Spitballs and Slavery

I while ago I was asked the following:

What social problem is most compelling to you? Pick one or more organizations to partner with to address this social issue. What would you do? How would your solution engage a broad and relevant community, who would benefit, and how it would ultimately drive impact.

I think it’s important to mix realism with your altruism, i.e. “How would this actually work?” Utility doesn’t always have a place in the brainstorming stages of an idea, though – I used this exercise as an opportunity to stargaze a bit:

Human trafficking might be the biggest elephant in the middle of our collective global room. Estimates of the number of people categorized as “slaves” in the world right now (individuals recruited to be controlled and held captive for the purpose of exploitation) is anywhere between 12 and 30 million. These are among the highest figures in history and they are astonishing.

There seems to be a comparative lack of attention aimed at this $9 billion industry. Be it the disturbing nature of human trafficking, the perception that slavery happens “elsewhere,” its persistent, un-topical nature, or paralysis in the face of such a deep-seated problem, mainstream media just doesn’t seem to highlight human trafficking in the way does many other critical social issues. Anyone who reads Ishmael Beah’s child soldier memoir, A Long Way Gone, Aaron Cohen’s one-man anti-sex trade crusade, Slave Hunter, or finds out that upwards of 15,000 people are trafficked into first-world countries like the United States each year would be hard pressed to keep a poker face. So how do we throw up the bat signal?

Finding the right nonprofits to involve in a funding/awareness campaign would be the easy piece. CAST LA is a wonderful organization specializing in helping trafficking survivors back onto their feet whilst raising awareness about modern day slavery. They may not be international enough for the scale of this campaign — Not For Sale would be. They focus on stark, digestible statistics to illustrate reactive and preventative efforts to get survivors and would-be victims into stable employment situations. Slavery Footprint has the most brand recognition of the three. Their “How many slaves work for you?” calculator is powerful in its ability to provoke immediately actionable changes to daily behavior and consumption habits.

The critical piece would be engaging the right brand partners to associate with an issue as intense as this one. Three good ones come to mind: Toyota, Red Bull, and Quiksilver. These brands are bold and youth-oriented, giving them the ear of an audience capable of hanging with and advocating for something as heavy as slavery awareness. Initiative breakdown:


Filmed surf event in the Mentawai Islands, Indonesia. HD footage by Red Bull, unlocked with donations matched by all three partners online. The location itself is a statement; Southeast Asia as a region houses some of the most entrenched trafficking pipelines in the world.


… Toyota? Large market share in Southeast Asia. Rugged location allows them to showcase 4x4 lifestyle offerings. Would likely be interested in an opportunity to dig further into the surf/alternative sport market.

… Red Bull? This is the online publicity vehicle. Anything produced by Red Bull in the alternative sports space is sought after by fans (e.g. redbullstratos.com, artofflightmovie.com). Red Bull turns this into a mid- long-term campaign that lives well beyond the actual tentpole event.

… Quiksilver? Quiksilver has a history of philanthropic initiatives, mostly within the eco space. Aside from providing big name riders, Quiksilver may be interested in giving back to one of the wave-desirable regions on which the surf industry focuses quite a bit of attention.


Play globally, change globally. Abolish slavery everywhere.


The aim would be to engage alternative sport/stunt video interest online. (32 million views for the Red Bull Stratos project video, as a point of reference)


Tight, Instagram-lead social media integration with participating nonprofits and sponsors.


The ground swell occurs within the alternative sports community, then continue virally depending on the originality and wow-factor of the footage.