Nomi Network Advisor on CNN

Siddharth Kara is a Carr Center Fellow on Human Trafficking at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and the author of the book, Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery. He is also member of Nomi Network's advisory board.

We interviewed Kara in early July 2010, just prior to his departure on a research trip to Asia, Africa, and Latin America, for his next two books on human trafficking. CNN International contacted Kara about documenting his trip through South Asia, as part of their show, "Connect the World." We are thrilled to share portions of our private interview with Kara in parallel to his journalistic work. Read Siddharth’s introductory blog article here and follow his progress via twitter @siddharthkara.

From reading your first book, we can see that you have a beautiful sense of right and wrong, with a resolve to fight injustice. We’ve read about your experience as a volunteer at a refugee camp in Bosnia, but apart from that, where does your moral resolve come from?

In some ways, I’m a little bit different from other folks doing this [anti-trafficking] work. In that this really isn’t my job or career. For other people you may read about who are working in this space and are well known, it’s kind of the way they make a living, and in my mind that can corrupt your motivation. And [modern slavery] is perceived as a new field, so there is much more opportunity to make a name for one’s self. It’s harder to do that with poverty or gender. There are giants, heavyweights, who have been doing those things for decades. Modern slavery inquiry or analysis—that field is 10-15 years old. So there is an opportunity to make a new name and career as a new entrant because everyone’s a new entrant. And so that dynamic has, I think, been a detriment to the movement—where you have this opportunity to make a name and a career rather than actually sit down and do the analysis.

So why did I give you that long, important divergence? The question was what motivates me? It’s important for me to say that what motivates me is not my career. It’s not how I earn a living. This is something that I do on the side, with as much energy and resources and passion and dedication as I can and applying whatever mind I’ve been granted. Whether it’s a good one or a mediocre one is for others to decide.

But I do it because there is something that I find, in particular in my experience as an Indian, inherently difficult to ignore about stunted human potential. And what that means is there are hundreds of millions of people in the part of the world where I come from who, for any number of reasons, will never be able to move beyond just daily scraping by. Of course that’s true of other continents as well, other parts of the world, and even here. But they look like me. I saw them when I was a kid. And my life was very different. I went back to America where I had a nice home, got an education and had all these opportunities and potentials presented to me. Who knows what those individuals could accomplish with law degrees and business degrees, and food?

Exploitation of labor in particular is one of the things that keep people exceedingly stunted in their human potential. Labor is the opportunity to generate resources and assets that provide you with education and health care opportunities, generation after generation. And if that is taken from you, if the value of that is taken from you and appropriated by someone else, then this is an exceedingly pernicious crime. I don’t see it as this, “Oh dear, slavery! How terrible and morally abhorrent!” Yes it is, but what does it really mean? This is what it really means-- it means a swath of the human spectrum has limited, stunted, or negated potential for the fullness of life, for themselves and for those who come after them. Its not just forced labor, but that forced labor is just a small piece of the overall broader spectrum of exploited labor. There’s this facile fixation on slavery. Again, people are making names for themselves out of this charged word. However, it’s really only a small piece of an entire phenomenon of hundreds of millions of people stuck in situations of exploited labor. Its mildest form is just slightly lower wage sweatshops. At the other extreme is a ten year-old who is beaten and forced to work, and that’s his life.

~By Stephen Bauer and Alissa Moore


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