The Storm Makers

PBS Premiere: Aug. 31, 2015Check the broadcast schedule »

Lesson Plan: Why Is It Illegal to Sell People?: Examining Human Rights and Modern Slavery

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We sell nearly everything: property, labor, commodities, predictions for future stock prices, ideas and more. And in the not-so-distant past, it was legal in the United States to sell humans as slaves, too. So why do we now think it is inhumane to sell people? How do current practices compare with the slave trade common in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries? And what happens when, despite the law, people are traded as merchandise? This lesson plan uses the documentary film The Storm Makers to provide students with an opportunity to reflect on the causes and consequences of human trafficking.

Featuring brutally candid testimony, The Storm Makers is a chilling exposé of Cambodia's human trafficking underworld and an eye-opening look at the complex cycle of poverty, despair and greed that fuels this brutal modern slave trade. More than half a million Cambodians work abroad and a staggering third of these have been sold as slaves. Most are young women, held prisoner and forced to work in horrific conditions, sometimes as prostitutes, in Malaysia, Thailand and Taiwan.

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By the end of this lesson, students will:

  • understand some of the causes and results of human trafficking in Cambodia
  • compare current human trafficking practices and consequences with the slave trade that brought Africans to the United States
  • write essays

GRADE LEVELS: 11-12, college


Ethics, Global Studies: Cambodia, U.S. History: Slavery, Women's Studies


    • Film clips from The Storm Makers and equipment on which to show them.


    60 - 90 minutes (depending on length of discussion), plus homework.


    Video clips provided with this lesson are from The Storm Makers.

    Note to teachers: The scenes depicted are intense and may evoke emotional reactions from students. You may wish to send a note home to parents prior to showing the film and talk with your school administrator about protocol for supporting students who have experienced similar traumas in their own lives.

    Clip 1: "Background" (1:37 min.)

    The clip is the first minute and a half or so of the film. It ends after the shot of the two children, when the screen goes black at 1:37.

    The audio from this clip is excerpted from a radio piece describing human trafficking of impoverished Cambodians putting them in slavery conditions in Malaysia and Thailand.

    Clip 2: "The Trafficker"
    (1:51 min.)

    The clip begins at 22:25 with the head of a trafficking agency sitting poolside. It ends at 24:16 with the trafficker saying girls are sold for nine to 10 thousand dollars.

    The trafficker explains how traffickers "recruit" girls into the slave trade.

    Clip 3: "Aya Tells Her Story" (3:53 min.)

    The clip begins at 17:00 with Aya doing dishes (performing domestic work for a nearby family to earn money). It ends at 20:53 with Aya saying, "At the time, I didn't know I was pregnant."

    Aya describes her ordeal in Malaysia, including being held prisoner by her boss and being raped by a stranger when she tried to escape.

    Clip 4: "Aya's Father" (3:05)

    The clip begins at 49:45 with Aya walking with her father and ends at 52:50 with her father crying.

    Aya describes how her ordeal changed her relationships with men, including her father. Her father describes the effects on him, including regret and self-blame. He describes how poverty and his belief in a recruiter led to his daughter's situation.

    Clip 5: "Aya and Her Mother: The Argument" (2:40 min.)

    The clip begins at 4:30 with Aya cooking. It ends at 7:10 with Aya rocking her son.

    The majority of the clip shows an argument between Aya and her mother, with the mother berating her daughter for returning from Malaysia with a child. The argument contains strong language, including the mother calling her daughter a "slut."

    Clip 6: "Aya and Her Son"
    (1:40 min.)

    The clip begins at 1:01:40 with Aya saying she can't forget her pain. It ends at 1:03:20 after Aya says, "When my heart remembers, I hit this child."

    Aya says she can't talk about her pain with her family and when she remembers her mistreatment, she abuses her son.


    1. Introduction

    Introduce the topic by asking students: What is a human right? What types of rights do people need to survive and thrive as individuals and as a society? What human rights are most relevant to the people featured in The Storm Makers? (For additional context or information, students can explore the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights at

    Ask students to summarize what they know about the causes and justifications of slavery in the antebellum United States. Be sure that they include economic interests, beliefs about dominion and white supremacy and "scientific" arguments that black Africans were inferior or less than human. Also ask for observations of the legacy of slavery today. What are/were the long-term consequences for the United States of its endorsement of and participation in slavery?

    Then ask what students know about modern-day slavery. Where and why does it occur and what are the consequences? Be sure they know that it happens everywhere (including the United States).

    To further explore these questions, tell students that they are going to see clips from the documentary film The Storm Makers, which is about human trafficking in Cambodia. They'll meet a teenager, Aya, and her parents.


    2. Introduce the Assignment

    After screening the film clips, each student will be asked to write a short essay on one of two topics. You can either let students pick one of these two options, or assign students one of the topics.

    1. Compare and contrast the causes and consequences of modern-day human trafficking in East Asia with the slave trade that shaped early America.
    2. Explain why we outlaw human trafficking, including a discussion of the concept of human rights, as well as the personal and societal consequences of the practice.

    3. Show and Discuss Clips

    Show all of the film clips in order. Pause briefly (as time allows) to share student reactions to what they see. Record the main points, key words and concepts brought up in your discussion by asking students to take notes individually and/or taking notes on a white board, poster board or other medium visible to all at the front of the class.

    Possible Discussion Topics

    Before introducing your own questions, solicit student responses. If the discussion doesn't touch on everything you want to cover, you might also ask some of these questions:

    Clip 1: "Background"

    • In terms of lasting impact, what's the difference between being sold for sex (generally what happens to women and girls) and being sold for labor (generally what happens to the men and boys)?

    Clip 2: "The Trafficker"

    • What are the motives of the trafficker? Who else is complicit? Why would villagers believe him? What strategies did he use to exploit the particular vulnerabilities of the villagers? Why do you suppose he hasn't been arrested?
    • Imagine what living in the kind of poverty depicted in the film looks and feels like on a daily basis. Why do you think people are so desperate to escape poverty that they are willing to be cruel and violate human rights?

    Clip 3: "Aya Tells Her Story"

    • How does Aya's experience change her as a person--how she feels about herself and her life? How might her resulting mental health issues influence her family, community and country (especially if you multiply her experience by the hundreds, or even thousands of other girls and women with similar stories)?

    Clip 4: "Aya's Father"

    • What role did poverty play in the family's choice to send Aya to Malaysia? How did trafficking change Aya's relationships with men, including her father? How did Aya's experience change her father?

    Clip 5: "Aya and Her Mother: The Argument"

    • How did human trafficking affect Aya's relationship with her mother? What role did belief in the good girl/bad girl dichotomy play?
    • What are the effects of blaming and/or shaming victims of human trafficking? What are the effects of victimizing them?

    Clip 6: "Aya and Her Son"

    • What did you learn from the film about the cyclical nature of abuse and how it carries over from one generation to the next?

    4. Write

    Assign students to write essays on one of the two topics in the second step of the activity. To scaffold the task, you might want to assign them to address specific issues in their essays. (Depending on the topic, this may require outside research, either in class or as homework). Examples could include: How did economic insecurity contribute to the events seen in the clips? What current law governs human trafficking and what is the basis for that law? What specific arguments do human rights organizations make against human trafficking? What are some of the root causes of human trafficking, and what preventative measures could be taken?


    1. Find organizations in your community working to combat human trafficking. Investigate opportunities for interested students to get involved.
    2. Investigate incidences of human trafficking in the United States and compare them with the events in the film.
    3. Have students research Cambodia's history (the Khmer Rouge regime), culture, poverty rates/economy and gender roles/attitudes and then draw conclusions about which factors may contribute to human trafficking. Then have students conduct the same research in the United States and compare and contrast their findings.
    4. Ask students to write essays explaining the significance of the film's title, The Storm Makers. What is the relationship between those who demand slavery, those who facilitate the supply for it and those who are victims of it? What makes traffickers and recruiters "storm makers," and what impact do they have on an individual, community and global scale? What attitudes, actions, reactions and circumstances bring "storm makers" to exploit and oppress other human beings?


    The Film

    The Storm Makers

    You can find links to additional resources at the film's websites:
    The POV site includes a general discussion guide with additional activity ideas.

    POV: Media Literacy Questions for Analyzing POV Films
    This list of questions provides a useful starting point for leading rich discussions that challenge students to think critically about documentaries.

    Human Trafficking

    Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives
    Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives is an abolitionist organization whose founders are direct descendants of Frederick Douglass and Booker T. Washington. It creates curriculum and brings human trafficking prevention education into secondary schools throughout the United States.

    United Nations Action for Cooperation Against Trafficking in Persons: "Cambodia" and "Tools and Guidelines"
    Tools and Guidelines:
    The United Nations Action for Cooperation against Trafficking in Persons was established in 2014 to ensure a coordinated approach to combatting trafficking in persons in the greater Mekong subregion and beyond.

    United Nations Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking: "Counter-Trafficking Action Being Taken in Cambodia"
    This page provides specific information on Cambodia, including links to relevant Cambodian laws and the nation's 2012 National Plan of Action on Trafficking in Persons and Sexual Exploitation. For more general information, including legal definitions, see the Human Trafficking page on the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime website:

    U.S. Department of State: "Trafficking in Persons Report 2014"
    Each year the U.S. Department of State releases a report on human trafficking. This link is to the 2014 report. Of special interest is the section of the report on Cambodia:


    Cambodian Information Center
    This unofficial site aggregates links to a wide range of content related to Cambodia.

    The Royal Embassy of Cambodia
    The website of the Cambodian embassy in Washington, D.C. offers official Cambodian government perspectives and links to government agencies, media outlets and more.


    Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects (

    11-12.1 Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.

    W.11-12.2d Use precise language, domain-specific vocabulary and techniques such as metaphor, simile and analogy to manage the complexity of the topic.

    11-12.4 Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization and style are appropriate to task, purpose and audience.

    Content Knowledge: ( a compilation of content standards and benchmarks for K-12 curriculum by McREL (Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning).

    Language Arts, Standard 1: Uses the general skills and strategies of the writing process.

    Language Arts, Standard 2: Uses the stylistic and rhetorical aspects of writing.

    Language Arts, Standard 8: Uses listening and speaking strategies for different puroses.

    Language Arts, Standard 9: Uses viewing skills and strategies to understand and interpret visual media.

    U.S. History, Standard 31: Understands economic, social and cultural developments in the contemporary United States.


    Thanks to those who reviewed this lesson plan:

    Robert J. Benz, Founder and Executive Vice President, Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives

    Erika Howard, Founder, Docwomen