hotel and $40 for transport per day or another $800
  • $50 for other incidentals, like honoraria, entrance fees (museums) tips etc.

How many people will be on the trip?

6-12 pax usually. 16 is group max.

Which specific NGOs, groups, rescue centres, organisations, etc. will the tour be visiting?

Each trip varies a bit but I will send you an itinerary but you can ask for others too.

I certainly appreciate Global Exchange getting back to me on this one, but there are still a few areas of concern, for me at least. The vetting process is not as thorough as it could be. I'm also still unconvinced of the long-term value of the exercise for the people the participants come into contact with. I just don't know if this kind of trip really serves any useful purpose, but I'm open to being proved wrong. I'm not saying it's all bad, but I'm still sceptical.

I'm wondering if readers here have any thoughts on this matter.

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One thought on “Slavery/human trafficking tourism

  1. "We are a human rights organization and thus there is a high degree of self selection/attraction."
    Naive? self-serving? something worse?

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