Marcus Bleasdale and Human Rights Watch's Real Impact
Laws are an existential appendage of a culture's morals. They are written and enforced in a local community as an extension of the questions "Who are we?" "What do we believe in?" and "What do we want?" As those questions are considered and debated, the limits of law are discovered and boundaries drawn. But sometimes issues fall through the cracks. Laws are only as valuable as the care to follow them so when that care lapses, what do we do?
Marcus Bleasdale has made a career from chasing fractured morality all over the world. He has spent the better part of two decades compiling an archive of some of the worst human rights abuses and challenging those who commit them. In times when laws are of no consequence, Marcus has worked to bring light where no one else cares to shed it.
Having worked in tandem with Human Rights Watch for the last 14 years, Marcus and HRW presented a show at Christie's in London entitled "IMPACT" that critically looked at just that: the impact of their partnership. When neighbors are killing neighbors in the Central African Republic based on rumors, what is the definitive impact of a journalistic institution and a man with a camera? IMPACT shows us, it's quite tangible.
When HRW and Marcus discovered that they could cross this line between documentary and real impact, they quickly started to investigate how they could focus and amplify it. “Increasingly we’re learning, we’ve been learning, about how to do this,” explains Marcus. What their partnership has revealed is that when they focus on issues that aren’t a part of the global narrative, sometimes just the attention can be the agent for change.
War ravaged Eastern Congo in the early part of the last decade, overseen largely by warlords who were rampaging throughout the region. The conflict was primarily financed through the illegal international gold trade. Two companies, AngloGold Ashanti and Metalor Technologies were acquiring the gold, and the money they paid for it went to buy guns and perpetuate bloodshed. “We focused on their shareholders and their financiers,” Marcus explains. HRW and Marcus put together the exhibition “The Curse of Gold” in Geneva in a UBS Bank, explaining the situation and focusing on the two organizations. Marcus explains the response saying, “Their shareholders and financiers quite clearly said, ‘We no longer want to be involved in this.’ And they stopped purchasing gold in Eastern Congo.” The arrest of trade dried up the financial reservoirs that were financing the war, and the conflict ended. Their curated presentation in Switzerland ended a war rampaging in Africa.
It’s not just the effects of war on the other side of the world, Marcus and HRW are also creating tangible change at home. In their story “Tobacco’s Hidden Children” they brought attention to underage workers in the tobacco fields of Kentucky. “Children as young as 12 and 13 years old were chopping and collecting tobacco in the fields, completely against US law. The tobacco industry was very knowledgeable about it but was turning a blind eye to it,” says Marcus. So he and HRW went in and published their report on what they saw there. The policies were not protecting the children from this hazardous work and there was complete disregard for the labor laws. Since the report was filed last year the industry has promised evolution. “They have vowed to pass laws and change working practices to ban under the age of 16 working in the industry,” says Marcus. Yet another example of the true and tangible impact of this work.
For more stories of the ongoing partnership between Marcus Bleasedale and Human Rights Watch, please check out HRW’s Instagram that is currently filled with Marcus’ photography and paired with the stories of IMPACT.