ARK’s local business manager, Chey Piseth, and his daughter scout potential properties for Project ARK. PHOTO: PATRICK BOOTH
Booth is in Phnom Penh to help the Cambodia Mission Initiative launch a nonprofit called Advancing Resilient Khmer (ARK), with a goal to keep people out of human trafficking networks. He explained that there are many kinds of human trafficking, and often, trafficking involves a pattern of wage theft and overwhelming debt accumulation, whether the trafficking involves sexual exploitation or labor exploitation. Though some are kidnapped and literally locked up, more commonly, a deliberate system of predatory debt and wage bondage keeps them in the trafficking system even after they leave a job.
“Someone comes in from the outside and says he’ll pay 10 times what you are making if you give six months of your life while you work on his project,” Booth said. “Half the men in town sign on. After being transported to the job site, workers are charged for that transportation. They charge you for room and board. At the end of the day, they pay you $4 a day so that you can owe them $5. If you quit the job, you still owe the money. In our view, that is what modern slavery looks like.”
The Cambodia Mission Initiative and the Global Ministries Asia Pacific Regional Office surveyed nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) working in the field of human trafficking in Cambodia and discovered that once people are extracted from a trafficking situation, they have a 90% chance of falling back into it because of excessive debt. They also determined that an overwhelming majority of helping agencies focus their efforts on supporting women and children, so the first participants in Project ARK are underserved men; they plan to expand to all populations in the future.