Thom Yorke has never been one to keep his political views to himself. And when he was contacted by MTV to take part in a campaign against human trafficking, he decided to play things close to the vest. Because, as he sees it, the issue isn't a political one at all.
"It's cool that MTV is taking this up, because normally, this is something I only get to talk to people about who are considered 'extreme left-wing' or whatever, but it's good it's hitting the mainstream, because I don't consider it a left-wing issue; I consider it a political-stability issue," he told MTV UK. "I think if [the campaign] does one good thing, it would be to make this concept of slavery — which is what it is — less taboo. If they can make it something that is OK for us to talk about, and for politicians in the West to actually accept that this is an issue, well, then we're doing a good thing."
And so Yorke and the rest of his Radiohead bandmates have joined forces with MTV EXIT (End Exploitation and Trafficking) to produce a music video for "All I Need," a song from their In Rainbows album, which will be broadcast globally on Thursday in the hopes of raising awareness to the more than 2.5 million men, women and children who are forced, defrauded or coerced into various forms of labor or prostitution.
"They've produced a video of two parallel stories running, one of a little boy in the West and one of a little boy in a sweatshop in the East, and the boy [in the West] ends up buying the shoes from the sweatshop. It's actually quite powerful," Yorke said. "It's the sort of images I have in my head anyway. Sometimes when you're walking down High Street and you're looking at the incredibly cheap [sneakers], you sort of think, 'Hmmm, well how did they manage to make that so cheaply?' It sort of reminds me of one of my preoccupations, so I'm touched that the music goes with that. I think it's great."
The video — which will debut in the States Thursday on MTV, MTV2, mtvU, MTV Tr3s, MTV Hits and MTV.com — was filmed in Australia by Oscar-winning cinematographer John Seale and director Steve Rogers. Following the clip's debut, fans can watch an exclusive interview with Yorke on Think.MTV.com.
The clip has the potential of being seen in more than 560 million households worldwide, which is part of the reason Yorke and his bandmates decided to lend their support. To them, the issue of human trafficking has been kept in the dark for far too long.
"It's an interesting thing, because if you are in the West, it's a luxury to be able to talk about the importance of human rights for everybody, but yet in the East, or the poorer countries where slave labor is going on, if you talk to certain companies, it seems that it's much more important that they're on some sort of economic ladder, and somehow the rights of the workers are secondary to economic growth," Yorke said. "And that I find a very peculiar logic, and I think that's as much about the power of the companies and the profits they're making as it is of any moral stance. So it would be useful when the West talks about human rights, they actually consider countries where, for a lot of workers, it's not really on the agenda yet."
According to the United Nations' International Labour Organization, more than 12 million people worldwide are trapped in forced labor, and some 2.5 million people are victims of human trafficking. The sale of human beings — for sweatshop labor, prostitution, domestic labor and commercial marriages — is the third most lucrative illicit business in the world, after only arms and drug trafficking. The industry generates an estimated $7 billion to $12 billion annually.
While Yorke knows that a single video can't stem the tide, he hopes that the "All I Need" clip can be a beginning step in ushering in global change. And he's not stopping there, either. At each stop on Radiohead's upcoming North American, European and Asian tours, youth activists belonging to anti-human-trafficking organizations will be on hand to distribute information.
"I think it's important for everyone in the West or on High Street to understand the consequences of our economic activity. You must be aware of the level of exploitation that's going on," Yorke said. "It's part of our Western life, and one we should accept responsibility for. There's no such thing as a free lunch or a free ticket to another country."