KATIE FORD: FROM HELPING MODELS TO MODELING FREEDOM
By Mitzi Perdue
Katie Ford, former CEO of Ford Models, Inc., got a life-changing phone call in 2007. She was invited to speak at the UN about human trafficking.
She wasn’t at all sure why the UN would want her. At that point in her life, she hadn’t even heard the term, “human trafficking,”
Ford decided to accept the UN speaking invitation, and that meant delving deeper into the issue. She learned that traffickers frequently offer the opportunity of a job and money, but that job doesn’t exist. People are duped. They are forced into a job that they didn’t agree to and forced to work without pay. This is otherwise known as slavery.
As Ford points out, “How people are trafficked parallels how we brought in models. We offered them opportunity, including the opportunity to make a lot of money.” However, with Ford, there was no duping. Later, she learned that traffickers often use the lure of a career in modeling to recruit future victims.
The traffickers’ approach was the polar opposite of what Ford, as an ethical person in the modeling business, was doing. She was about building careers and protecting young models, even including having the younger ones live in her home, where she could look out for their safety and welfare.
As she learned of case after case where young, vulnerable people had been enslaved and had their lives taken away from them, she came to a realization: “I can’t stand by and not do something.”
That was the beginning of the not-for-profit organization, “Freedom for All.” In the years since, the organization has freed people from all kinds of slavery. The organization currently has nine on-the-ground partners in five countries, including the USA.
‘We picked groups where we could vet the work,” Ford points out. “They have enough systems in place where we could see the results of the money. I wanted groups where the amount of money we can give, which is relatively small, can make a big difference.”
The organization’s impact has made a huge difference. “In the last 10 years, Freedom for All, has helped 28,000 people,” Ford points out. “When slaves are freed and given a little help, they can do well. They are accustomed to hard work.”
An Example of the Foundation’s Impact
A success story she enjoys talking about is a sample of her organization’s efforts in India. A man was in debt to his employer and couldn’t leave until he paid his debt off. But since the employer wasn’t paying him, he had no possibility of paying off the debt.
To make a terrible situation even worse, the man’s children were going to be enslaved with the father and not allowed to go to school.
Involuntary servitude, the kind where you can’t quit, is illegal throughout the entire world. Freedom for All, with its on-the-ground partner, was able to free this man and get him a “ $500 reparations grant” from the Indian government, so that he could start a free life where he profited from his labor.
Here’s what this man did with his new freedom. He was able to open a store. With the income from the store, he was able to move from sleeping on the ground of a straw hut to living in a nice stucco home with electricity.
Even better, his children escaped being slaves. Instead, they got an education and today are attending university.
“Freedom for All makes this kind of transformation possible,” says a pleased Ford. Fortunately, her work enables her to see this kind of change all the time.
What Can We Do?
Ford encourages all of us to be a part of anti-trafficking efforts. “Everybody can do something,” she points out. Make a donation. “Any amount counts. Anti-trafficking is underfunded, and a $10 donation makes a difference.” If you would like to:
- Donate to Freedom For All, this is the link: https://www.freedomforall.org/donation
- Find and support other anti-trafficking organizations. Polaris.org is a good source for finding anti-trafficking organizations in the United States: https://humantraffickinghotline.org/training-resources/referral-directory.
- Outside of the US, visit CNN’s compilation of anti-trafficking organizations: https://www.cnn.com/2018/03/05/world/anti-trafficking-organizations-around-the-world/index.html
- Help survivors. “There are survivors everywhere. If you’re a doctor, social worker or anyone in healthcare, please volunteer your services.”
- Offer your professional skills to a local anti-trafficking organization. “There are many local groups that need help with accounting, legal work, or other skills to keep the organization functioning.”
Mitzi Perdue is the organizer of the Global Anti-Trafficking Auction, and author of the book, 52 Tips for Combatting Human Trafficking. Contact her at: Mitzi@WinThisFight.org