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‘Humans of New York’ creator launches campaign to fight bonded labour in Pakistan

TORONTO – “Humans of New York” blogger Brandon Stanton is adventuring far outside his usual area of concentration for his next photo series. The photographer is currently travelling through Pakistan, sharing the life stories of local residents.

But his time in Pakistan has prompted him to take up a new cause – fighting bonded labour in Pakistan.

Stanton has launched an Indiegogo campaign aimed at raising money and awareness about the growing issue of bonded labour in the country.

In just two days, the blogger has raised over US$330,000 for the Bonded Labor Liberation Front, an NGO that provides protection and legal counsel for workers.

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I want to conclude the Pakistan series by spotlighting a very special change agent who is working to eradicate one of the nation’s most pressing social ills. Over 20,000 brick kilns operate in Pakistan, supported by millions of workers, and the system is largely underpinned by an extremely close cousin of slavery—bonded labor. Throughout rural Pakistan, illiterate and desperate laborers are tricked into accepting small loans in exchange for agreeing to work at brick kilns for a small period of time. But due to predatory terms, their debt balloons, growing larger as time goes on, with no possibility of repayment, until these laborers are condemned to work for the rest of their lives for no compensation. If the laborer dies, the debt is passed on to his or her children. The practice is illegal. But due to the extreme power and wealth of brick kiln owners, the law is often unenforced in rural areas. It is estimated that well over one million men, women, and children are trapped in this modern feudalist system. Meet Syeda Ghulam Fatima. Described as a modern day Harriet Tubman, Fatima has devoted her life to ending bonded labor. She has been shot, electrocuted, and beaten numerous times for her activism. Quite literally, she places herself between the workers and their owners. The organization she leads, the Bonded Labour Liberation Front, is small but determined. It is working to set up Freedom Centers throughout rural Pakistan so that every bonded laborer has access to advocacy and legal aid. Fatima operates on a very small budget. So as we learn her story over the next few days, anyone wishing to help empower Fatima can donate to Bonded Labour Liberation Front at: Link in bio.

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“Throughout rural Pakistan, illiterate and desperate laborers are tricked into accepting small loans in exchange for agreeing to work at brick kilns for a small period of time,” Stanton wrote on his Instagram page.

“But due to predatory terms, their debt balloons, growing larger as time goes on, with no possibility of repayment, until these laborers are condemned to work for the rest of their lives for no compensation. If the laborer dies, the debt is passed on to his or her children.”

More than 20,000 brick kilns operate in Pakistan, operated by millions of workers. According to Stanton, the system largely operates using bonded labour.

“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,” reads the description on the Indiegogo page.

Stanton has already had incredible success in crowdfunding to help causes brought to light through his photo series.

In January, Stanton created an Indiegogo campaign to raise money to fund a trip to Harvard University for sixth graders from Mott Hall Bridges Academy in Brownsville, Brooklyn. It all started when Stanton posted the portrait of a young boy on his blog. When asked who has influenced his life the most the boy responded, “My principal, Ms. Lopez.”

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The wildly successful and viral campaign received over US$1 million in donations, allowing the school to start a scholarship fund, start summer programs and fund years worth of trips to Harvard.

The boy who inspired the campaign even ended up going to the White House to meet President Obama and appeared on The Ellen DeGeneres Show.

While Stanton’s effort to raise money to combat bonded labour is gaining a lot of traction online, it isn’t the first post to go viral since the blogger arrived in the country.

Last week, Stanton – who shares a personal story about each person he photographs – posted a photo of a mother who shared a heart-breaking story about leaving an abusive relationship.

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“I left an abusive relationship and I have nowhere to go. I have Hepatitis C, so no one is willing to take me in. I don’t know how long I will live. I tried to give her up for adoption so that she’d have a good home,” read the women’s story.

“The wife of a minister told me about a place where I could drop her off. But when I got there, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.”

The image quickly went viral. The next day Stanton followed up with another post showing the same image of the women, adding that he had since relocated her and shared the email of a local resident who had offered to help her find somewhere to live and find medical treatment.

“Based on the outpouring of offers and support from yesterday, hopefully we can help her heal and get back on her feet,” Stanton wrote.

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