Contemporary Abolitionist of the Month: Susan Ople

By Katie Masi

The fight to end slavery is rooted in history and extends until today. Each month we profile some of the brave men and women, both contemporary and historical, who have fought to eradicate slavery. Our contemporary abolitionist of the month is Susan Ople.

Susan “Toots” Ople is a long-time advocate for oversees Filipino workers’ (OFWs) rights. A recent New York Times article reveals the vulnerable condition of OFWs in the fishing industry. The article tells the story of Eril Andrade, who was recruited to work on a fishing boat. His traffickers sent him home in a coffin. The Philippine authorities charged eleven individuals associated with the illegal recruitment and trafficking of Mr. Andrade and others. However, only a low-level culprit has been arrested and is likely to be tried.

To combat such crimes, Ople founded and serves as president of the Blas F. Ople Policy Center and Training Institute. The organization provides OFWs with free legal and reintegration services. They also represent OFWs on the government’s Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT), which is comprised of representatives from civil society, the private sector, and international partners working together to combat human trafficking.

The Ople Center has been a forerunner in calling attention to labor trafficking. Toots Ople works tirelessly to reintegrate survivors into Philippine society. She believes that skills training and good job placement will assist survivors in finding safer employment. Under Ople’s fearless leadership, the Center partners with private sector companies, the hospitality industry, and legislative offices to train and find jobs for survivors.

Prior to founding the Ople Center, Ms. Ople worked on labor rights with the Philippine Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), the International Labor Organization (ILO), and served as chief of staff for Senator Blas F. Ople and at the Department of Foreign Affairs. In addition to victim services, Ople conducts advocacy, hosting radio shows and writing weekly columns in magazines and newspapers catering to distressed OFWs.

Ople’s work to address labor abuse and trafficking highlights an often overlooked area of modern slavery. Labor trafficking affects roughly sixty-eight percent of human trafficking victims worldwide, though it is investigated and prosecuted less than sex trafficking cases. Labor trafficking cases account for just four percent of the convictions globally last year.

The New York Times article details the impunity with which labor traffickers operate in the Philippines. In order to dismantle the business of human trafficking, all individuals involved must be held accountable. Survivors must have access to legal representation and officials should take a victim-centered approach to ensure not to re-traumatize them.

Ople also acknowledges the importance of cooperation between civil society, the private sector, and law enforcement in the fight against modern slavery. It is imperative to expand the role of the private sector, which can help disrupt human trafficking networks. The private sector, including the hospitality and transportation industries, should implement training and awareness programs to teach employees to identify and report potential incidents of trafficking.

For more on what businesses can do to end modern slavery, see Human Rights First’s blueprint here.

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Published on November 23, 2015

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