Google ‘Gives Back’ To Some Dubious NGOs

    December 21, 2011

Google’s been funneling a laudable amount of money ($11.5 million) into organizations that strive to end modern day slavery in developing parts of the world as a part of the Google Gives Back initiative.The decision to give money to a few of those non-government organizations, though, has attracted the ire of a pro-sex workers’ rights group because of the dubious activities of some of those recipients.

Sex Work Activists, Allies, and You are objecting to the donations by Google to groups that they’ve identified as harmful to sex workers around the world: International Justice Mission, Polaris Project, and Not for Sale. SWAAY objects not only to the amount of money being given by Google to these morality NGOs (because some of them are doing pretty good on their own) but also for how these groups harshly treat willful sex workers as victims of human trafficking.

For example, the International Justice Mission is a massive evangelical Christian group that has taken the charge to rescue slaves but SWAAY parses exactly what that mission means. For one, SWAAY argues that IJL doesn’t see any difference between willing sex workers and those people who are victims of trafficking. By projecting the image of “angelic saviors,” SWAAY says that “IJL uses its power and political connections to pressure governments to crack down on the whole sex industry as an ‘anti-trafficking’ measure.” The results are often horrible for those caught in the dragnet:

This steamroller approach blindly attacks everyone in a brothel or red light district … which leads to more violent raids from famously corrupt police forces in countries like Cambodia, the Philippines, and India. The people caught up in these raids frequently report being beaten and raped by the police who are supposedly “rescuing” them, and are detained against their will in privately-funded locked-door “rehabilitation centers” or in overcrowded, disgusting jails.

SWAAY isn’t trying to diminish the actual genuine good that IJL does in rescuing legitimate sex slaves, but the nature of these “aggressive sweeps” tends to create more abuse for those rescued.

Another fact that SWAAY points out is that the IJL isn’t exactly hurting for money: their 990 tax form from 2009 shows they brought in almost $23 million that year. That the IJL is so well funded already raises speculation over whether Google seriously vetted some of the NGOs benefiting from Gives Back and whether other organizations in need would have been better candidates for the donations. Not quite in the same league as the IJL, the Polaris Project, another group targeted by SWAAY, raised a little under $4 million in 2009. (Note: I accessed the tax forms for both organizations through GuideStar, database of information about nonprofits. You can view these tax forms through that website but you will need to register for a free account first.)

SWAAY makes similar charges against Polaris Project, who participated in the campaign against craigslist for allowing sex workers to safely advertise on the site. By removing these reliable outlets for safe commerce, SWAAY accuses Polaris Project of limiting the options sex workers have in maintaining their own safety:

The ability to advertise and do business online has been important to the safety of independent sex workers in the developed world. It allows us to screen potential clients for warning signs of danger (such as checking sex offender databases or local “bad date lists”), and it creates a digital paper trail.

Due to Google’s selection of these three NGOs as beneficiaries to the Gives Back program, SWAAY has organized protests at Google’s offices today in Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Chapel Hill. Additionally, they have issued a list of demands that they hope Google will accept that include Google’s immediate cessation to funding NGOs that crusade against sex workers’ rights and safety, a full disclosure of how much money Google has already donated to organizations like IJL and Polaris Project and – perhaps most important – an apology from Google in the form of similar donations to local non-profits.

A few supporters took to Twitter today and professed their outrage at Google’s actions:

We acknowledge that these groups do some good things, but that doesn’t excuse the horrible deeds they also perpetuate 11 hours ago via HootSuite · powered by @socialditto

I know NYC has lots of sex workers and sex worker allies. Any of you want to stage a Google protest next Wednesday? RT! 2 days ago via web · powered by @socialditto

Sex Workers Rallying to Protest Google’s Funding of Morality Groups via @xbiz 22 minutes ago via Tweet Button · powered by @socialditto

#Dec21: Sex workers Day of Action against Google for financing harmful rescue groups & abolitionists 1 day ago via HootSuite · powered by @socialditto

Rescue Industry rejected by trafficking victims, Google notwithstanding 8 hours ago via NetworkedBlogs · powered by @socialditto

I recommend readers visit SWAAY’s very thoughtful and persuasive statement about Google Gives Back on their website. Also, what do you think about Google donating to faith-based NGOs? How do you feel about organizations like IJL impacting sex workers? Add your piece in the comments below.