Made For Freedom: Fighting Sex Trafficking Around The World With Dawn Manske
Millions of young ladies worldwide are not getting paid enough to support their families. Many even get exploited with sex trafficking. This global issue must be stopped, but the answer to that is not as easy as it seems. You can’t just boycott certain brands. In this episode, learn how Dawn Manske is helping to solve the problem with her social enterprise, Made for Freedom. Dawn sits down with Mitch Russo as she shares how she’s empowering women through Dignified Employment in the fight against human trafficking. Learn what you can do to help spread awareness on this issue and become a social entrepreneur that impacts the world.
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Made For Freedom: Fighting Sex Trafficking Around The World With Dawn Manske
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Onto my guest and her incredible story. My guest found her first opportunity in China. Excited about a new opportunity, she quickly realized that her passion for human trafficking had overwhelmed and changed her mission quite dramatically. She decided to do something about it. An entrepreneur at heart, she decided to start her company made for freedom. Sales started to explode and she realized that this was a way to help young women escape the ravages of sex trafficking. She’s here with us to share how she did it. Welcome, Dawn Manske, to the show.
Thank you so much. It is great to be here.
It’s my pleasure. Tell us how this all got started for you.
I was in China and lived there for ten years, which was not anticipated but it was an amazing part of my life. I would tell people that I’m part Chinese. Looking at me, you wouldn’t know it but I am very Chinese and in some of my behaviors. While I was there, I was introduced to a couple of the things that I have learned that are incredibly powerful when you talk about vulnerabilities. I talk a lot about the Five Key Components of Exploitation because we all need to get a little better understanding of what exploitation looks like. January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month in our country. There are some people that know quite a bit, and there are some people that just want to know more.
Going back to that time when you first arrived in China, did you already know this or have this as part of your mission or did this show up in your life, and then you realized you needed to do something about it?
The fight against human trafficking and exploitation happened probably ten years later but while I was in China, I was exposed firsthand to some of the vulnerabilities. I was going with friends to visit orphanages. I spent time and love on little children that had been abandoned by their families. Going into these orphanages, seeing that 80% to 90% of the children were girls because of devaluation of the girl child.We all need to get a little better understanding of what exploitation looks like. Click To Tweet
Later living in another city in China, I noticed all of these street children that were begging, and they were always hanging out in the same parts of town. A friend of mine who had come to start a school for kids like that started explaining to me that these kids came from very poor regions of China and were brought to the big city with promises that they would make a lot of money, get great jobs and be able to support their families.
This extreme poverty led the families to allow their kids to be taken from them to another city, thinking that would change their lives for the better. When in reality, it was human trafficking and these kids were being exploited. If you fast forward several years, I was back in the United States in graduate school, then I saw a video. It was put out by IJM.
It was an undercover reporter that went into the back streets of Cambodia asking for the youngest girls he could find. It turned my stomach, broke my heart, and that was when I realized, “This is way bigger than the kids that I met on the street corner in Beijing.” I’ve got to know those kids. I love those kids. I had great relationships with them.
This is a huge thing. This is happening everywhere. Fast forward a couple more years, I was reacquainted with an incredibly handsome young man and I married him. While we were visiting some friends, I saw these sandals. The story on these sandals explained the young ladies who made the sandals were provided a good job, making the sandals, and because of those jobs, they were able to continue their education, which provided incredibly more opportunities for them in their country. That was when social enterprise struck home for me. I started thinking, “A business strategy that’s addressing a global issue.”
For my wedding with this incredibly handsome young man, I received a pair of these sandals from him. He didn’t catch the hint. His friend did. He’s learned how to understand the hints more since then. I’ve got a pair of these sandals as a wedding gift from him and another friend of mine who I had met originally in China was teaching in Thailand, I had gotten a pair of these fisherman pants in Thailand during a vacation. I couldn’t find them in the United States. I love these pants. They are super comfortable. I said, “Could you bring me some of these pants for the wedding?” She said, “Sure.” She brought me several pairs of pants. What do you think I was wearing the next day when I left for my honeymoon?
Pants and sandals.
I’m wearing my new pants, new sandals, and a TSA agent comments on my pants. She says, “I love your pants. Where did you get them?” When was the last time a TSA agent asked you about your clothing?
In my case, never.
It’s rare. I get on the plane and the flight attendant says, “Where did you get those? Those are so cool.” This was the beginning of months still, if I have some of my fisherman pants, I wear them and people comment on them because they are very unique, different, and look very comfortable. I get some stranger in the hospital asking me where I bought the pants. I’m trying to go buy ice cream and someone says, “Where did you get your pants?”
I had a woman chase me literally through a parking lot to ask me about the pants. I’m like, “It takes me a little while to catch onto things but there is something here. I’m not the only one that likes these pants. I could start importing these pants.” This is justice in the fabric of who I am. I don’t want to start selling pants for the sake of selling pants. I have two degrees in Education and one in Theology. I love helping people. I love being about something that’s bigger than me. Selling pants was not going to do that for me.
I remembered the social enterprise and that concept of using business strategy in an effort to make an impact, then this thing that had been weighing on me for years and trying to figure out, “How can I do something to fight this horrible atrocity, called human trafficking?” I thought, “If these pants could be the foundation of a business that could help fight this horrible thing in our world, then I could get excited about selling pants.” We started selling pants. I went on a research trip so that I could get a better understanding of what leads to exploitation and what are things are needed as a survivor comes out of that situation.
I met all sorts of other groups and organizations that were working with survivors, making products, jewelry, scarves, and bags. Where we ended up is it’s not really about the pants. It’s about providing those jobs and dignified employment that prevents exploitation. One of those things that I learned about clearly in China, it fights the poverty and stigma that comes when you are a female in a culture that devalues you just because of who you are. It became all about dignified employment, even though I love the pants.
To backtrack a little bit here, I want to introduce you to a gentleman named Yanik Silver. He has a book called the Evolved Enterprise, where he teaches and writes about the type of work that you do in other areas of the world, and has a group called the Mavericks, which I am a member of. He leads trips all over the world to show people what these people like you are doing in foreign countries and helps organize either funding or some form of support for the work that these folks are doing. After the show, I will make that intro to Yanik for you because you two should meet. I never thought about human trafficking until I’ve got to Thailand.
The day I arrived in Thailand, I was on my way to Bhutan. We stopped in Bangkok, which was a three-night stopover, which was wonderful. In my hotel room, there was a sign that blew my mind and freaked me out. It said, “Please do not have sex with our children,” on a sign in the hotel room. I said, “What the hell is this?” That’s when the dots started to connect and I realized, “People must come here for that purpose.” I was horrified by the whole idea of all this. We toured Bangkok. Americans were a little bit of a bubble, as you can imagine, as we toured through these cities but you immersed yourself into the Chinese culture.
As you said, you are as much Chinese as you are. From St. Louis, you have that strain but more importantly, you are aware of the social dynamics in another country of which, as you know, most Americans are not. That’s very valuable and potentially profitable. Let’s shift gears for a moment and talk about the business because this is a business show. I know we have a lot of folks who would love to understand what it would take to mobilize a group of people in a foreign country to make something of value that they could sell in the United States. Let’s talk about how you did that.
I appreciate your kind words. It is an incredibly difficult project and task to move forward as a social enterprise. People not understanding the social enterprise is a blending of the conventional nonprofit perspective on life and for-profit. You take the two of those and put them together. Some people still don’t understand what that’s all about.Dignified employment prevents exploitation and fights poverty. Click To Tweet
What we do is partner with centers that are already doing that. I have visited almost all of the centers that we partner with. We have partnerships with about fifteen centers around the world, all of which are providing those resources that are needed. If it’s a vulnerable population and survivors of marginalization, they are providing training, job skills, and dignified employment.
When it’s a partner that is providing dignified employment for survivors of exploitation, as you can imagine, there are quite a few more things that are needed. Dealing with that trauma, therapy, counseling, the legal aspects that need to be addressed if you are going to prosecute those who were trafficked or the traffickers. There are all sorts of other things, maybe providing housing or a livelihood for someone who’s coming out of a completely different life, where they were dependent upon their trafficker.
Each center is a little bit different. All of them are providing dignified employment. The business side of this is not easy. We have chosen very specifically to only partner with centers working with the very vulnerable or those who have been exploited but in a much larger picture, as far as business goes, making a positive impact in our world, a huge component of that is looking at your supply chain.
There are so many business models that talk about giving back and how much good they are doing in our world but if you dig in, they are doing some good by giving back a small percentage of money. Here’s an example for you. I have a friend. Her mother is a friend of mine. My friend died from breast cancer. It’s a horrible situation. It’s a tragedy. Mom has a magazine and this group is selling products and proceeds from each sale go to research to fight breast cancer. I’m all about that. I want to help fight breast cancer. If we could see an end to this, it’s perfect.
I’m flipping through the magazine, a friend of mine has passed away. Her mom is bringing this in. I see a scarf. I like pink. I like scarves. I buy the scarf. It’s more than I would typically spend on a scarf but I buy the scarf. I order it. While I’m waiting over the next week or so, I’m looking through the magazine a little bit more, and then it has point I see the little tiny print that says, “0.05% is going to research.” Thank you for that. I was so livid. Everything in this magazine is talking about, “We are fighting breast cancer. Purchase one of these.”
At that point, I was also learning more about the fashion industry because I’m looking at getting these pants made. I see the exploitation that happens within the fashion industry, sweatshops, and Rana Plaza, the factory that collapsed in Bangladesh in 2014. Hundreds of people died and they were getting paid pennies an hour to make clothing.
I see this thing, “0.05%, are you kidding me? You are not telling me anything about the scarf. Where did the scarf get made? Did you source this in Bangladesh or another sweatshop and pay pennies on the dollar? You are charging me way more than any other scarf I have purchased because you are saying you are doing good things.”
In reality, there’s a tiny little piece of my money that’s going to help the issue. I don’t know where the scarf was made but it’s very possible it was made at a sweatshop. If their supply chain was sourced from a sweatshop in poverty wages, leading to generational poverty, then they are a much bigger part of the problem for exploitation than they are any solution to research for breast cancer.
What I understood is that number one you arere passionate about it but in my opinion, being passionate about something is power. Having that type of power gives you an edge over everybody else. There are many people in the world who work to make a living and either they are indifferent or hate their jobs, some like their jobs but they are not passionate. With that type of passion, as we know, you can move mountains.
I assume you don’t have an iPhone because it was made in China. It has been said that they are made in exploitation and in a company that hires children and pays them very low wages. Part of why I brought that up is because what I’m interested in is the trauma that these kids go through while being forced to work. Forget sex trafficking for a moment but just the raw trauma of having to show up at a factory and make things for 12 to 14 hours a day. I’m wondering why the host countries don’t care. Do they not believe that their children are their future? Do you have any insight as to why this is the way it is?
There’s the perspective that a job paying something is better than not having a job, which is the reality. I had a woman ask me one time, “Where is the worst exploitation happening? Where are the sweatshops mostly?” “I’m not the expert on this but I have heard some horrible things about Bangladesh and the fashion industry.” She said, “I will never buy anything named Bangladesh again.”
I said, “That seems like a very easy solution but think about the young ladies who work in the garment industry. They are not getting paid well. If we could get convinced everybody to stop buying any fashion made in Bangladesh, what would happen? Those young ladies who are not making much, make nothing. I guarantee you, they ended up being exploited and sold for sex.”
It looks like there’s an easy answer but this is not an easy issue to tackle. There are no easy answers. The fact that there’s awareness and we are able to get on social media and say, “Tell me about your supply chain.” We can ask big companies. We can go on Twitter and say, “Nike, tell me about your supply chain. Who’s making these shoes? Apple, who’s making these phones?”
That accountability and the transparency that we are allowed with the internet increase the accountability but it also does lift that level of employment. I have read lots about Nike and they’ve got called out in serious ways but now they create almost little towns. They are still getting their products made but that accountability and people saying, “We want better supply chains,” has created that space where they are providing better jobs.
It’s needed. There are two parts to this question. The first part is, I don’t want to pick on China in particular because I know there are many countries, why doesn’t the country itself try to stop this type of exploitation and why would they allow their own children, the future of their existence, to be exploited and traumatized in this way?
Going back to a job is better than no job. That is true. The children are the future but in different cultures, they have very different perspectives on the value of people. China is the one that I can speak on with a little more understanding because of living there for many years. If you go back to Mao, who was saying, “Have more kids. The more kids we have, the more powerful we are. The more, the stronger.” You have too many people to feed. There are all sorts of things that feed into this but you’ve got this massive population. Many of them are living in extreme poverty and are incredibly vulnerable to the stereotypes, perceptions, and prejudice that are within their own country.A huge component of a social enterprise is to look at your supply chain and how much you're really giving back. Click To Tweet
We have certain thoughts on people that come from a certain region of the world. We have certain perceptions about people who come from certain states in our own country. We all have biases and these preconceived notions but it is very India and China because of these massive populations, just trying to provide the basics for life can sometimes be overwhelming when you’ve got that many people.
You have a part of the population, a segment of the population. That’s fine. They are doing well and financially, they are stable but then you have a massive population that’s living in extreme poverty. No one is saying, “It’s good to exploit our children,” but they justify things by saying, “These are poor people. They don’t have any other options. This is still creating jobs.” I’m not sure exactly what they say. No one is saying, “Abuse my child.”
I do get that and I realized in a way it was a naive question. It was important for you to share what you did about the fact that there is this thought process that goes on. Let’s shift gears for a minute. As a company owner, you have an obligation to your shareholders to make the most money and to have the highest levels of profit. Having the highest levels of profit and making the most money means that you must buy your materials at the lowest possible prices and sell them at the highest possible prices.
Where does that leave you when you are in a position where you might be able to buy a scarf for less money but you don’t like the environment that’s made in versus buying that scarf for more money? How do you make these decisions? Is it all based on your social conscience or the nuts and bolts of running a business and a P&L, for that matter?
The P&L doesn’t end up as strong but generating as much money, revenue as I can for my shareholders is very conventional for-profit thinking. That’s not a social enterprise. Therefore, I don’t call myself a business owner. I call myself a social entrepreneur because I am using business strategies but I am not all about, “How much money can I make? How much revenue can we generate?”
Our purpose, goal, and the way we measure success or not is how many hours of dignified employment have we provided for those who are vulnerable and have been trafficked? It’s very contrary to the traditional business mindset. We have to make money. It’s all about the margins. It’s all about the P&L, “Get me better margins. I want to pay a lower price.”
There are elements of that. The more pieces I order, the less, I may have to pay per piece but am I paying the same price for a necklace? I’m going to go into a whole other thing. People would say, “Who are the competitors for Made For Freedom?” I would say, “In the fashion industry, we have a lot of competitors. The fashion industry is huge. We have a lifestyle brand because we carry bath and body, textiles, jewelry, and all sorts of things because we have found partners working with survivors that make those products. Our selection is huge.”
“Who are your competitors?” “Competition in the fashion world is pretty steep. A lot of fashion companies are paying the lowest price they can and looking for the biggest margins so they can generate the most revenue they can. If you are talking to social enterprise, companies that I would consider on the same playing field as us because I don’t think I’m on the same playing field as most jewelry companies or most fashion companies. We have a much bigger mission and goal. That’s making this world a better place using fashion, and Bath & Body to accomplish that.”
Economics would support that because buyers are now more discriminated about where they spend their money than ever before. As we talk about segments of the population, for those who can afford nice things, there is an element of, “If I’m going to buy that, will I then be doing good with my money or am I buying something that will be donated two years later or thrown away?”
What happens here is that you have raised the consciousness of buyers by offering products with a purpose and made with a mission. I love that element of what you are doing. I feel as if we could probably go on for hours about this. I applaud what you are doing. I love a pair of pants someday. If you ever go find a source for those, I will be one of your first customers and for everyone in my family as well. At this point, I would like to transition to a little bit more about you.
I had last thought about the business thing. Are you familiar with B corp?
That is a huge game-changer in the social enterprise realm. It says, “We have to look at a profit but we also have to look at people and our planet.” Wrapping that conversation about generating as much profit as possible. It’s not just about that.
What we are talking about is the difference between social profit and financial profit. Both are valuable. Some people would say that social profit is more valuable than financial profits. The only difference is you must make a profit to keep even a B corp running and without some profit, there’s no point because then nothing is self-sustaining. Profit is always a component but it’s how that profit is generated. That is important to not everyone but to many people.
This goes back to what I was about to do, which was to get into your values just a little bit. We do that with some silly questions. I love them. They have been used for over 275 shows. Every answer is unique. Even if people use the same idea, the answer is different. I’m going to start with this question and see where it takes us.
Who in all of space and time would you like to have one hour to enjoy a walk in the park, a quick lunch or an intense conversation with? It has to be one, although I know people cheat all the time and anyone who reads this show knows that. If you have two, I will take them. I like to go with one because this way you can get into why because the real question is who but it’s the why that makes it more interesting.
I would have to say, Jesus. He is giving sacrificially and loving people well. That’s what drives my life because of my relationship with him but being able to take a walk in the park, have lunch and coffee would be pretty incredible.We have to look at a profit, but we also have to look at people and our planet. Click To Tweet
I can’t promise anything but if I can arrange that for you, do you mind if I hang out in the background and listen to that conversation?
We would love it.
A lot of people bring up Mr. J quite often. The reasons are fascinating and every reason is different. The most important thing is the wisdom of this man and who he was. It allows everyone to be creative about why. People love things and other people for reasons. There are so many different reasons that people follow Jesus Christ or a religious figure in general.
That, to me, is the most fascinating part. Thank you for sharing that. I’m about to ask you the grand finale question. This is what we call the change the world question. I have a feeling what your answer is going to be but I’m going to ask it anyway. What is it that you were doing or would like to do that truly has the potential to literally change the world?
Let me just summarize it with our tagline, “We are fighting human trafficking with style.”
If this show ends up being read by one person who changes their trajectory in life and makes a single decision differently because of reading this, then it was worth it. There are things like world hunger. No one can fix world hunger. It is a problem that requires the collective brilliance, wealth of a country, and maybe an entire population or a civilization to change. By being more aware of it, we could change it a little bit every day. That’s what I think you are doing.
On behalf of all those people, I want to thank you for doing so and bringing awareness to a show like this because this is not typically what we talk about but it was fascinating to me how you did it. That’s why I invited you on as a guest. I know you have a cool free gift. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
If you go to MadeForFreedom.com, you will see a banner up at the top and it says something about Red Flags. Download the free PDF for the Red Flags. This is something people want to know more about. People want to be better educated about this and hear stories about what’s going on. Something that’s important is to know what to look for. What are the risk factors? What are the red flags?‘We are fighting human trafficking with style.’ Click To Tweet
If you are out shopping, you see a young lady and you think something might be off because of the person she’s with her. She seems like she’s being controlled or something, are you aware? Do you know what to look for? What are the red flags? If there’s someone sitting next to you on a plane, how do you approach that? What are the risk factors?
The PDF also has some of the things that you can do to help get involved because I also find that people want to know more but then once you have a better understanding of this, many people want to do more and say, “What can I do to get more involved?” If people are interested, there’s a link on our page that says Go DEEP. That is about how you can get more involved and raise awareness with your group of friends and family, and how you can be part of the solution.
It has been a pleasure chatting with you. Thank you for sharing your wisdom and spreading the word. Hopefully, we made a difference.
Thank you so much for having me.
About Dawn Manske
The hidden camera captured a supposed ten-year-old Cambodian girl, who is likely six or seven years old, offering oral sex (a.k.a. “yum yum”) to a foreigner for $10.* This scenario embodies the world of slavery, shame, and abuse in which hundreds of thousands of women and children live every day.
The 10 years I spent living in China prior to seeing the video from this undercover investigation helped me understand the unbalance produced by the devaluation of the girl child and exposed me to poverty levels I had never seen before. Nothing I encountered in my travels, however, prepared me to watch a video exposing the darkest facets of the Cambodian sex trade. Watching this mini-documentary in 2007 my introduction to learning about sex trafficking. I was overwhelmed by the depravity and scope of the issue. As I continued to learn about trafficking over the next several years, I desperately wanted to see this horror and injustice come to an end, yet I had no idea what could be done from St. Louis, Missouri.