7/17/2012: On Tuesday actress and musician Jada Pinkett Smith testified before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations about human trafficking and forced labor, both in the United States and around the world. Accompanied by her husband, actor Will Smith, their daughter Willow, and three trafficking survivors she called on Congress to do more in the fight against modern-day slavery. Here’s what she told The Root last month about why she’s so passionate on the issue.
(The Root) — On Tuesday the U.S. State Department unveiled the 2012 Trafficking in Persons Report, an annual assessment of human trafficking around the world and government efforts to stop modern-day slavery. According to the department, as many as 17,500 people are trafficked in the United States each year — a startling figure that prompted Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to add the U.S. to the report in 2010 for the first time.
"Today we are celebrating what's called 'Juneteenth' … the date in 1865 when a Union officer stood on a balcony in Galveston, Texas, and read General Order No. 3, which declared 'all slaves are free,' " Clinton said at a ceremony that honored global and national leaders who are combating human trafficking. "But the end of legal slavery in the United States, and in other countries around the world, has not, unfortunately, meant the end of slavery. Today it is estimated as many as 27 million people around the world are victims of modern slavery."
Among the honorees at the State Department ceremony were Fatimata M'Baye, an attorney who helped lead the movement to outlaw human trafficking in Mauritania, and Phil Hyldgaard, an NGO leader whose work supports trafficking victims in Greece through education, training and legal assistance.
Sitting in the audience with members of the diplomatic corps; representatives from international organizations; and her husband, Will Smith, was actress, musician and anti-trafficking activist Jada Pinkett Smith. On Tuesday she and Mexican actress Salma Hayek launched a website called Don'tSellBodies.org, which serves as a resource for victims and an information hub to help people learn more. Pinkett Smith also released a new music video with her band, Wicked Evolution, for the song "Nada Se Compara," which she sings in Spanish. The video, directed by Hayek, was inspired by the real-life story of a young woman sold into sexual slavery by her boyfriend.
Speaking with reporters at the State Department on Tuesday, her husband looking on with a proud smile, Pinkett Smith admitted that it was her 11-year-old daughter, Willow, who first called the issue of human trafficking to her attention. After the release of the viral Kony 2012 video in March, Willow was caught by surprise.
"Once she realized that children were being trafficked as child soldiers, she got on the Internet and started to do research and realized that there were actually kids her age that were [also] being trafficked into sex slavery," said Pinkett Smith, whose daughter immediately turned to her mother. "She said, 'I really want to lend my voice to this; we gotta do something about this.' Once I started to do my research, a whole world opened up, and from there we decided to get involved."
Through her advocacy, Pinkett Smith hopes to make people more aware of the problem of modern-day slavery, both in the United States and abroad. She also wants people to think critically about goods we consume here, such as chocolate and shrimp, that may have been produced in foreign countries under slave labor.
"My decision to sing [my song 'Nada Se Compara'] in Spanish as an African-American woman … is a statement that one woman is every woman," she said. "It shouldn't matter the color of your skin, your economic status, your nationality. We're all in this together."
Cynthia Gordy is The Root's senior political correspondent.