Former SEA Games host Kelly Latimer speaks out on modern-day slavery

What comes to mind when you hear the word 'slavery'?

We don't blame you if you immediately imagine a scene straight out of the Oscar-winning epic '12 Years A Slave'.

Sorry to burst your bubble, but slavery still exists today. Modern-day slavery, that is. From women forced into prostitution, to children and adults forced to work in agriculture, factories or sweatshops.

Former SEA Games host Kelly Latimer has spoken up about modern-day slavery and is one of the local celebrities supporting the campaign, BuyOutSlavery, to raise awareness on the issue.

She likened the idea of modern-day slavery to this:

"There may be people who serve you in a restaurant, who have come from a very small kampung in Malaysia and were promised a better life in big cities like Kuala Lumpur. They're housed in terrible conditions. They're fed just their staff meals but they're worked to the bone every single day. That is modern-day slavery."

Latimer told AsiaOne in an interview: "If we can help give these people a bit more of a voice, then hopefully we can push through to more people via the Internet and social media and just get it out there that modern-day slavery is a thing."

How many amongst us would actually stop to think about the sources of our favourite fast fashion gear, food and beverage items from some hole-in-the-wall hipster cafe and so on?

Today, there are more than 30 million slaves around the world -- more than there has ever been in the history of mankind.

The campaign, BuyOutSlavery, was initiated by global television network A+E Networks and local creative agency GOVT.

Inspired by the hit US TV show based on slavery, Roots, the campaign aims to drive home the point that slavery still exists today, said deputy managing director of A+E Networks (Asia), Mr Prem Kamath.

"Within the first 48 hours, there were about 23 million people who had already reached this campaign through social content and almost 2 million views of the actual promotional trailer," Mr Prem shared with AsiaOne.

Organisers also collaborated with The CNN Freedom Project and Not For Sale, an organisation that provides enslaved labourers and at-risk communities with safety and stability, education and economic opportunities.

Latimer added that Singaporeans don't have to "look far" to realise that modern-day slavery exists today and that the issue is not limited to sweatshops located continents away.

The TV host believes that Singaporeans will eventually become more aware about the issue of modern-day slavery espescially since BuyOutSlavery is a growing campaign here.

"I think we are a little slow on the uptake on getting behind social movements ... but I think when you show Singaporeans the realities (and) the faces of those affected, they might then realise that there are faces to slavery," she said.

"The good thing about this campaign is that they've tied up with a lot of local companies," Latimer continued.

"As individuals, we can make better choices to work and to consume and buy from companies that are more aware."

Some of the homegrown companies that are participating in the BuyOutSlavery campaign are lifestyle store NAIISE, handmade soap company SoapLah, health food delivery service Grain and many more.

Latimer herself is an avid supporter of Grain and homegrown fashion label Love, Bonito.

She said: "I like local brands simply because they spend a little more time sourcing their materials and looking for good alternatives - even for our smaller blogshops."

GOVT associate account director Mr Anand Daniel said the campaign organisers decided to with a "shock and awe approach" in their bid to raise awareness on modern-day slavery.

And what they did was indeed unorthodox.

Together with e-commerce partners, the campaign involved online stores such as NAIISE putting "a slave" on each of their respective sites.

Users can click on the image of a slave that they see on NAIISE's website, for example, and add it to cart. There is no money involved, however, and users don't literally "buy out" these slaves.

Instead, what campaign organisers really want is for people to share what they saw or did on their favourite shopping website on their own Facebook pages so as to spread the word.

While it might be controversial, it worked in the organisers' favour.

"The results were amazing," Mr Daniel said. "Our website almost crashed on the launch day and our partner e-commerce sites were reporting good click through rates."

He added that even if they do change "one or 10 per cent of people with this campaign", it's a step in the right direction.

Latimer hopes that with her social media following and reach, she can help "change the perception of others" while creating a movement that change the lives of those stuck in the vicious cycle of modern-day slavery.

She even took things a step further to claim that society in general today "are modern slave-drivers".

"It has to stop with us," Latimer emphasised.

"We are the consumers. We can start demanding produce that's locally grown, minimum wage ... but we all have to take a stand and be on a united front."

Roots: A History Revealed will be televised again this Friday (July 15) on the HISTORY channel(StarHub TV Ch 401).

ssandrea@sph.com.sg