2021 Sammies People’s Choice Award winners interviewed by CNN’s Kate Bolduan
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2021 Sammies People’s Choice Award winners interviewed by CNN’s Kate Bolduan

August 13, 2021 | Updated on May 17, 2022
Greg Arcuri

On Aug. 11, the Partnership for Public Service announced the winners of the 2021 Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals® “Sammies” People’s Choice Award. CNN’s Kate Bolduan hosted the event celebrating Ana B. Hinojosa and Eric Choy from Customs and Border Protection for their team’s work to stop goods made by forced labor from entering the U.S. market as part of a broader human rights effort to fight modern-day slavery. To watch the video, visit the Partnership’s YouTube.

Narrowed down from 29 finalists, Hinojosa and Choy’s victory comes during a year that tallied more than 110,000 votes for the People’s Choice Award—the highest number to date.

Leading the nation’s fight against modern-day slavery

Hinojosa, Choy and their team worked to identify and impose financial penalties on overseas companies that manufactured products with forced labor. In August of last year, CBP fined a Chicago company over $500,000 for trying to import stevia plant extract produced by prison labor in China. It was the first time in 25 years that the agency had imposed such a penalty.

Under Hinojosa and Choy’s guidance, CBP has prioritized the protection of human rights in America’s trade agenda. “We as a nation believe we shouldn’t be consuming materials or products on the back of forced labor,” Choy said. “As a result of the team’s work, we’ve seen a significant amount of movement in the discussion globally with regards to forced labor and we’ve seen countries make significant strides in making differences in their labor practices.”

Hinojosa explained that the team’s demonstrated record of penalizing human rights abusers has led to an increase in reported cases of forced labor. “Our results have given a lot of people, both the human rights activists as well as civil society organizations, a lot more confidence in the work that we’re doing and [in the fact] that enforcement action is going to be taken.

Thankful for the opportunity to serve the nation

Both winners expressed gratitude for having the opportunity to make a positive change in the world. Reflecting on her 30 years of public service, Hinojosa said, “Every day I know that what I do is important.”

Choy believes that the team’s work has produced “reverberating effects that have occurred globally” and said that the opportunity to make a public impact drives his work. “It’s exciting to be the people’s choice,” he said, “but I think what’s [also] exciting is to be a part of the actions that are occurring and to make those big differences.”

Bolduan congratulated the two public servants and the team for their work and thanked the over 2 million federal employees who contribute so much to our country every day.

You can learn more about Hinojosa and Choy’s work—and the stories of the other 28 Sammies finalists—at servicetoamericamedals.org. The Partnership will announce the winners of this year’s Service to America Medals in October.

Greg Arcuri is a former intern on the Partnership’s Communications team.

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