Less than a week after Humans of New York’s Brandon Stanton took to Indiegogo Life with his new project, Let’s Help Fatima End Bonded Labor, the initiative has successfully captured over $2.3 million thanks to 75,000 backers.
Sharing details about the campaign, Stanton wrote:
“Described as a modern-day Harriett Tubman, Syeda Ghulam Fatima has spent her life fighting against the use of bonded labor in the brick kilns of Pakistan. Bonded labor is essentially modern day slavery. Here’s how it works:
“Owners of brick kilns extend small loans to desperate, illiterate laborers in Pakistan’s rural areas, on condition that the person agrees to work for a short period of time. To sweeten the deal, the laborers are also offered food and accommodation. But once the agreed upon length of time is complete, the laborer finds that his debt has actually INCREASED due to accrued interest and the costs of accommodation. From this moment on, the laborer is trapped in a form of slavery. The longer he works, the larger his debt grows. He is condemned to a lifetime of hard labor with no compensation. And when he dies—the debt is passed on to his children.
“The problem is widespread. Bricks are the preferred unit of construction in Pakistan. There are over 20,000 brick kilns in the country, and conservative estimates put over one million men, women, and children working at these kilns in a condition of bonded labor. Fatima estimates that the number is closer to 4 million.
“Forced labor is illegal in Pakistan. But due to the power, money, and influence of brick kiln owners, the law remains largely unenforced. Workers are denied education, prevented from learning about their rights, and intimidated into complacency. On a local level, police and officials are bribed to protect the interests of kiln owners.”
“This is where Fatima comes in. Through her organization, the Bonded Labour Liberation Front, Fatima has established Freedom Centers where workers can go for protection and legal counsel. This system of bonded labor can only exist in the darkness of ignorance. If Fatima succeeds in her goal of providing education, legal assistance, and rehabilitation to every bonded laborer in Pakistan, the system will naturally collapse.
“Fatima has made every sacrifice to make this dream a reality. She has been threatened, beaten, electrocuted, and shot. Alongside her husband, Fatima runs BLLF from a small, humble storefront in Lahore. All monies raised will go directly to facilitate the emancipation of bonded laborers through greater outreach and the establishment of more Freedom Centers. Let’s help Fatima end bonded labor.”
Showing support for the project, Indiegogo revealed in a blog post:
“Syeda Ghulam Fatima risks her life daily to free laborers in Pakistan from what is essentially modern-day slavery. In rural areas where work is scarce, Pakistani men and women are forced to take loans from brick kiln owners, which they pay off with manual labor. When the labor period has ended, the workers find that their debt has actually increased as the kiln owners tack on unexpected exorbitant interest rates, and thus the cycle begins again.“Despite the constant hostility and violent retaliation from the kiln owners, Fatima‘s commitment to her NGO, the Bonded Labour Liberation Front has never faltered. The Freedom Centers she operates provides protection and legal counsel for bonded laborers who have nowhere else to turn. ”
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