Microsoft battles slavery in Asia

Microsoft Corp. is donating US$1 million to several groups in Asia battling the modern human slave trade, which mainly targets women and children, to curb the trade and highlight the issue.

The company plans to use IT training to give people new skills to find jobs. The funds, distributed in Cambodia, India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand, are aimed at the people most vulnerable to human trafficking: women and children in poor nations.

The project won't necessarily gain from the recent announcement by Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates that he plans to play a larger day-to-day role at the charity organization he runs with his wife, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

"It's great that this company is run by a person that has that kind of spirit," said Lori Forman, regional director of community affairs at Microsoft, but the foundation operates separately from the company's own philanthropy work.

Microsoft is no stranger to projects involving human trafficking or sexual exploitation. The company has also worked with law enforcement agencies in several nations to develop a software system called CETS, short for Child Exploitation Tracking System, which allows police agencies to share and analyze information about pedophiles and other people who prey on children.

Globally, the modern slave trade is huge. Over a million people are forced into unwanted sexual, hard labor, or other work each year, according to, a Web site dedicated to the issue. The site is full of reports on women lured to Japan and other wealthy countries with the promise of good paying jobs in restaurants or factories, only to find themselves in brothels working against their will.

In Thailand, Microsoft is working with the Mirror Foundation to support several groups working against human trafficking, with a focus on kids and people affected by the tsunami that swept through Asia in late 2004. The groups will teach basic computing, office productivity, network administration, hardware repair and other skills to as many as 13,000 people over the next three years.

In Cambodia, the company is working with Pact Inc. to increase computer skills among workers at aid agencies and other nongovernment organizations that work with at-risk women. Pact expects to train 3,255 people over the next three years.

In India, the company granted funds to the Child and Police Project (CAP) to provide training in basic computer skills and productivity applications. The project aims to educate 13,750 people from some of the country's poorest areas over the next three years.

There are many more agencies spread across a handful of countries working against slavery. Microsoft chose the groups based on their reputations as much as on what kind of projects they were able to develop, said Forman. The company plans to keep tabs on the programs through quarterly reports, regular meetings, and assessing the impact of the projects over time.

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