Tears of Gold is on exhibit in Grace Farms’ Library from January 11 – 27; on January 25, Grace Farms will host a discussion between Rose Thomas and Prince Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, President and CEO of the International Peace Institute and former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Since our founding in October 2015, addressing human trafficking and other injustices, including gender-based violence, and forced labor through our Design for Freedom has been part of our humanitarian mission. Early on, the United Nations University (UNU) convened a two-day workshop at Grace Farms, bringing together experts, not-for-profits, and other sectors to discuss the issue of human trafficking in conflict zones.
The recommendations were published in the report, Fighting Human Trafficking in Conflict: 10 Ideas for Action by the United Nations Security Council, and presented at the UN Headquarters in New York City. The report resulted in the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2331, which condemns all instances of trafficking in persons in areas affected by armed conflicts.
Design for Freedom Movement
Since then, Grace Farms has introduced new initiatives including Design for Freedom, a global movement of industry leaders and experts who are committed to eliminating forced labor in the built environment, one of the most at-risk industrial sectors for forced labor. Some of most common building materials such as brick, steel, and stone, are among the top materials that are at risk of being made with forced labor. On any given day, there are nearly 28 million held in forced labor, often working in hazardous and inhumane working conditions against their will.
“Dismantling the vast criminal industry of forced labor and human trafficking is a complex and gigantic task that requires action at all points in the supply chain. We believe the construction sector is uniquely positioned to create an ethical shift in the market.” – Sharon Prince
The U.S. recognizes two primary forms of trafficking: forced labor and sex trafficking. Human trafficking often happens in plain sight. Forms of trafficking can involve sex trafficking in “which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion” or the “recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery,” according to the U.S. Department of State.
The estimated number of people involved in trafficking increased by 12% between 2016 and 2021. “Poverty, environmental destruction, structural racism and discrimination, and gender and economic inequity persist as underlying drivers of human trafficking around the globe,” according to the not-for-profit Polaris.
Of these interrelated causes, climate change is emerging as a growing threat because it’s forcing people to migrate from their homes in search of work and better living conditions. The International Organization for Migration (IOM), in a 2016 report The Climate Change-Human Trafficking Nexus, called out the link between climate change and human trafficking. “The impact of climate change, however, is rarely considered as a potential contributor to human trafficking in global discussions or national level policy frameworks, and the nexus remains relatively underexplored.” 
Human Trafficking and Climate Change
Since then, more reports and organizations have acknowledged the connection. There is an “inextricable connection between climate change, migration, and human trafficking,” according to the University of Nottingham Rights Lab. The report focused on Bangladesh and border regions with India, regions impacted by changing climate including cyclones, drought, floods, and extreme heat.
The University found that over 88% of households in Bangladesh and 61% in India reported that their livelihoods were impacted by climate change. Over a third of households had to migrate from their homes in search of better living conditions and livelihoods. Often taking well-known migration routes, traffickers can more easily exploit the vulnerable, promising work and better livelihoods in other regions and countries.
The Bangladesh government estimates that on average 700,000 people have been displaced each year over the previous decade due to natural disasters, according to the U.S. Department of State’s 2023 Trafficking in Persons Report.
The former UK prime minister Theresa May, who now heads the Global Commission on Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking, said at this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos that governments are failing to properly tackle slavery and human trafficking. “Conflict, the pandemic, the impact of climate change increase vulnerability to it. At the same time governments are taking their attention off it.”
Tear of Gold Exhibit
These crimes often happen without the public knowing. As a result, putting a “face” on trafficking is challenging. But British author, artist, and human rights activist Hannah Rose Thomas, has being using art to give “voice to the voiceless,” who teaches women to paint their self-portraits.
Tears of Gold is on exhibit in Grace Farms’ Library from January 11–27; on January 25, Grace Farms will host a discussion between Rose Thomas and Prince Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, President and CEO of the International Peace Institute and former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. The discussion will center on themes of war and injustice as well as humanity and resilience.
Prince Al Hussein, who wrote the preference of the book, said Rose Thomas “captures the authority within each survivor perfectly and beautifully.” Hannah’s portraits have been shown at the International Peace Institute in New York, UK Houses of Parliament, and The Saatchi Gallery. Hannah’s paintings of Yazidi women were chosen by HM King Charles III for his exhibition Prince & Patron in Buckingham Palace in 2018.
Stories that Hannah Thomas illuminates happen all over the world including the United States. In a first-person account highlighted in the U.S. State Department’s 2023 Trafficking in Persons Report, Harold Henry D’Souza, Co-Founder, Eyes Open International and Survivor Advocate, shared his survivor’s journey. Looking for a better job to support his family, he accepted a job in the United States in 2003 on an H-1B visa as a Business Development Manager, expecting a $75,000 per-year salary with benefits.
“The day I landed in the United States, I learned I had been manipulated, tricked, and trapped. My wife and I were forced to work in a restaurant. My kids were 7 and 4 years old,” he said. He worked more than 16 hours a day, with little food and no money, beholden to his traffickers who threatened telling authorities of his illegal work status if he left or tried to escape.
D’Souza and his family did eventually escape the traffickers, but few survivors manage to do this and tell their stories. Part of the solution Grace Farms and its partners are working on include getting to the root of the problem – stopping the industry’s use of cheap, exploitative labor in the first place.
Aside from adopting Design for Freedom Principals that advocate for the implementation of ethical, forced-labor free materials sourcing strategies into their practices and demonstrating that building forced-labor free is possible through its Design for Freedom Pilot Projects. Design for Freedom is also encouraging the reuse of building materials that would remove the cycle of suffering embedded in the extraction and processing of building materials.
In a groundbreaking report, Building Materials and the Climate: Constructing a New Future, published by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Yale Center for Ecosystems + Architecture and the Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction (GlobalABC), this comprehensive report explained how the construction industry is poised to play a major role in addressing climate change. In spearheading this effort through the reuse of building materials and adopting the use of biomass materials, it would also take into account the embedded suffering of forced labor in the building materials.
The report was released on September 12, at the Yale Club in New York City. Sharon Prince, who spoke at the release said, “This is a rare and promising time to initialize ‘ethical decarbonization’ to assess and lower both embodied carbon and embodied suffering in an opaque weighty marketplace that will have significant humanitarian impact.”
The new report outlines pathways to decarbonize the buildings and construction sector, responsible for 37% of global CO2 emissions. The rapid urbanization around the world is adding the buildings equivalent of a new Paris every five days, according to the report.
The report, where Grace Farms where among the reviewers, proposes a three-pronged solution to reduce “embodied carbon” emissions and the negative impacts on natural ecosystems from the production and deployment of building materials such as cement, steel, aluminum, timber, and biomass:
- “Avoid: the extraction and production of raw materials by galvanizing a circular economy, which requires building with less materials through better data-driven design, while reusing buildings and recycled materials wherever feasible.
- Shift: to regenerative material practices wherever possible by using ethically-produced low carbon earth- and bio-based building materials (such as sustainably sourced bricks, timber, bamboo, agricultural and forest detritus) whenever possible.
- Improve: methods to radically decarbonize conventional materials such as concrete, steel and aluminium, and only use these non-renewable, carbon-intensive, extractive materials when absolutely necessary.”
“We must shift the marketplace and decarbonization strategies to include building materials made with fair labor end-to-end,” said Sharon Prince, whose Design for Freedom movement has been at the forefront of igniting change.
 Global Estimates of Modern Slavery: Forced Labour and Forced Marriage, International Labour Organization. September 12, 2022.
 New Estimates of Human Trafficking in the World: Shocking but Not Surprising, Polaris. September 14, 2022.
 Change-Human Trafficking Nexus, International Organization for Migration (IOM). 2016.
 Climate change, migration and human trafficking, University of Nottingham Rights Lab. April 2023.
 Collingridge, John. “Governments failing to properly tackle modern slavery, says Theresa May,” The Guardian. January 16, 2024.
About Grace Farms
Grace Farms is a center for culture and collaboration in New Canaan, Connecticut. We bring together people across sectors to explore nature, arts, justice, community, and faith at the SANAA-designed River building and Barns on 80 acres of publicly accessible, preserved natural landscape. Our humanitarian work to end modern slavery and foster more grace and peace in our local and global community includes leading the Design for Freedom movement to eliminate forced labor in the building materials supply chain.
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