The issue of human trafficking will take center stage at this year’s Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College Spring Convocation as Katie Ford, the legendary former CEO of the iconic Ford Models Inc. modeling agency is the guest speaker.
Ford, founder and CEO of the anti-human trafficking foundation Freedom for All, will be joined onstage by Shandra Woworuntu, a survivor of human trafficking who is another leader in the fight against human trafficking around the world.
All members of the University of Mississippi and Oxford community are invited to attend this free program at 7 p.m. Tuesday (Feb. 20) at the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts.
Human trafficking touches the lives of millions of people around the globe and is one of the most lucrative illegal industries. Nearly 46 million people are in slavery, more than at any other time in history, according the 2016 Global Slavery Index. Human trafficking also generates $150 billion in global profits, and is listed as the second-most profitable criminal industry after drug trafficking, according to information on the Freedom for All website.
Ford became more familiar with the issues surrounding human trafficking during her longtime involvement in the modeling and fashion industries.
“As CEO of Ford Models, I brought models from over 50 countries to the United States,” Ford noted in information posted to her Freedom for All website. “Because most were foreign and young, they were potentially vulnerable.
“Ford Models had a history of protecting young women and men by producing housing, shelter, food and medical care if needed. The work I do to fight human trafficking and forced labor is inspired and informed by my previous work.”
Ford said she is pleased to have the opportunity to continue this conversation on the Ole Miss campus.
“I am very much looking forward to speaking at the University of Mississippi and discussing these important issues with students from the Honors College,” she said.
After selling Ford Models in 2007, Ford chose to further develop her philanthropic interests, including founding Freedom for All. The foundation creates programs and media campaigns to combat human trafficking in all its forms, including sex trafficking, debt bondage, forced labor and child labor.
For her anti-human trafficking work, Ford has received numerous honors, including the Women Together Award at the United Nations and the Changing the Game Award from the Advertising Women of New York, both in 2010. She has served as a member of the UN Give Women Leaders’ Council and sits on the board of directors of Verite, the leading international business adviser on forced labor.
Ford holds a bachelor’s degree from Sarah Lawrence College and an MBA from Columbia University.
Freedom for All partners with a variety of other organizations that are making long-term, systematic changes to end slavery in their respective justice and penal systems in countries around the world, including the United States. They also rehabilitate, educate, and provide job training and shelter to survivors, and help establish community prevention programs.
One of the organizations Freedom for All works closely with is the Mentari Human Trafficking Survivor Empowerment Program Inc., a nonprofit organization that helps survivors reintegrate back into the society and live independently. Mentari was founded in 2014 by Woworuntu after her own harrowing experience as a victim of human trafficking.
Woworuntu, who has a bachelor’s degree in finance and banking management, worked in Indonesia as a financial analyst and treasury manager before political turbulence and religious persecution convinced her to find a new job in the United States.
She traveled to the U.S. in 2001 to pursue what she believed would be a job opportunity with a major hotel in Chicago. However, after arriving in New York, Woworuntu was sold into the underground sex business by an international human trafficking organization.
Eventually she was able to escape, and she worked closely with the New York Police Department to prosecute her traffickers. Safe Horizon New York, a nonprofit organization, assisted Woworuntu with her efforts to stay legally in the U.S.
Her experience inspired Woworuntu to become an advocate against human trafficking and violations of women and children’s rights. In 2011, she co-founded a survivor leadership program called Voices of Hope, facilitated by Safe Horizon. Three years later, she was instrumental in establishing Mentari.
“We are trying to raise awareness of the risks of coming to the U.S. among people who still see this country as some kind of dream land,” Woworuntu told the BBC in 2016. “Every year, 17,000 to 19,000 people are brought to the U.S. to be trafficked.
“Not all victims of trafficking are poor. Some, like me, have college degrees. I have helped a doctor and a teacher from the Philippines. I have also helped men who were trafficked, not only women, and one person who was 65 years old.”
Woworuntu was appointed by former President Barack Obama to the U.S. Advisory Council on Human Trafficking. She has lectured at colleges about human trafficking as well as at symposiums and conferences around the world. A New York resident, she was named a L’Oréal Paris Women of Worth honoree in 2017.
“We are absolutely honored to have the chance to hear these two influential and courageous women,” said Douglass Sullivan-Gonzalez, dean of the Honors College. “We invite the UM community to join us as they tell their personal stories about how their lives were changed and how they have changed lives regarding one of the most important issues of our day.”
In connection with the topic of this year’s Spring Convocation, the Honors College offered a course on Human Trafficking–Law and Policy that is being taught by Michele Alexandre.
By Jonathan Scott