End human trafficking: how journalists can make an impact

July 30, 2019

R.AGE is an award-winning team of investigative journalists based in Malaysia. These talented young journalists produce, shoot and write powerful multimedia pieces, to drive positive change in society and make an impact.


One of their latest project titled, Student/Trafficked, blew the lid off a global nexus of human traffickers. These traffickers pose as “education agents” and lure young adults —seeking a life as a student abroad. The modus operandi is convince them that students can work part time to recover costs. However, what follows is that these young people find themselves working as cheap labour in dangerous jobs —ending up being exploited, disillusioned and burdened with debt. Various government agencies have pledged to crackdown on these traffickers. What more, nearly 30 colleges and universities have had their licenses revoked.

The ILO discussed with Elroy Yee, senior producer at R.AGE.

Aurélie Hauchère Vuong (ILO): How did R.AGE first start investigating on forced labour and trafficking?

Elroi Yee (R.AGE): We received a tip-off from a local NGO that many foreign workers were still entering the country even though the government had declared a freeze on all foreign worker intake. Interviews and investigations led to us uncovering how colleges would often enrol foreign students by the hundreds, even thousands, and sometimes send them out to work. Often, these students arrived with the intention to study, but had no choice but to work.

AHV: Not only did R.AGE report on Bangladeshi students being trafficked to work in Malaysia but you also initiated a campaign. When did you decide that telling their story was not enough?

EY: That’s been our modus operandi at R.AGE – our stories need to come with a course of action. I think it is a reflection of the way the audience interacts with reporting of human rights abuses. Most of the time, audiences want to do something about these issues, and they want to know how they can get involved. We need to be able to present them a viable, responsible course of action.

AHV: The documentary series Student/trafficked uses videos, infographics and articles. How do you manage to mix these various styles, including social media and investigative journalism to create a powerful storytelling experience?

EY: What we have tried to do is to give our stories as many touch points with the audience as possible — Longform articles for the avid reader, short news articles for shorter attention spans, videos for those who prefer to watch, micro-videos that are easy to share on social media. The challenge is that media platforms – especially social media – change so quickly these days. We have to keep ourselves abreast of these changes and evolve our storytelling techniques accordingly. For example – Instagram rolled out its new IGTV feature last year, and now we have to think of packaging videos in portrait format instead of the usual landscape format.

AHV: You participated in an ILO workshop on forced labour in Jordan to tell fellow journalists about the work of R.AGE. Tell us about the exchange…

EY: One of the most common themes was the diminishing resources available for working journalists. Newsrooms are trimming their workforce, so journalists need to put in much more work, but with higher expectations as the industry is still as competitive as ever. This leads me to the conclusion that journalists need to collaborate more. Pooling resources to report on bigger stories, with deeper impact. Initiatives like ILO’s workshop helps put like-minded journalists who are passionate about similar topics in the same room. This facilitates collaboration, and hopefully these relationships grow into working collaborations.

AHV: Globally, forced labour and trafficking are still largely under-reported. Many even ignore this harsh reality and that it can happen in their country, in their neighbourhood or that it can affect them as consumer through the products and services they use. What is your advice to journalists who wish to uncover such stories in their countries?

EY: You can make a difference with your reporting. Do not accept the status quo. Always be willing to innovate. And reach out to R.AGE if you need a collaborator!