I recently completed my first 100 days as executive director of Free the Slaves.
During my first weeks on the job, I spent most of my time reaching out to stakeholders: staff, board members, donors, peer organizations, policy makers and other FTS friends.
These conversations have helped me develop a portrait of Free the Slaves that I want to share with you. I hope to engage you in an ongoing conversation about how to help FTS flourish.
Think of Free the Slaves as a triangle, the three sides being field programs, thought leadership and advocacy.
Field Programs: Our field programs in Brazil, Congo, Ghana, Haiti, India and Nepal are the frontline. Here, we work to prevent slavery, rescue the enslaved, help freed slaves rejoin families and communities, and promote the prosecution of slaveholders and traffickers. In all our programs we work with and through local organizations, building their long-term capacity to fight slavery. Through our programs, we are educating vulnerable populations about their rights, as well as how to resist the schemes and blandishments of traffickers and slaveholders. We are catalyzing collective action by communities to resist slavery and rescue those enslaved. And we are encouraging local authorities to implement the laws that reduce vulnerability to slavery and punish criminals.
I have seen the power of our field programs: mothers and children reunited, men freed from bondage, entire communities slavery-free and slavery-resistant, local officials alerted and mobilized.
In 2012, we helped free more than 1,750 slaves, reached almost 700 communities, educated more than 14,000 villagers in our slavery prevention program and trained more than 1,500 government officials on how to more effectively combat slavery. In addition, our work led to the arrest of 123 alleged traffickers. I am proud of the fact that Free the Slaves is a global leader in implementing grassroots programs against slavery.
The challenge we face is one of scale. We are helping scores of thousands whereas the need is in the millions. We need to expand in the countries in which we currently operate and open new fronts in the fight against slavery. This will require a qualitative leap in resources from our supporters and new strategies that expand programs at successively lower cost.
Thought Leadership: Our field programs are fueling learning. With 13 years of experience, FTS has built an impressive body of knowledge about what works and what doesn’t in the fight against slavery. For example, we have developed great models for training partners, educating communities and mobilizing protection committees at the village level. We are preparing to share those lessons as part of our contribution to the global anti-slavery movement.
Measuring change in the magnitude of slavery remains very challenging for the anti-slavery movement. Slavery and trafficking are criminal enterprises where the perpetrators do their best to remain in the shadows. FTS is launching efforts to pioneer new and better ways to assess progress at the local level.
Advocacy: Learning from our field programs provides the basis for evidence-based advocacy. Free the Slaves is very well positioned to be an advocate for vigorous government action because we bring experience to the table. Appropriate — and vigorously implemented — laws and regulations, as well as adequate government funding, are essential to combating slavery.
FTS has joined with other organizations in the field and in the U.S. to urge policy makers to adopt good policies and provide sufficient funding. Recently, we played a critical role in the reauthorization of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, the law that underlies the U.S. government’s programs against slavery.
The next challenge for advocates is securing adequate funding. The resources currently being invested in combating slavery are paltry. Rhetoric is not enough. Accountability is needed. Free the Slaves will shoulder its part of the campaign for resources and accountability.
Field programs, thought leadership and advocacy: These are the pillars of the Free the Slaves strategy to eradicate slavery. In the months to come, I will share via this blog our successes and challenges – and how our supporters can help.
Several U.S. cabinet secretaries will gather Friday morning at the White House for the annual meeting of the President’s Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons.
The meeting will be chaired by Secretary of State John Kerry, and will include Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, Senior Advisor to the President Valerie Jarrett, and other agency heads and senior White House officials, according to a State Department notice.
This event will be live-streamed on www.whitehouse.gov/live on Friday, May 17, at 9:45 a.m. ET.
“The annual cabinet-level meeting serves as an opportunity to coordinate government-wide efforts and discuss new initiatives in the struggle to end modern slavery,” the State Dept. notice says. It will be the first task force meeting under Kerry’s tenure as secretary of state.
He is expected to also present medals to life-long victim advocate Florrie Burke and the global hospitality and travel company Carlson, recipients of the first-ever Presidential Award for Extraordinary Efforts to Combat Trafficking in Persons.
I’m writing to tell you about an extraordinary man and his remarkable legal clinic in India.
The man is Roshan Lal. He was raised in a family of slaves. Now he is free and helping those still in slavery.
Roshan’s clinic is a testament to his courage and dedication. It’s a small brick outpost surrounded by vast fields of wheat. Women and men crowd inside on a bare floor.
What Roshan accomplishes in this simple setting – work made possible by your continuing support – is proof that victory is possible. Victory against violent moneylenders, contractors and gangsters who afflict this part of northern India.
Roshan’s story is an inspiring example of how your investment in Free the Slaves is an investment in freedom.
Where Roshan lives, slavery endures. His neighbors are forced to make bricks, crush stones and harvest crops under the harshest conditions. They are not paid. They suffer physical and sexual abuse. Roshan knows these hardships. He endured them too.
Fortunately, activists supported by Free the Slaves reached Roshan’s family several years ago. They broke the hold of traffickers. Roshan’s family started new lives in freedom.
This is the transformation that you’re making possible by donating to Free the Slaves. Preventing slavery, rescuing the enslaved, helping freed slaves build new lives, promoting the prosecution of slaveholders.
We work with local partners to combat the schemes and conditions that force people into slavery and allow slavery to persist. Our strategy is effective. We need your help to bring it to many more people like Roshan.
Once free, Roshan was able to resume his education. He’s now in law school, and works as a paralegal in the tiny brick clinic.
“I want to help everyone get their human rights,” he says. “My dream is to bring freedom to everyone who is enslaved.”
There are heroes like Roshan in all our programs. Freed slaves, inspired to help those still enslaved.
I hope that you will take this opportunity to make or renew your contribution to Free the Slaves.
Your gift enables Roshan and others to spread freedom around the world.
Anticipation is building for the release of this year’s Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report from the U.S. State Department. The report has become an important diplomatic tool in the fight against modern-day slavery. Businesses also use the rankings to understand the risks of slavery connected to their supply chains. This year’s report will be the first for Secretary of State John Kerry and the Obama administration’s second term in office.
The annual TIP report is a global country-by-country evaluation of efforts to combat trafficking. Countries are graded on a scale from 1 to 3 (Tier 1 is the best, Tier 3 is the worst). Sanctions are possible for underperforming nations. A Tier 2 Watch List includes several countries who aren’t doing enough. By law, they must be demoted to Tier 3 if they don’t improve after two years on the watch list, although waivers of the sanctions are allowed.
The Tier 2 Watch List has caught the attention of several members of Congress. They recently wrote to Kerry, laying out their concern about countries lingering on the list.
“We wish to convey our concern about continued, severe trafficking issues in several countries that are on the Tier 2 Watch List, including China, Uzbekistan, Russia, Iraq, Republic of Congo, and Azerbaijan. These six countries have exhausted under U.S. law the time they can remain on the Tier 2 Watch List and must be elevated to Tier 2 or demoted to Tier 3 in the TIP report this year. We are confident you agree that the Watch List protocol was designed to offer countries a brief added opportunity to make needed changes and should never be used to push countries into a higher ranking than their records merit.” (Read the full letter here).
The letter was signed by 16 members of Congress: Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA), Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Rep. John Carter (R-TX), Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH), Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX), Rep. Tim Griffin (R-AR), Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Rep. James McGovern (D-MA), Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), Rep. Joseph Pitts (R-PA), Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX), Rep. Peter Roskam (R-IL), Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA), Rep. Christopher Smith (R-NJ), Rep. Randy Weber (R-TX), Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA).
FTS Director of Programs Karen Stauss says the TIP ranking system has to be “impartial.”
“The U.S. government uses it to target assistance to governments who’ve demonstrated the political will to make progress, but just lack the resources. In other words, places where we can get the most bang for our buck, and won’t be pouring money into a black hole of corruption.”
Stauss believes the 2013 TIP report will be a “moment of truth.”
“We need the U.S. government to keep the pressure on countries that haven’t made any genuine improvements. In other words, no ‘automatic upgrades’ for governments that are not making progress.”
The 2013 TIP report is tentatively scheduled for release in mid-June.
Veero Kolhi is no stranger to adversity. She escaped single-handedly from slavery, and she’s helped hundreds of others overcome fear and intimidation to also break free.
Tomorrow, Veero takes another inspiring step: she’s on the ballot for provincial parliament (Seat PS-50, Hyderabad).
You can read about her courageous run for office in one of Pakistan’s leading news sites, Dawn. They say her candidacy is astonishing.
One of her biggest supporters, Ghulam Hyder of the Green Rural Development Organization, says Veero’s campaign platform focuses on empowering the poor and marginalized:
- Release and rehabilitation of 1.7 million bonded labor slaves.
- Just distribution of opportunities for local people to benefit from Pakistan’s natural resources such as water, oil and forests.
- Provision of equal wages and opportunities for women, and enabling women access to the court system to seek justice.
- Ensuring the availability of education, drinking water, sanitation and other basic services.
There are more than 50 candidates competing in the provincial election on May 11. Veero is the only woman on the ballot, and the only slavery survivor to ever run for a general parliamentary seat in Pakistan, Ghulam says.
Pakistan’s elections have been marked this year by violent attacks on candidates. Veero has been subjected to threats, Ghulam says, but she presses forward.
As Veero herself said in her FTS Freedom Award profile video: “The slaveholders have sent messages that I will be murdered. But I don’t fear them anymore. And I will continue to fight. That is the spirit I have inside me.”
POST-ELECTION UPDATE (Monday, May 13): FTS has received news that Veero did not win the election. But everyone involved in her candidacy has felt that her run for office was a tremendous step forward. Veero has issued this statement to supporters:
I, Veero Kohli, your sister, am grateful to the men and women laborers for giving me more than 6,000 votes despite the fact that I could not contact many of you. This shows your confidence in me for which I am personally obliged to each one of you. I have been striving for you in the past and try my level best to come true to your expectations as long I am alive. May you need my assistance and happen to call me I shall proudly rush to you barefooted. Elections apart, I shall continue working on the manifesto declared by me and will contact you in this respect very soon to form a workable strategy for its implementation in letter and spirit.
Confronting the crocodiles was a herculean task and it was expected the rock-hard centuries old system could not be dismantled in a single stroke; nevertheless it is the beginning which is bound to lead to success. I once again offer my sincere thanks to all my benefactors including the people of my class who trusted me and voted for me.