Starfish Project: About the Makers
Founder: Jenny McGee
Number of Workers: Over 160 since 2006
Materials: Gold-plating, sterling silver, stainless steel
Values: Fighting human trafficking and exploitation, empowering women, Fair Trade
Memberships: Members of the Fair Trade Federation
Who are Starfish?
Starfish Project is a not for profit organisation that supports women who have experienced sexual exploitation and human trafficking in Asia. Starfish's life-changing work is funded through their jewellery social enterprise; the jewellery is handmade by the women in Asia who are rebuilding their lives. Founded in 2006 by CEO, Jenny McGee, the organisation has grown from five women sitting around a dining room table, to over 142 women completing Starfish's holistic care program.
"They deserve joy, they are loved, and they have the utmost worth. They matter. That truth is what drives everyone who works for Starfish Project. We want to share this message with every woman we come in contact with, and hopefully some day they’ll believe it for themselves.”
- Jenny McGee, Starfish Project CEO
Why don't Starfish disclose the specific location or identities of their workers?
While The Fair Trader believes in the importance of transparency, disclosing the women's location or identities could put them in danger. Human trafficking and exploitation are sensitive issues, and Starfish must prioritise their workers' safety and wellbeing.
According to research done by the Global Slavery Index (GSI), in 2016 an estimated 40.3 million people were held captive in modern day slavery around the globe, 71% of which were women. Asia and the Pacific have the highest prevalence of slavery compared with other regions around the world, and make up 73% of the world's cases of forced sexual exploitation (source).
How Starfish Helps Women
Starfish Project sends out teams each week to visit vulnerable women in brothels in Asian cities. These teams provide medical support, education, and birthday celebrations. Starfish also runs safe shelters for women in the cities they operate which gives the women security in the transition between leaving the sex industry and becoming independent.
Starfish's Holistic Care Program provides each woman that comes to Starfish with healthcare, shelter, counselling, and vocational training. Women are equipped with life skills that enable them to learn to live independently.
The jewellery social enterprise provides the women with opportunities to develop their skills and build a career, not only in jewellery making, but also in management positions, accounting, graphic design, and photography. The women that work at Starfish are paid a fair wage, work in safe conditions, and are treated with love and respect.
Meet the Makers
Jewellery Samples & Training
"My dreams have come true. I am studying for the first time in my life."
"As a child, I remember standing outside the gate of the school crying because I longed to learn like my brothers. My parents forbade me from going to school because they thought it was a waste of time and money for girls to be educated.
"With no education and no options in my poor village, I was exploited into a brothel where I stayed until I met the Starfish Project Team. I remember the day they offered me a job making jewelry. I asked if my daughter could come too. She was working in the same brothel with me. Together, we had the opportunity to take the brave steps toward freedom.
"Now, my dream to study has actually come true! I never thought I would have the chance, especially at my age. Since joining Starfish Project, I have learned how to read and write through classes they provide.
"Currently, I am studying English and computers. I am also responsible for making the prototypes and samples for all of our jewelry.
"At Starfish Project, my daughter and I have been completely transformed. Today, my daughter is running her own business and providing for her family, while I am continuing to develop my career at Starfish Project. I play an important role in helping new women by training them in making jewelry designs."
Mae Lee's Story
"I have found my freedom at Starfish Project."
"When I was 15 years old, my mom trafficked me to Greece. I was exploited for 6 years before I was able to return to my home country.
"When I returned, Starfish Project stepped in and offered me a new beginning. I've been able to pursue dreams that I once thought were impossible. Having only an elementary school education, I was excited to study literacy, English, math and computers.
"Through the program, I discovered my passion for capturing beauty. I've received specialized training and mentoring by professional photographers. Currently, I take many of the product and model photos on our website and social media.
"I came to Starfish Project with no confidence in myself, but now, I take pride in my work. While at Starfish Project, I have also gotten married and had a beautiful daughter. I have big dreams for my family's future, and I can't wait to achieve them!"
"I grew up in a poor village in the countryside with my parents and my older brother. When I was in high school, I had to drop out before earning my diploma. Then, I was trafficked into a brothel by a relative. I was only a teenager at the time. While I was working in the brothel, I was incredibly depressed, alone and without any hope. I was not sure if I would survive working there much longer. One day, Starfish Project outreach teams met me in the brothels and offered me a way out through their company.
"I started working in jewelry production at Starfish Project and worked my way up quickly. Eventually, I started managing the Finished Product Room and started selling Starfish Project jewelry at events and bazaars in our headquarters city. During this time, I also went through Starfish Project’s vocational training program. I took English and computer classes, and received professional certifications in Microsoft Word and Excel. Once I completed the computer training program, Starfish Project supported my accounting training at a local school. I studied really hard, passed my accounting certification test, and am now working as the accounting assistant at Starfish Project. It meant a lot to have the Starfish staff recognize my potential. I love learning new skills. I am so grateful for the new opportunities studying accounting has provided.
"Having the opportunity to study at Starfish Project has been very significant for me. I was nervous when I started studying accounting but everyone at Starfish Project was so encouraging and supportive. I work side-by-side with Starfish Project’s accountant, who has over 20 years of experience in the field. She mentors me daily, and I have learned so much from working alongside her. I am also studying for my Bachelor’s Degree and am pursuing my dream to be an accountant."
You can support these women by purchasing Starfish Project jewellery here.