Somewhere in New York, a small get together took place in a young woman’s loft. 15 to 20 friends gathered to discuss what the movers and shakers of the city were up to. One night someone who ran a charity spoke. Another night, someone who served at war spoke. The conversations could be on anything, as long as it was in some way philanthropic, cutting edge, or involved forward thinking. With topics so much larger than any one individual, the audience only grew. When it got up to 150 people, the young woman said she had to stop. The party didn’t have to stop, but it couldn’t stay in the loft.
Now, 5 years later, the party is going strong with 20,000+ people collaborating on social impact worldwide. Anything you do to make the world a better place, they'll help you expand the impact. This phenomenon, is known as Party For a Purpose LLC, founded by MJ Kronfeld, who is also Founding Co-Chair of The Nexus Working Group on Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery. In between the "partying", she earned her PHD(ABD) in the Global Affairs Program at Rutgers University. Work hard, to play hard, right? How does one woman take so much on? Sure, a few things clue us in that she doesn't do it all alone. After speaking with her one on one, I can tell you she knows when to say no, and when to ask for more.
When Millennial Magazine asked MJ to write an article about modern slavery, she said, "Unfortunately, one article isn't gonna cut it." Instead, she and Molly Mintz, creator of Pull This Off and Director of Development at PFAP, teamed up to write a 10 article series, revealing the topic to be far too complex for just one story.
It was only a few paragraphs into their first article, "Modern Slavery: Our Greatest Secret, Our Greatest Threat", that I realized, even if it could be told in one story, I wanted to read more from the authors. The writing style holds a certain grace, making the difficult appear easy. Personally, I find writing about modern slavery to be much more difficult than reading about it. That's just me.
Bringing awareness to violations of Human Rights, as defined by The United Nations, is a major part of why I created Hunting for Chocolate. This project exists today because I truly believe in bringing people together. Chocolate is the medium. I thought, why not engage my readers to explore these issues beyond the cocoa and sugar industries? Why not explore these issues beyond the ingredients of our medium?
When I asked MJ and Molly if I could interview them for my blog, they both said yes. It worked out that only MJ would be interviewed, as Molly was traveling. In the process of putting my questions together, I realized, I was familiar with some of her work already, but I knew nothing about Millennial Magazine. Something about the word millennial bothered me: the concept is polarized.
I often hear millennial used as a derogatory buzzword, describing the offspring of Baby Boomers, (young people born approximately between the years 1980-2000) as self-serving, career hobbyists, raised without responsibility, deemed hopelessly helpless. Born in the eighties myself, having served my country at age 18 voluntarily and happily in wartime (and for years after), this slack isn't what I want to be associated with.
In sharp contrast, Brit Hysen, visionary of Millennial Magazine, lists the core characteristics of a millennial mindset as, "A globally connected, entrepreneurially-spirited, socially conscious, eco-friendly, and experience driven generation." These are the traits of our unsung heroes. These are the traits of people I want to hear more about, and more from, millennial or not. Introducing you to their heartfelt stories and the community that embraces their ideas is my way of raising their voice, just as their actions give voice to the cause, to the missing, to those silent not by will—but by entrapment—in crisis.
From West African cocoa farms, to Thai fishing boats, to silent vows of child marriage, more lives than ever before in global history are enslaved. We cannot afford to look the other way. Before we can take action effectively, we must educate ourselves.
So, where to begin? Take a deep breath, and remember, small acts for big results. Ease your way in. Here. Now. In the following interview, MJ shares what led her to dedicate her life to others, and the small steps we can all take to make a difference. It's the little things.
Name: MJ Kronfeld
Hometown: New York, New York
Words to live by: “And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.” –The Talmud
How did you and Molly meet?
Molly is my oldest niece’s best friend. I have 6 nieces and nephews. The oldest one is Lily. She lives in Denver (her best friend since Kindergarten is Molly). Molly moved to New York to study journalism at The New School, and asked if she could intern for me at my company Party For a Purpose. I said, “Absolutely.”
What brought you to collaborate in your 10 article series for Millennial Magazine?
I took her on, and thought she’d just do little things for me around the office. She wound up being—she is—an incredible writer. And an incredible thinker. I literally came to depend on her and her perspective on my work. She really got it. She really got the importance of “Do good”, and “Make an impact in the world.” I do a lot of work with Human trafficking and modern slavery. She was very much involved in what I was doing.
“One thing you learn about the movement is, nobody wakes up one day and says, “I want to learn about slavery”, or, “I care about slavery.”
When the opportunity arose to write these articles, I said to her, “Here’s your moment to shine. You want to be a journalist. You care about this issue. Between us we have plenty of resources to make this article series amazing…”
She just ran with it. So that’s how it worked out.
Why a 10 article series instead of 1? What can readers anticipate?
I'm so glad you asked that. A friend of ours at Nexus reached out to me and she said, "I want you to meet Brit who runs Millennial Magazine." The introducer was doing a huge feature on a survivor of sex trafficking, and said they were interested on learning more about the issue; "Would you be willing to write an article about it for their community?"
I said, "Unfortunately, a single article’s not gonna cut it."
Millennial Magazine said, "Why?"
I said, "I can’t talk about sex trafficking, sex slavery, Bonded Labor, child soldiering, Forced Labor, agricultural farm work slavery, you know, in a hundred word piece. What I’d be willing to do, if you let me, is put together a piece on every major slave issue, bring people together, get original interviews and features on every single one, and then explain to your community how they can work with us to end slavery."
And they said, "Sure. Why not? Go do it!" That is what we are doing now.
You've done a lot of work supporting efforts against modern slavery. When did you first learn about modern slavery? What got you so passionate about this issue?
It’s an important question. One thing you learn about the movement is, nobody wakes up one day and says, “I want to learn about slavery”, or, “I care about slavery.” Everyone’s slavery story starts the same way: “Something happened, I learned about it, I was outraged, and it changed my life.” Mine was a longer state of indoctrination. It was an integral part of my entire education since I have exclusively studied national security. We did a lot of studying of human trafficking, national security issues, and national security threats.
When I was teaching at Rutgers, it was one of the major threats I would tell my students about. If you can smuggle people across the border, those people can be carrying drugs, guns, weapons of mass destruction— so to me I was aware of the issue of human trafficking, but exclusively from a national security perspective.
Then, it was the Nexus Peace summit. As a member of the Nexus Peace Summit, the founders reached out to me and said, “We would like to do something that would enable us to bring our entire team together, to cart-ware on the issue of slavery. Would you help us host a dinner for our membership in NY to talk about this issue?” So I took on the issue because I knew a little bit about it. I set up this big dinner of about 50 people (The Jeffersonian found dinner). I had to make contact with leaders of the industry. I had to recruit table facilitators. I had to learn more about the topic from the perspective of a philanthropic non-profit movement, not a national security issue.
“I’m far more a part of continuing slavery than I even knew.”
I was amazed. I met these incredible people doing work that I was completely unaware of. They really looked at trafficking in a way that I never thought of before. There was sex trafficking. Domestic labor servitude. Child soldiering. Child marriage. There were so many different forms. My head started bowing. It’s not just about people crossing borders and bringing drugs and guns. This is an issue far more effective, that I’m far more involved with in terms of my purchasing decisions in how I eat, what I wear, to the places that I travel. I’m far more a part of continuing slavery than I even knew.
“When I met somebody, who had experienced this in the flesh— when I spoke to them, when I held them, when I held their hand, and I heard them tell me their story— that was it for me. Done.”
The final nail on the head for me was, I met my first survivor. Her name is Shandra Woworuntu. She’s a very famous activist who was sold into sex slavery and brought to America. When I met somebody, who had experienced this in the flesh— when I spoke to them, when I held them, when I held their hand, and I heard them tell me their story— that was it for me. Done.
As a Jew, whose family has gone through the Holocaust and were killed, (The Holocaust you can re-imagine as years of enslavement of Jewish people across Europe) I thought, this is going to continue to happen. We cannot allow these things to happen.
Meeting Shandra changed my life. I decided to spend the rest of my life dedicated to making sure women like Shandra, and boys and girls as well would not continue to suffer.
Which form of modern slavery do you think has gained the most attention?
Sex trafficking. That’s where the most attention is laid. It’s becoming a vehicle to get people involved in slavery, and I think that’s great. But even when you hear about sex trafficking, people say, “Oh you mean over there. You know, the girls in the brothels in Mumbai—”
I say, “No. I’m talking about the girl in Times Square right now who’s selling her body because if she doesn’t someone is going to kill her. That girl is a slave. That girl is a victim of human trafficking.”
We definitely need to work harder at shifting the needle, making the domestic conversation as big as it is international.
Which form of modern slavery do you perceive to be the most shocking or overlooked?
I don’t think that one can be more shocking than the other.
“Trying to weigh different people’s sadness, depression, or loss— you can’t do that, because, everyone’s experience is so unique to themselves.”
I don’t think the plight of a child’s life is any less important than the plight of a Chinese man warrant who had been trafficked to a Western tourist —because he happens to be in prison— or the Indian woman that works twenty hours a day in a kiln. Trying to weigh different people’s sadness, or depression, or loss— you can’t do that, because, everyone’s experience is so unique to themselves.
What I do think are very major and under reported issues are child marriage, and child soldiering. People don’t think about child marriage and child soldiers as a form of slavery. I believe that those are the two spaces. It’s difficult to imagine that is an issue under legal definition. And it is.
So, when people hear of sex trafficking and slavery, they’re starting to get that. Bonded Labor, Thai fishing boats, and Indian kilns are forms of slavery. It’s easy to imagine. It’s much harder to imagine a child’s life in Pakistan, Yemen, even right here in the United States.
Until we really start referring to child soldiers and child brides (whether they are boys or girls) as slaves, we’re not going to make any impact. I would never detract from one form to another because its all interconnected. We can’t just choose one, or look at one, but I do worry the most about those two. There are a lot of activists out there, but not a lot of programs. There isn’t a lot of funding invested in them. That's where it's thought that a lot of problems are.
If only one lesson, what do you want to share with others about modern slavery?
Every single decision you make, every single moment of the day has an impact on slaves somewhere in the world.
“There are 46 million slaves”, that’s a global estimate. We don’t know how many slaves there are. Slaves don’t raise their hands to be counted. You don’t say, “I’m trafficked.”
We need people to realize that every single product they eat, they wear, they buy, (whatever it is) there is slavery embedded in the supply chain. Think about this when you shop: think about slaves when you use any single product, whether it's soap or shampoo, and the way you can fix that is to make conscious purchasing decisions.
Where you choose your fish from makes a serious impact on the lives of children from Thai villages, who are stuck on boats until they die.
Tomatoes! Where you buy your tomatoes counts! Farmers in this country are enslaved. It's happening all across the border. It's happening all across California. On our nation's farms! The tomato movie that just came out that my friend made, Food Chains, exposes the truth of our farm workers for what it is.
“I feel as a human being, that its my responsibility to buy that tomato that might be a few more pennies more, or a dollar, because I’m ensuring the life of somebody else is held as sacred as my own."
What I’ve come to believe in the past years I’ve been in this fight, is the only way this is going to stop is if the consumer demands that its over. They’re gonna force companies to be transparent. People worldwide are willing to get together. Its gonna take time. Its gonna be a process. Purchase thoughtfully. Be a conscious consumer. Products are going to be more expensive. The prices will drop over time.
What advice do you have for someone on a strict budget who wants to purchase ethically sourced goods?
That’s a tough question. I would never judge somebody’s life choices. For me personally, it’s about my conscience. When I shop for a student, there are only a couple of markets that I shop at because I know they are Fair Trade. I feel as a human being, that it’s my responsibility to buy that tomato that might be a few more pennies more, or a dollar, because I’m ensuring the life of somebody else is held as sacred as my own. If you can’t afford to live that way, I understand. I do. I’m not saying that everyone needs to get involved in every fight that there is.
I would just say to people, look at your conscience, and see if there aren’t ways that you can make your own purchasing decision. You don’t have to do everything at once. Start with your tomato. Start with your clothing. Start with your coffee. Coffee is an easy one to start with. Ask your local barista where their beans are from. That's a good place to start. That to me was how I did it. I made one change in how I shop and I realized that change was important enough to influence my shopping decisions. Power and uplift, rather than enslave.
Of course, I have to ask, do you have a favorite kind of chocolate?
I love all sweets. I'm not gonna lie. If I'm gonna choose a favorite kind of chocolate, I love dark chocolate. Maybe because it's bittersweet.
“Every single decision you make, every single moment of the day has an impact on slaves somewhere in the world.”
Don't miss the 10 article series! Read the first 2 here:
Discover your personal slavery footprint. Take the survey here: http://slaveryfootprint.org/
Connect with your local social and legal services for human trafficking victims and survivors, and get involved with training and volunteer opportunities. (U.S. and its territories only) http://traffickingresourcecenter.org/
Watch the trailer to the film Food Chains, featuring Eric Schlosser and Eva Longoria at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lqZLrXVAde4#action=share For more about the film visit http://www.foodchainsfilm.com/
#endslaverynow Join the conversation using this hashtag on social media.
Small acts for big results: Help bring awareness to the issues by sharing these images: