by Gracie Leach
photography by Mark Anderson
I hear the urgency in her British accent as we speak, followed by undertones of sincere conviction. Ormond isn’t just some celebrity attaching her name to a good cause. She’s making her fame work for her by using the Hollywood machine for more than just making good movies.
Ormond has recently been recognized for her fervor, being recently appointed as the United Nations Goodwill Ambassador in Human Trafficking and Slavery as well as being the president and founder of the Alliance to Stop Slavery and End Trafficking (ASSET). It is clear that Ormond is raising awareness at home and abroad. However, her experience in activism didn’t begin with the UN.
Ormond co-founded FilmAID, a non-government funded organization, which strives to create health and community strengthening-based videos for developing countries. She launched FilmAID at the height of the Kosovo crisis in order to help refugees rebuild their lives. However, as a UN official, it is easier for her to get things done. “I think people who do aid work of any kind realize that access to government is a key part to bringing about change, and what’s fabulous about the UN is wherever you go in the world, they can open the government doors for you to go and speak to the person who is probably the most empowered to change things.”
Speaking to government officials certainly helps, but to effectively end human trafficking and slavery, Ormond advocates the combined efforts of corporations, consumers, and countries. Her belief is that slavery and poverty go hand-in-hand, and part of her solution is calling upon corporations to take a closer look at their suppliers. “A lot of the source materials that go into our supply chains come from the developing worlds where many of the materials are slave-produced. If we can get rid of slavery in the supply chain we’re also targeting the worst areas of poverty on the planet.”
We are not talking about the neglected factory workers who go home to their family after a long day at the sewing machine. These “workers” belong to an owner, and there are a lot of them. “This is not about better air conditioning or less hours for people and a little bit more pay. Looking at slavery globally, there are 27 million people we know of who are enslaved. These are people who are held against their will by way of violence; they can’t walk away.”
Women and children are generally targeted for illegal trafficking. These forced servants do any number of jobs, ranging from production to prostitution. Eventually, their suffering trickles down. “We have so many goods in our lives that are tainted by a percentage of illegal slavery. It’s in our cotton, it’s in our coffee, our cocoa; it’s in our carpets, and it’s in our steel. There are so many products that are tainted by slavery; I don’t think I’ll ever feel the same about the world.”
We, as consumers, hold a special power. We can dictate the guaranteed safety of our products by the power of our dollar. If you don’t think it’s possible, just drive to a Whole Foods. If a group of people crazy enough to believe that what they put in their mouth should be free of pesticides and inhumane practices can capitalize on the right to good food, isn’t it possible to, at the very least, get a slave-free guarantee? Ormond thinks so. “As a consumer, if I’m going to buy products, I want to know that I live in a world where the corporation that sells that product cares enough to do the right thing in terms of corporate and social responsibility, all the way down the supply chain.”
Her organization, ASSET, upholds the UN’s mission to fight the trade of human beings and targets social responsibility of corporations by working with consumers, political figures, and non-governmental organizations like the Vital Voices Global Partnership. With all her work these past few years, Ormond is beginning to see an end to her means. “I definitely feel there is a rising tide of awareness in terms of slavery and trafficking, and I think there is good work being done. I think it’s going to have impact.”
When she’s not standing up to global trafficking and slavery crimes, Ormond is still a hard working actress. Her latest film, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is an adaptation of a story by F. Scott Fitzgerald following the life of a man who ages in reverse. “The really beautiful thing that you see unravel in Benjamin Button is that he’s such a fresh slate when he’s this young soul in this old body. His youth is spent not with the young people, but with the elderly. The advice he is given really shapes him. It kind of leads to him being a compassionate character to humanity.”
Ormond also starred in Steven Soderbergh’s two-part bibliographical film about Che Guevara, The Argentine and Guerilla. Screened at Cannes in 2008 as Che, the documentary follows Guevara’s life of revolution. Ormond plays Lisa Howard, an American journalist, who gets her hands dirty in the Cuban Revolution. “I was really blown away by her. I had never heard of her and here is this woman who is this first American female anchor who had gotten the first in-depth interview with Fidel Castro and the first in-depth interview with Che, and who then devoted her life to trying to lift the embargo because she realized how that held Cubans in poverty.”
When researching for the role, she didn’t expect to relate to the world’s most popular revolutionist. “I was really stunned by how prophetic that some of the stuff he was talking about was. I think I had expected to find it a little more outdated. I’m not saying everything they did was right, and I’m not saying there isn’t an argument about how the revolution was executed, but in terms of economics and the relationship to The West and the developing world, I really found it staggeringly smart and still relevant.”
When looking to the future, Ormond is quite content to keep her life as is. Aware that she’s incredibly blessed, she wants only to continue her fight against trafficking and maintain her acting career. Specifically, Ormond has shown interest in comedy and wouldn’t mind working with Will Ferrell or Steve Carell. But, her biggest hope is that her work against the slave trade grows into a much larger movement.
With all this on her plate, Ormond manages to handle everything with the grace and gentility of a true lady. If the media loved Julia Ormond and her fierce determination in the face of an international slave trafficking ring, as much as they love the latest celebrity crotch-shot, the world would be a very different place. But until that happens, here is some advice for the ladies: “Every time you have a moment of self-doubt, make sure you establish a voice in your head that says you can do it.”