October 18th 2013 is Anti-Slavery Day.
Although slavery seems very far removed from our work in healthcare and conservation, the truth is that forced labor comes much closer to home than we’d like to think. The Walk Free Foundation released the first Global Slavery Index yesterday, cataloguing the estimated prevalence of modern slavery around the world.  Their interactive map is an eye-opening and heartbreaking tour of the world. In Indonesia, the home of our project partner ASRI, an estimated 200,000 to 220,000 people are enslaved there.
In July, Bloomberg Business week published an investigation of human rights abuses in palm oil, one of Borneo’s largest and fastest-growing industries – and one of the most notorious for labor abuses. Of the 3.7 million workers in the industry, thousands are child laborers and adults coerced into working in terrible conditions. Despite thousands of human-rights abuse allegations, industry enforcement of human rights and environmental standards remain weak. 
In a recent reconnaissance to Rimba Rhiya in Central Kalimantan, Founder and President Dr. Webb learned that, “Everywhere there was a very negative attitude about working for the palm oil companies. People said that not only were they making almost no money, they often even came home in debt and there was a great desire to be free from working for them. However, people said that currently they have very little choice.  We also heard that managers often insult and yell at the staff and that working hours are regularly over the maximum limits per day without overtime pay."
This context makes ASRI’s community strengthening work all the more important. By supporting the ASRI’s programs that deliver hope for the communities surrounding the Gunung Palung National Park, we ensure that no one has to choose between their short-term economic gain and long-term well being. As a result, the communities ultimately have control over their own future. Our sustainable livelihood programs create viable, profitable alternatives to palm oil: our Forest Guardians are all paid competitive wages, organic farmers are making more money from their farms than ever before, and widows are able to support their families with their goats and kitchen gardens. In addition to providing immediate solutions to poverty, ASRI's programs provide long term benefits to communities by protecting environmental assets and slowing the deforestation and other environmental degradation rampant in palm oil production that ultimately contribute to poverty. Beyond palm oil, creating paths out of poverty makes people less vulnerable to all kinds of disasters and exploitation, including forced labor. Community development gives people the power to fight back.
Sources and notes:
 The Walk Free Foundation, "The Global Slavery Index 2013". Published October 2013.
 E. Benjamin Skinner, "Indonesia's Palm Oil Industry Rife With Human-Rights Abuses." Bloomberg Business Week, July 18, 2013.
 For more background on the interactions between palm oil plantations and local communities, see Peter de Koning's beautiful documentary, "Mapping Our Future."