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Combating Human Trafficking with Social Business

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Americans typically view slavery as a disturbing relic from the past. The antebellum south and even activity north of the Mason Dixon line is looked upon as a historical period; which will not be repeated due to changes in laws and culture. Chattel slavery may have been abolished in 1865, but contemporary forms of slavery continue to thrive throughout the world, including here in the United States. There are more enslaved people in today's world than ever before. Under chattel slavery, owning a slave was an investment. Enslaved people were valuable commodities, worth approximately one years salary to their owners. Todays slaves, or human trafficking victims, are often bought and sold for less than $100.

Slavery did not die; it simply evolved in order to meet the needs of globalization. The struggle against modern slavery needs new solutions. Efforts like the recently launched United Nations Trust Fund for Victims of Human Trafficking continue to serve a meaningful purpose. However, civil society cannot exclusively depend upon traditional nonprofit organizations to protect and serve trafficking victims and those who are vulnerable to trafficking. Abolitionists and their methods must evolve. Investments in social businesses that support human trafficking victims provide sustainable solutions that can turn former slaves into entrepreneurs.

When Alissa Moore and Diana Mao were compelled to help impoverished trafficking victims in Cambodia they decided to utilize a social business model. The women decided against the traditional not for profit route, opting instead to design a business plan that would create sustainable job opportunities for women in Southeast Asia. According to Moore the goal of the organization is to leverage the market place to create jobs for survivors of trafficking. "We realized that the luxury market could be used to create a cycle of economic prosperity for poor families" stated Moore. Moore and Mao entered their plan into New York University's Stern School of Business proposal competition. They did not win the competition, but the resulting proposal laid the groundwork for Nomi Network.

Incorporated in 2009, Nomi Network markets and distributes handbags that are made by women who are at risk, or are survivors of sex trafficking. Operating under the tag line "Buy Her Bag, Not Her Body;" Nomi Network strives to connect fashionable consumers with altruistic products. "The proceeds of the sales go back toward our efforts with the women to ensure that they are getting good training and fair wages" said Moore about the venture. Nomi Network partners with a manufacturer in Cambodia that provides the women who make the bags with fair wages, health care, transportation to and from work and child care. Nomi Network is working to be a competitor in the fashion industry as it seeks to educate consumers about the realities of contemporary slavery and provide trafficking victims with meaningful employment. The organization adopted its name from a real survivor of sex trafficking in Cambodia named Nomi.

The success of a social business is measured by its impact upon the social problem that it was created to address, not its ability to create revenue for shareholders.

Nobel Peace Prize winner, Muhammad Yunus spearheaded the modern concept of social businesses. Social business investors only recoup their initial investment; future dividends are reinvested into the company. According to Yunus, "the capacity of the poor to make productive contributions on their own behalf and to benefit the entire society has rarely been recognized." Social businesses allow the poor to take a proactive role in their journey from vulnerability to stability. Poverty is the trait that is most common amongst trafficking victims. Social businesses have the potential to empower trafficking victims, and those who are vulnerable to trafficking through increased self-reliance.

Non-governmental organizations do admirable work on behalf of human trafficking victims and a host of other important causes, but the traditional charity model tends to deepen dependency rather than enhance autonomy. It is rare for a charity to announce that they have solved the issue at hand; their services are no longer needed and they are going home. Enough progress is made on an issue to continue to attract donations, but no organization seems eager to perform so well that they work themselves out of a job. To the contrary, the success of a social business is the success of all involved. The concept is particularly relevant to trafficking victims because social businesses can help them to hone a skill, develop a product and create a market place so that they can earn reliable income. Access to sustainable income through a social business creates financial independence for trafficking victims and their dependents. Social businesses empower the poor to help themselves.