Outsourcing Disaster: Human Trafficking and Humanitarian Failure in Aceh’s Tsunami Reconstruction?

April 29, 2010 :: Virgil Grandfield
Moderated by Bev Muendel-Atherstone

Lethbridge Public Library Theatre Gallery

In 2006-2009, a wretched place for a construction worker in Indonesia was to be on a “humanitarian” tsunami reconstruction project in Aceh, Sumatra. Instead of receiving benefits from the largest, most generously-funded humanitarian operation in history, tens of thousands of Javanese construction workers were arguably victims of human trafficking and falsely recruited for exploitative use and/or involuntary labour, under conditions defined as “human trafficking” or “modern slavery.” The social disaster throughout Aceh and Java was borne mostly by Javanese laborers, some of whom died in Aceh because of abuse.

The speaker will contend that disproportionate numbers of trafficked victims were from larger projects managed by Red Cross, U.N., development banks and NGO’s. The more remote a project site was, the more likely workers would be trapped and would eventually walk or hitchhike trying to escape. Witnesses have testified in every affected community visited, that many or most Javanese workers were unpaid, hungry and had to escape to find other work or ways to get home. Arguably, Red Cross, UN and the NGO’s ought to have known that they were complicit in the trafficking of slave labour.

Speaker: Virgil Grandfield

Virgil Grandfield grew up in Texas and achieved degrees in Political Science at the University of Lethbridge (1992) and Journalism at Concordia in Montreal (1993). In the mid 90s, he started the first Canadian educational consulting agency in Mexico and in 1999 after Hurricane Mitch, began a career in the humanitarian field of work in Central America.

Grandfield became a Canadian Red Cross delegate after working as part of the Blood Reserve flood response in 2002 and was deployed to Aceh, Indonesia in 2006 to work as Information Delegate for the tsunami operation of the International Red Cross. Returning to Aceh in 2007, Grandfield recognized the human trafficking and resigned as Canadian Red Cross delegate in 2008, to advocate for the “modern slavery” workers and their families, seeking justice from those relief agencies which used and abandoned them in Aceh.

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