Rocker Fights Slave Labor -- New Mission: Rock the Corporate Boat

By Duff-Brown, Beth | The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, TN), January 4, 2012 | Go to article overview

Rocker Fights Slave Labor -- New Mission: Rock the Corporate Boat


Duff-Brown, Beth, The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, TN)


SAN FRANCISCO - Justin Dillon's rock band was touring Eastern Europe when he met some college students who told him they were about to get work in the West. They were eager to begin what they were sure would be their new MTV-like lives.

Dillon dug deeper and asked to see their documents. He warned the young women that they likely were about to be trafficked into the sex trade or sweatshops.

They brushed him off. They wanted desperately to believe the $2,200 they had paid a facilitator to get them service-industry jobs would make all their dreams come true.

"They immediately felt embarrassed, but then emboldened," he recalls of the 2003 exchange. "They said, 'I mean, look around. I'll take my chances on this. You think I'm going to stick around here?'"

That conversation changed his life - and his life's mission.

Today, the 42-year-old Berkeley rocker heads up a popular social- media campaign to combat slavery. With a $200,000 grant from the State Department, he recently launched slaveryfootprint.org, which helps people identify the slave labor used for their own consumer goods. It is approaching 2 million hits.

He belongs to a coalition of anti-slave-labor groups sharing an $11.5 million grant from Google's philanthropy arm.

And now - with the help of a groundbreaking anti-slavery retail law going into effect across California on New Year's Day - Dillon believes the movement is reaching that tipping point where the average consumer can make a difference.

"We need cultural critical mass on this," Dillon said. "Modern- day slavery and human trafficking is far too easy to execute, and far too profitable."

After that 2003 band tour, the singer and songwriter became a man obsessed. He learned there are an estimated 27 million modern-day slaves around the world. He wondered how he could fight the trafficking and sexual exploitation of women and girls, bonded labor and indentured sweatshop servitude.

Dillon started offering up his band for benefit concerts. He produced a 2008 documentary, "Call + Response," which included songs and interviews with the likes of Julia Ormond, Ashley Judd, Cornel West and Madeleine Albright. …

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