Comfort the afflicted, afflict the comfortable

Since 2009, when Elaine and Gerald Schuster made a special gift to launch the Human Trafficking and Modern-Day Slavery Project, the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis has been shining a light on the dark world of human trafficking.

Two Schuster Institute investigations recently published in Bloomberg Businessweek directly linked modern slavery to seafood and other common food and household goods that Americans consume and enjoy without thinking about their sources.

The first story exposed forced-labor practices on Korean-flagged ships working in New Zealand’s deep seas that catch fish that go to P.F. Chang’s and other restaurants. The second revealed forced labor and child labor within the Indonesian palm oil industry, which supplies ingredients for many well-known brands, including Procter & Gamble’s Oil of Olay skin-care products.

The articles helped trigger major reforms. For instance, New Zealand decided to ban foreign-flagged vessels from fishing in its territorial waters and to better monitor its fishing industry. Uni­lever, a corporation with high stakes in palm oil, vowed to purchase 100 percent of its oil from fully traceable and sustainable sources.

Phillip Martin, a senior fellow at the Schuster Institute, collaborated with the institute on his WGBH Boston Public Radio report “Underground Trade: From Boston to Bangkok.” The award-winning eight-part series on the victims and opponents of the modern slave trade — including a segment on Van Ta’s work in Vietnam — was broadcast in early 2013 in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation.

Martin says he continues to investigate cases of modern-day slavery. In addition, each spring he teaches a course on communication and the media at the Heller School, helping Sustainable International Development students like Van Ta learn how to speak and write clearly about their development and social justice objectives.

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