Griffith researcher crowdfunding to combat human trafficking

Dr Abi Badejo

A Griffith University Research Fellow is calling on the public to help combat human trafficking abroad, launching a crowdfunding campaign to help survivors and other vulnerable people in Nigeria.

Dr Abi Badejo, of Social Marketing @ Griffith, is running the campaign on Pozible through her recently established initiative, Grace + Grit Social Enterprise.

The current drive is to establish a small fast-food restaurant, hosting up to four human trafficking survivors. They will be provided with infrastructure, startup funds, training and mentorship to successfully — and sustainably — operate the eatery.

Grace + Grit Social Enterprise are looking to raise $6500 to meet their needs for the project — which arose in partnership with Nigerian NGO Idia Renaissance — with pledges starting at $50. The initiative has so far raised $850 towards its goal, with just over three weeks remaining in the campaign.

Dr Badejo’s interest in tackling an issue as formidable as this stems from a genuine belief in the need for everyday people to take action against large-scale problems for the betterment of the global population.

“Philosophically, I believe that social justice is not some unattainable ideal but something really worth fighting for,” she said.

“I believe as ordinary citizens it is our moral obligation, a duty, our social responsibility to do something about such a global problem that affects millions of women, children and increasingly men.”

More specifically, she says, “the actual context of [researching] human trafficking came from one particularly unpleasant online experience in 2012”.

“I was browsing a popular Nigerian blog and I came across an article by a human trafficking survivor,” she said. “Although the story itself was disturbing, it was the comments under the story that really shook me. Comments like, ‘Liar, you’re just a common prostitute, you’re just greedy, looking for a shortcut to wealth.’

“Hardly anybody believed this girl’s story. I was genuinely confused. I could not understand how people could be so immune to such a harrowing story.

“It was then I started to think that about human trafficking not in the binary victim/perpetrator way that the media tends to position the problem but more as a complex issue involving voluntary and involuntary behaviours, and that perhaps there were nuances to the understanding and experiences of human trafficking that I could uncover through formative research that could contribute to alleviating the problem.”

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), human trafficking is the third-most lucrative illegal trade in the world, after drugs and arms trafficking. It is estimated that almost 40 million people globally are being exploited by the industry.

There are myriad factors that have led to this unchecked growth, including oppressive socioeconomic conditions, family and sociocultural influences, and a misguided belief in the emancipatory potential of human trafficking as an opportunity for employment, among others.

Grace + Grit’s mission is to disrupt human trafficking’s hold on oppressed and desperate people by providing survivors and vulnerable jobseekers with access to legitimate training and employment opportunities to directly compete with the perceived advantages of trafficking.

“These vulnerable people, though some might voluntarily enter the human trafficking industry, are still victims just not in the traditional sense of a deceived victim,” Dr Badejo said.

“Rather, they are victims of a much greater oppressor: ideology — the ideology of labour migration, and human trafficking is merely a conduit, a means to this end. Basically, they see human trafficking despite their exploitation as better than their oppressive conditions at home, because at least, they have a job!

“In reality, however, these vulnerable people are exchanging one form of oppression for another, as they are held in debt-bondage for several years and forced to work under exploitative conditions to repay enormous sums of money to their traffickers.

“Worse yet, when some of these individuals are rescued from human trafficking, they are often stigmatised and further marginalised upon return home, leaving them worse off and with little choice than to return to the familiar business of human trafficking.

“Tragically, some of these survivors become human traffickers themselves and end up recruiting other vulnerable individuals into the industry, resulting in a vicious cycle of oppression and false consciousness.”

Dr Badejo launched Grace + Grit Social Enterprise in November last year in Brisbane, at a seminar held by the Australian Association of Social Marketing.

The enterprise is centred on five key initiatives, providing trafficking survivors and other vulnerable people with new business incubators — such as the fast-food restaurant project — as well as capacity-building scholarships and a job-matching platform.

Rounding out its core tenets, Grace + Grit has also created the Stargirl Family Foundation sponsor charity to keep families together and reduce the need for child fostering which is another drive or human trafficking, and the Grace + Grit Shop, which helps keeps the lights on at this important enterprise.

Grace + Grit grew out of Dr Badejo’s four-year PhD at Griffith, during which she researched human trafficking with the aim of generating multistream insights to better inform policy-making and program-building decisions to tackle the insidious problem.

“I believe that Grace + Grit’s Social Enterprise’s mission to empower a million vulnerable people is a tiny drop in the ocean but it is enough to create a ripple and is worth striving for,” Dr Badejo said.

“Plus, given that virtually every country in the world is affected by human trafficking, even right here in Australia, human trafficking not only needs to be at the forefront of our collective consciousness, it also needs collective action — starting with my Pozible campaign.”

See more about Dr Badejo’s crowdfunding project here.

To find out more about Grace + Grit’s initiatives, visit its website.