My head has been aching something terrible since I found out about this story last night. I think it is the combination of facepalming and headdesking that I have been doing every time I read what went down in 1 Million Shirts-ville over the last two days. I came down hard on 1 MillionShirts’ original idea of donating a million used T-shirts to Africa almost a month ago. Along the purposes of this blog, I was especially concerned about female cotton farmers and the effect that such excessive After that fiasco, the men of 1MillionShirts held something of a Twitter/telephone conference with concerned aid professionals and media personnel (Check out the Time Magazine writeup here) in what seemed like an attempt at trying to come to mutual understanding about a new way forward for the project. It really looked like the men were sincere about taking the project in a new direction with increased collaboration from individuals who have had years of experience in Africa, aid, and development.
Yours truly was also featured in an E-Book by @gkofiannan over at Annansi.com.
Through the magic of Twitter, I happened upon a disturbing new development at 1millionshirts. Here is a Google snapshot of the page as it appeared a couple of days ago. It has now been taken down.
Basically, Jason Sadler of 1 Million Shirts posted that his organization would be working with a man under the pseudonym of “Bob”. Meet “Bob”!
“Bob” met with the men of 1 Million Shirts in Colorado. “Bob” is risking his life by talking about what he does. What he does is super secret. Like, James Bond secret. Like, Vatican secret. Like Deodorant Secret. Well maybe not deodorant, because this story smells from the jump. “Bob” reveals that he is in the business of buying children under the age of 11-12 in some non-specific place where brown people live country and attempts to reunite them with their parents and rehabilitate them. The children are often sold into prostitution or as labor. He claims to have saved 2,000 children in ten years.
The men of 1 Million shirts were so touched by this story that they want to help him. They say:
“It may not sound like much to give Bob t-shirts, but he told us he wants them and they’ll help. We can also use the $1 bills that get donated to help fund his operations. There’s no way we can say no to someone like Bob, and we hope you see the value and importance of 1MillionShirts to help people like him.”
Remember, the men of 1 Million shirts have never traveled to Africa. They are pledging to help a man who traffics children, and it is likely most of them are young girls. There are no details, no transparency. How are we sure that this man is legitimate? How can you be sure he is not involved in criminal activity? Would you imagine donating money to a man who participates in drug running, hangs around drug dealers and users, but claims to “help the hood” without any concrete proof?
I have no words for this. Wait, I’m a blogger. Of course I have words.
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, expect a long and angry blog post.
Point blank, when you are dealing with the lives of innocent children who are the most vulnerable population on Earth, a lack of due diligence on the people you are attempting to “save” and the situation you think you will help is tantamount to showing utter disrespect for the victims, and legitimate anti-trafficking advocates. Regardless of if the story is real, it plumbs the depth of sheer recklessness to publicly post such a “story” to advance the cause of an idea that was questionable in the first place.
I am not an expert on human-trafficking. But allow me to be a member of the peripheral chorus onlooking this Greek tragedy, with the men of 1millionshirts attempting to play the heroes.
Besides the fact that this story was posted with no details, no fact checking, and therefore little accountabilty, there is another reason why the subject of human trafficking is sensitive to me: The coming of the World Cup to Africa.
As pretty much everyone knows, Africa is preparing to host the World Cup Games in South Africa next month. Many organizations fear that the games will increase the already problematic child trafficking problem there. The influx of foreign visitors and money is no doubt an attractive feeding pool for those who enslave children into the prostitution circuit. The AIDS and HIV epidemic has been exacerbated by human trafficking circuits, and contributes to the exploitation of children and women. This practice leads to the exact problems of poverty that 1MillionShirts was attempting to solve in the first place. Human trafficking is not meant to be trivialized. It is modern day slavery that affects the economic standing of many women and children in poverty.
Just today, Jason Sadler posted an apology. He states, “I kindly ask that you accept my second apology for making uneducated and uninformed decisions.” The sincerity of his apology was undermined though, by now edited previous blog post in which he complained about negative people attacking his desires to do good things. Right, Jason. Because it is about how YOU feel, and not realizing the potentially damaging course of action you are taking.
All I can say is, do your research. These men claim to be investors/entrepreneurs, but do I trust the leaders of an organization that have twice refused to invest in educating themselves? Research is hard work. It takes time. It takes energy. It takes examining the blinders that Western privilege confers upon you. It takes confronting the truth of your own ignorance. But it is through the labor of informed research that great initiatives can be birthed. Passion and drive alone cannot overcome ignorance. Passion without information is like accelerating a car with either the parking brake on or the car in reverse gear. You’ll either go nowhere, or full speed in the wrong direction. 1Millionshirts is a car going full speed in the wrong direction. If you are looking for a mature, responsible organization with a proven track record to help people, and a willingness to do due diligence, 1Millionshirts is not your answer.
Please, as always, leave comments, and information and links about human trafficking, or links to organizations that people can donate to that actually get things done in Africa.