Editor’s note: FTS Major Gifts Office Sarah Gardner accompanied several FTS supporters to Nepal. This is the first of several blog stories that we will post over the coming weeks. You can see videos of our flontline work in the mini-documentary Turning the Tide on the FTS website.
I have just returned from a remarkable journey. I had the honor of joining six donors as we visited Free the Slaves programs in Nepal for a week. Whether it was hiking up dirt paths far outside the Kathmandu valley, or riding up windy roads a few miles from the Tibet border, we managed to travel to some of the most remote places in Nepal. And there we found some of the most empowered women and girls I have ever met.
Having worked at FTS for nearly three years, I knew what to expect: Explanations of why our program works, how it works, and the fearless partner staff that is involved in the frontline day-to-day. I can tell you that seeing the work changed everything for me.
But I would rather focus on one of the reasons I work for Free the Slaves. I’ve learned that those affected by slavery TEACH US what ending slavery means. Without intending it, spending time in these communities is like holding up a mirror to our own lives. And some of these realizations were overwhelming and surprising.
My first realization was the importance of community. The power of our anti-slavery work in Nepal, and our work around the world for that matter, is that the women and girls work together, and look out for the well-being of each another. Karen Stauss, our Program Director, uses the term “neighborhood watch” to describe how a CVC works (a community vigilance committee is a group that organizes their neighbors against slavery). This really got me thinking. When was the last time you met with your neighbors to discuss a problem facing the entire community? In rural Nepal, where people have next to nothing, what is the one thing residents have? They have each other. And this didn’t happen on its own—the heart of our program work is the attitude that with the strength of the group, slavery can be beaten.
For instance, in the meetings the women and girls would sit very close to each other, often stroking each other’s arms when one talked about their past, or what they were looking forward to in their future. What stood out to me, is that the primary reason this work “works” is because there is complete “buy in” from those involved. There is no shame or embarrassment in needing others for support, which is very powerful. They often call each other sisters, and they lend members money or food when they need it.
The other thing that caught me off guard was that EVERYONE had a phone. We would be in tiny huts way up in the mountains, and a villager’s phone would go off in the meeting, the chirpy ringtone blaring. We saw fiber-optic cables running up along the side of the mountains, along dirt roads where there was often no electricity or running water. I mention this not just to say, “Everyone had a phone,” but to ask the question of what this CONNECTIVITY means. To have a member of Shakti Samuha (one of our local groups) come up to me after our meeting and say, “Will you Facebook me?” initially confused me because I had to come to terms with the fact that the rules of engagement are now very different. These are relationships where we can’t choose to be exposed to slavery and then when we “need a break” from the devastation, turn off this connection.
Of course in my heart I was already committed to this issue in this way, but the reality of this connection became real to me in a way it hadn’t been before. And it begs the question, how can this connectivity be used to help fight slavery? We talk about slavery being in our backyards, but what also happens when it is affecting our Facebook friends? While I still need to digest this reality more, I believe this kind of connectivity could make the issue of slavery much more personal in a world where it is often hidden and “so far away.”
Much more to come from our Nepal journals. Watch this space!
President Barack Obama today outlined several steps his administration will take to strengthen the U.S. government’s efforts to battle slavery.
The plan follows a simple philosophy, the president said: “Spot it and stop it.”
- An executive order issued today that prohibits human trafficking by government contractors and provides federal investigators with tools to crack down on violators.
- Training for law enforcement, immigration judges and others to help spot trafficking victims, and to treat them as victims instead of criminals.
- A $6 million partnership with Humanity United and the Goldman Sachs Foundation to spur innovation in local communities to help trafficking survivors.
- Streamlining T-visa procedures so that trafficking survivors aren’t quickly deported after being rescued.
- A new annual presidential award for exceptional contributions to the anti-slavery movement.
- Development of a national action plan to strengthen victim services, and a domestic slavery tracking study to spot trends in U.S. trafficking.
Mr. Obama announced these actions to fight slavery at the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) in New York. See the speech here. He did not shy away from using the “S” word to characterize slavery for what it is.
“It’s a debasement of our common humanity,” the president said. “It ought to concern every community, because it tears at the social fabric. It ought to concern every business, because it distorts markets. It ought to concern every nation, because it endangers public health and fuels violence and organized crime. I’m talking about the injustice, the outrage, of human trafficking, which must be called by its true name: modern slavery.”
The White House also announced that the administration’s efforts augment other developments discussed at this year’s CGI gathering. These include:
- A Global Business Coalition Against Trafficking that will work business-to-business to mobilize corporate efforts to fight slavery in supply chains.
- A trafficking “toolkit” from the U.S. Travel Association to create awareness in the travel and tourism industry.
- A campus challenge to raise awareness and inspire activism.
- A Johns Hopkins university research partnership to focus on child sex trafficking.
- A Made in a Free World initiative to help buyers and suppliers identify and eliminate slavery-tainted materials in corporate supply chains.
FTS co-founder Kevin Bales welcomes the high level attention that slavery is receiving.
“How many slave-made goods are flowing into our lives is still unknown, but no consumer thinks slavery is a bargain,” says Bales. “It’s time for leaders in the Global Business Coalition Against Trafficking to dig deep into their supply chains and work for a slave-free world. At the same time, the president and Congress should enact the Business Transparency on Trafficking and Slavery Act, to ensure that all businesses, not just business leaders, have to report on what if anything they’re doing to address slavery in their own operations.”
President Obama received strong applause during his remarks about modern day slavery. “It is barbaric and it is evil,” he noted, “and it has no place in a civilized world.”
Administration officials have been asking anti-slavery activists for several months if there is more that the U.S. government can do to combat slavery. In partnership with our colleagues in the ATEST coalition of leading U.S. human rights organizations, FTS has suggested a wide range of policy initiatives.
Last week, FTS co-founder Kevin Bales also outlined important steps that the U.S. can take, in his FTS Blog “memo” to Abraham Lincoln. For the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, Kevin suggested things Lincoln could do about modern slavery if he were alive today.
It’s not clear just which ideas President Obama might endorse today. White House aides say his strategy on human rights has two key pillars: protecting human dignity and leading by example. We’ll learn today how Mr. Obama might translate those ideals into action.
Combating slavery has long been a bipartisan effort bringing elected officials together even in polarized times. The first Trafficking Victims Protection Act was passed during the Clinton administration, and it has been strengthened and reauthorized multiple times during the Bush presidency. Proposals for fighting trafficking are included in both the 2012 Republican and Democratic party platforms.
The Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) has also been an incubator for partnerships to fight slavery. The annual conference brings together activists, thought leaders, corporate executives, philanthropists and government officials to seek ways to tackle worldwide problems. At the 2009 CGI gathering, Clinton himself endorsed the FTS blueprint for change, the Kevin Bales book “Ending Slavery: How We Free Today’s Slaves.”
“It’s a problem we can solve, and here’s how to do it,” Clinton said while holding up a copy of Kevin’s book.
September 22nd marks the 150th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation to free slaves in Confederate states during the Civil War.
Slavery, however, still exists in the U.S.
In fact there has never been a day in American history without it.
If Lincoln were still president today, this is what I would tell him about how to achieve real, not just legal, abolition.
MEMO: Progressing to a Slave-Free America
TO: POTUS (Abraham Lincoln)
Congratulations. Firstly, Sir, thank you for your Emancipation Proclamation. It led the way to outlawing slavery nationwide through the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and it created a context in which a slave-free America is possible. The complete eradication of slavery from the United States will be a fitting tribute to your leadership and sacrifice, and the realization of the core American value of human freedom. This memo proposes ways to finish what you have started.
Prevalence of Slavery Today. As a hidden crime invisible to most statisticians, estimates of current U.S. slavery are imprecise. Conservative estimation suggests 40,000 to 100,000 slaves in the U.S. today (.00033 of population). Key areas of modern enslavement are commercial sexual exploitation, agricultural work, domestic service, restaurant and hotel work, and small-scale manufacturing. Traffickers and slaveholders are strongly linked to other criminal enterprises. Victims are both foreign nationals and U.S. citizens. Victims are also likely to be young and economically productive, tricked into slavery because their desire for gainful employment prompted them to trust someone offering a job. Federal trafficking cases have been pursued in all 50 states. Most occur in urban areas with international transit links.
Political Implications. Ending slavery in America is backed by strong bipartisan agreement and commitment. Ideological motivations differ, but there is robust concurrence on the desired outcome. No one argues that slavery is allowable or necessary today.
Budget Implications. Current federal expenditures on reducing the criminal activity of slavery and human trafficking are less than that devoted to military bands within the Defense Department. The estimated cost of global slavery eradication over 25 years totals $11 billion (one-half the yearly cost of the War on Drugs). More detailed estimates will be needed, but a slave-free America should cost no more than $1.2 billion over a 5-10 year period.
Economic Stimulus Outcomes. Immediate stimulus will result from nationwide eradication. Since slavery is a drag on the economy, increased productivity and consumer consumption by freed slaves – along with a reduced need for law enforcement expenditures — will foster economic growth. Tax revenues from freed slaves will benefit governments at all levels.
Program Components and Steps to a Slave-Free America.
- National Plan for Eradication of Slavery – Ten years ago the government of Brazil initiated its national slavery eradication plan. It brought together all relevant agencies, law enforcement and non-governmental organizations. It unified and resourced legal responses to slavery. Their first year (2003) results were 4,789 slaves freed. A unified plan and model should be adapted and improved here in the U.S.
- Mobile Anti-Slavery Teams – Brazilian experience also shows the value of specialist federal anti-slavery squads that include labor inspection and enforcement specialists. This matches existing FBI and Justice Department staffing profiles for drug enforcement. It can be easily adopted into current law enforcement procedures for trafficking.
- Dramatic Need for Increased Law Enforcement Training – According to a State Department estimate, there are around 15,000 new slaves trafficked into the U.S. each year – equivalent to the 15,000 homicides committed here annually. Across all law enforcement (local, state, and federal police/agents) there are about 45,000 trained homicide specialists, but only about 200 trained anti-slavery specialists. This disparity in trained personnel results in national homicide clear-up rates of 70 to 75 percent, and slavery/trafficking clear-up rates of less than one percent. Expansion and training of enforcement personnel will be critical to success. Enhancing law enforcement’s capacity to target traffickers who pose as legitimate foreign labor recruiters will provide immediate results.
- Enforcement and Expansion of Laws on Slave-Made Goods – The Smoot-Hawley Tariff (1929) and subsequent laws banned the importation of slave-made goods. But slave-produced goods and commodities now flowing into U.S. include minerals for cell phones and computers, shrimp and fish, iron used in car building, biofuels, timber, and cotton. Cooperation with business and increased emphasis on enforcement can assure clean supply chains and satisfy consumer demand. Expanding rules for corporations to investigate and clean-up supply chains will accelerate progress. The U.S. government is one of the world’s largest customers for goods and services, and it can lead the way by refusing to purchase slavery-tainted products.
- Environmental Impact - Slave production of goods in Africa, South America, and Asia significantly increases deforestation and uncontrolled pollution. Collectively, slave-based businesses, primarily aimed at producing products for U.S. and European markets, are the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases after China and the U.S. Closing markets for slave-made goods will help slow global warming and preserve endangered habitat and species.
- Caring for Freed Slaves – Our abolition of legal slavery in 1865 led to a botched emancipation. Millions of African-Americans suffered second-class status, prejudice, discrimination, and violence. The result was generations of wasted talent and productivity. Freed slaves are ready to work for themselves and their families; we have to make sure they get the care, tools, and support to do so.
Significance and Legacy. As a nation founded on the ideal of freedom, the complete eradication of slavery in our country will serve as a beacon of possibility and hope — to our own citizens and to the world.
Mr. President, you, and the hundreds of thousands of citizens who sacrificed their lives in conflict, set us on a road to true freedom. The war we fought to begin the end of slavery was devastating – but as Yeats wrote, “Nothing can be sole or whole that has not been rent.”
The Emancipation Proclamation was the first step to a slave-free America. Today there are only a few short steps remaining until we truly arrive in the Land of the Free.
(Editor’s Note: Kevin Bales is a Free the Slaves co-founder and Professor of Contemporary Slavery at the Wilberforce Institute for the Study of Slavery and Emancipation, University of Hull. Information about his groundbreaking books on slavery can be found on the FTS website. His most recent video is a tool for businesses to train employees and suppliers about removing slavery from their product supply chains.)
With the Emancipation Proclamation’s 150th anniversary approaching this weekend, MTV’s campus channel, mtvU, has launched a new poetry series. The poems were written by sex slavery survivors in the U.S., and excepts are read by musicians Alicia Keys and P!nk, and actress Jada Pinkett Smith.
The poems are powerful reminders that slavery still takes a toll on human lives, in the U.S. and around the world.
“I love myself, even if no one else does,” writes Alexis in one poem. “All anyone ever sees,” writes Monique, “is the fake me I have to be.”
The poems are part of mtvU’s Against our Will campaign, which reaches nine million college students on 750 campuses. Free the Slaves is a campaign partner with mtvU. Six slavery survivor poems were developed by campaign partner, Girls Educational and Mentoring Services (GEMS).
The full text of each poem is available online, and portions of each poem have been read by well-known artists to amplify their impact among young anti-slavery activists.
- “Pimps” | Alicia Keys reads an excerpt from the poetry of Alexis, an 18-year old trafficking survivor, as she talks about self-worth and loving herself, despite her pimp’s exploitation of her.
- “Children of the Night?” | Written by Leisa, Jada Pinkett Smith reads a portion of a poem about how deception by pimps leads to the destruction of those who are trafficked.
- “I Remember” | P!nk voices the words of Jennifer, a trafficking survivor who writes about remembering who she is.
- Night Life” | 21 year-old Jennifer comes to grips with the traumas she experienced and warns other girls in the excerpt of this poem read by Jada Pinkett Smith.
- “My Life” | Voiced by Alicia Keys and authored by 16 year-old trafficking survivor, Sheena, who writes about the abuses she faced, and her difficulty leaving.
- “Look in My Eyes” | Monique, a 19 year-old trafficking survivor, writes of people willfully seeing a false image of her in this spot voiced by Jada Pinkett Smith.
All six poems are available here.