When I was growing up in Mexico, I never imagined that I’d have the opportunity to help shape a law that could change people’s lives. And yet, several years ago, I found myself in Sacramento, California, sitting in State Senator Darrell Steinberg’s office having a frank conversation about labor trafficking in the garment industry. In October 2010, due to the efforts of Senator Steinberg and the support of many, I had the privilege of presenting the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act (SB 657) to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger for his signature at a ceremony at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles.
My work as an activist has very humble beginnings. When I was 29 years old, my sewing instructor introduced me to a woman who was looking for seamstresses who wanted to earn a decent salary by working in the United States. I jumped at the opportunity. But when I arrived to Los Angeles, I was forced to work from 4:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. every day, sewing fancy dresses for well-known department stores. I was physically and verbally abused. Instead of getting paid, I was told that I owed a huge debt to the woman who had trafficked me. Though these department stores didn’t know the abuse that went into their dresses, their ignorance of my situation allowed it to take place.
Eventually, I escaped, started to rebuild my life and became involved in a survivor leadership program at the Coalition to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking (CAST). When I gave presentations about human trafficking to community groups and law-enforcement agencies, I always mentioned the importance of big companies to be part of the solution.
Kay Buck, the Executive Director of CAST, and I discussed ways of inviting companies to join legislators in discussing corporate human trafficking risks. At first, we experienced a lot of resistance. Businesses were wary of anti-slavery legislation and its potential to result in fines and other penalties. However, as business representatives listened to my personal journey, I could tell that their perspective started to change. Although we still faced resistance, it was not the same intense struggle that it was in the beginning.
I am not proud that I was a victim of human trafficking. But, I am proud that my voice and survivor perspective can enable change.
Florencia Molina is one of the original members of CAST’s Survivor Advisory Caucus. The Caucus’ mission is to build leadership and advocacy skills to increase the voice of survivors in awareness-raising and advocacy efforts, and to increase the participation of survivors in advocacy planning and decision-making.