Did you know that there are more people in slavery now than at any time in history? Over 30 million people today have had their most basic right to freedom taken away and live under the complete control of another person. CNN has decided to take a stand against this and join the fight against modern slavery with their Freedom Project. Mike McCarthy, Senior VP on CNN International, recently spoke about the initiative at the Sustainable Brands conference and said that this was an issue whose extent not even CNN had been aware of. And if they didn’t know, then who did?
For a news outlet that prides itself on objective reporting and never taking sides, it was a big decision for CNN to start the initiative around this issue. It caused a few raised eyebrows, but ultimately they felt that using their power and reach to do something about this issue was the right thing to do. “We were ideally placed to wrestle this topic,” said McCarthy. “If we provide the context people will want to do something about it.”
There is not yet a broadly accepted definition of what modern slavery encompasses — although there are many horrible stories of abuse — not all can be considered slavery. Here is the definition CNN is using to make that determination:
Slavery occurs when one person completely controls another person, using violence or the threat of violence to maintain that control, exploits them economically, pays them nothing and they cannot walk away.
“The world is changing, and media now has a duty to effect change where we can and facilitate change on behalf of those fighting for it and the voiceless victims,” said McCarthy. CNN’s successful formula of collaboration and transparency along with their multi-platform reach is being used to show off the great work others are doing in this area and highlight challenges they face.
The program started by building internal awareness, realizing that getting their reporters and staff on board was integral to the success of the initiative. The topic is now being integrated into the regular programming, with a special focus on the business shows, using them to show not only the complexity of supply chains, but also digging into the origin — where does it all come from and was slave labor involved in any step of the making? Even something as seemingly innocent as chocolate can be slavery, as cacao is sometimes harvested by children on the Ivory Coast, an issue that is highlighted in the feature Chocolate’s Child Slaves. The aim of this is to expose the true cost of what you eat, wear, and buy. Armed with this knowledge, consumers will be able to make better choices. CNN also aims to find and showcase examples of companies that do things the right way, to show that it is possible to overcome this challenge.
McCarthy pointed out that this is not advocacy journalism, “there is a clear view that something is wrong and we need to help change.” The Freedom Project is a great example of editorial moral and how, by using social media, online groups and highlighting stories that create change, media has the power to create positive change. “The victims can’t walk away, neither will we.”
CNN Freedom Project is this week reporting from the front lines in the fight against sex trafficking — not in the poverty-stricken developing world but in affluent Orange County near Los Angeles, where prostitutes are now treated as trafficking victims rather than criminals. Slavery happens all over the world, by opening our eyes to it we can help end it.