When I first began a small project to give poor people a skilled training and work with respect, dignity, fair wages and good working conditions in 1975, it was not called Preda Fair Trade. It was and is, normal ethical practice to give work with dignity, a fair wage and good working conditions, which everyone is supposed to do. But many don’t. It was a practical way to alleviate the misery and degrading life of the throwaway people and youth of Olongapo City.
That is how Preda Development Fair Trade began in 1975 when children and youth were being jailed, and executed as criminals in the city during the martial law regime of Ferdinand Marcos. The youth were shot by a death squad for protesting against injustice or were suspected of being drug users.
I began a shelter for them, hired teachers and expert weavers and made a vocational training center in craft and wicker furniture making. When the youth graduated they had work with dignity.
The girls had no work. They were recruited, lured or forced by trickery and debt bondage, into the sex bars and brothels. It is unworthy of the dignity and status, and rights of children and women.
The government gives a mayor’s permit to the bars and brothels, many of which are fronts for prostitution. Many children were sold into the sex bars and offered on the street by pimps.
They are victims of human trafficking and modern slavery. They still are to a lesser extent in Olongapo City (see www.preda.org, video Gallery). Today, Preda Foundation has two beautiful homes for abused boys and girls. Fair Trade helps support them.
In 1983, after I discovered a pedophile ring involving children as young as 9 years old and a US servicemen and sex tourists, I exposed it in the media and caused an uproar.
The authorities denied it and tried to cover it up and had me deported, and the Preda closed down.
Preda Foundation pressured government through the media, and one suspect was brought to trial in Guam. Preda human rights staff called for the closure and abolition of the US Navy base.
Our campaign was to achieve its total removal and promoted a conversion plan to turn the infrastructure facilities into civilian economic enterprises, to provide work with dignity. This dialogue brought together all positive organizations and people to discuss and work for the peaceful removal of the military base.
It was a big success, a historical achievement. After a hundred years of US presence the bases were closed by an act of Congress and, today, it is an economic zone providing 100,000 jobs with dignity. It was a victory for women’s and children’s rights. But it is not over yet. The sex and human trafficking industry is back and growing.
Many men, mayors, politicians and military men believe they are entitled to abuse women and even children. The mayors, the ones who are supposed to protect the community, give permits to sex bars and turn a blind eye to crimes against minors. Convictions are few and corruption is common.
This attitude is typical among those corrupted by the sex industry. A Filipino presidential candidate expressed it like this:
He joked that he was sad an Australian missionary was raped and murdered in his city jail some years ago because as Mayor, he said, he should have been first (to rape her). Then he refused to apologize at first.
Every one of us with principles of human rights has to act to save the victims and end the exploitation; otherwise, our principles will become empty shells. Pope Francis has called trafficking in persons a crime against humanity. Millions of children are enslaved in the sex-for-sale business, traded and abused worldwide, with 100,000 in the Philippines, according to estimates. We must continue the dialogue to persuade others to act for justice and show the world the truth, and, that way, change the system and free the children.
Preda Development Fair Trade is not only trading fairly and bringing development projects to the needy farmers, but also educates the public to protect children, to respect their rights and report cases of abuse. This new prosperity keeps the children safe in their villages and away from the streets and the traffickers and recruiters.
Preda Fair Trade supports the campaigns of the Preda Foundation that is working daily for these goals. Today it has grown to be Preda Fair Trade and helps over a thousand small producers and farmers and indigenous peoples sell their food products like organic mango at fair prices. The farmers earn bonus payments and improve their villages and lives through development projects.
This too is the traditional reason for Fair Trade as a movement: to work for justice and take a stand against the bad, corrupting and exploiting forms of trade. But much more has to be done by all the Fair Trade organizations: importers, distributors, certifying groups and the world shops.
Fair Trade is not just buying and selling products at fair prices and making a profit. It is campaigning and working for justice and fairness for the poor and exploited. We ought to be measured by these criteria as an essential aspect of being a Fair Trade organization.
We must strive to do more to combat and challenge the forces that are behind modern exploitation and slavery.