Robin in Ghana

Robin filming child fishing slavery rescue in Ghana | Photo: FTS/Callahan

One of the founding principles of Free the Slaves is that we must show the world that slavery still exists. That has meant traveling to distant and dangerous places to film the brutality of slavery today, as well as to showcase innovative ways to end it.

Over the years, FTS has been fortunate to work with one of the world’s best photographers, Robin Romano.

Whether it was hundreds of feet below ground inside illegal gold mines, or hundreds of miles upcountry at fishing camps or in rebel conflict zones, Robin did what it took to present visual proof of slavery’s reality to the world.

Robin died late last year, and fellow activists in the Child Labor Coalition are gathering over the next few days in New York and Washington, D.C. to celebrate the life of an exemplary activist, gadfly, award-winning human rights photographer and filmmaker, artist and friend.

  • New York: Saturday, February 8th at 1 p.m., St. Mark’s Church in-the-Bowery, 131 East 10th Street.
  • Washington: Thursday, February 13th at 4:30 p.m. at the National Education Association, 1201 16th Street, NW. Register here.

You can see some of Robin’s amazing FTS work about rehabilitating child soldier slaves in Uganda and the rescue of child fishing slaves in Ghana on the FTS Vimeo page. His own website is here.

The Free the Slaves staff will miss Robin, and our thoughts are with his family. Others who have worked with him will miss Robin, too:

“You were far more than just a photographer/videographer, but I want to say just a word about that aspect of your amazing life. I have thousands of your photos in boxes at home, the remnants of many projects we worked on together. I have looked again at many of these photos since you died, and recall vividly how you had an amazing knack for seeing in your subjects, mostly children, the spark of dignity and humanity that had often been almost crushed by their life circumstances. And you had an uncanny ability to encourage these subjects to show that spark.” –Pharis Harvey on Media Voices for Children blog.

“Robin was always covered in cameras. He was a one man show. He shot stills, video, took sound, did interviews. He filled every vacuum. He didn’t know how to delegate. He hated sharing. He wanted everything perfect and was willing to pay the price of doing it all himself. The price was physical exhaustion, illness, a candle burning at both ends. He was one of the finest natural light videographers I have known in forty years as a director-editor. And still his photographs are among the best the world has ever seen. This was the Robin I knew, working to take the perfect picture that would tell the story of a child’s life, and of our world’s indifference in one frozen second.” –Len Morris on Media Voices for Children blog.

A child is rescued by Brazil’s elite anti-slavery police | FTS Photo/Romano

12_Years_a_Slave_film_posterOscar-nominated screenwriter John Ridley is concerned that moviegoers might miss a key lesson from the poignant script he wrote for the hit movie 12 Years a Slave.

“As beautiful as this film is, one of the dangers is people will go in and say thank God we’re not like that anymore. The fact of the matter is,” Ridley said, “it is going on right now.”

Speaking Friday night on HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher, Ridley noted that millions are tricked into slavery today, just as Solomon Northop was in 12 Years a Slave.

The film is based on a true story — Northop was a free African-American in New York who thought he was joining a traveling musical group in the 1840s. He was trafficked to a plantation in the South until activists helped him assert his legal rights to return home.

“It can happen, it can happen here,” Ridley said about trafficking today. “Whether it’s forced labor, whether it’s sex trafficking, if there are individuals that cannot have their right of self determination, then it’s slavery.”

“There are literally tens of thousands of people here in this country right now, where it’s happening,” Ridley noted. “The places where it can happen will shock you.”

“Slavery is not just a thing of the past,” Maher said.

Ridely has been nominated for a best adapted screenplay Oscar. He transformed Northop’s original book about his ordeal in slavery into the story now being seen by millions in theaters.

Northop’s book was a best seller in the 1850s and helped propel the United States toward abolition. Learn more about the book here. The film has already won this year’s Golden Globe for best drama, and is up for nine Oscars, including best picture, on March 2nd.

Learn more about the state of slavery in the world today on the downloadable Free the Slaves Trafficking and Slavery Fact Sheet.

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) opened today’s Free the Slaves and Broward College human trafficking conference this morning with a call to action.

In a video message, Rubio called on the public to pressure Congress to pass The Strengthening the Child Welfare Response to Human Trafficking Act (H.R. 1732) this year. The bill focuses on identifying and assisting children in foster care and welfare programs that may be trafficking victims.

Adoptions and foster care can be a “lifeline to a better life, not a path to being a trafficked victim,” Rubio said. He is one of the bill’s co-sponsors.

Rubio’s comments came during the conference called “Human Trafficking: Exposing the Crisis, Devising Strategies and Solutions.”

Learn more about The Strengthening the Child Welfare Response to Human Trafficking Act here. Senator Rubio’s press release about the bill is here.

Follow the conversation from the conference on Twitter: #freetheslaves.

moda livre photoHave you ever wondered if the shirt on your back — or that new one on the rack — may have been made by slaves? Now there’s an app for that.

FTS frontline partner group Repórter Brasil has launched a free application for smartphones that evaluates popular clothing brands. It’s called Moda Livre (Free Fashion). This app highlights that slavery is often found in everyday products—including the things we wear. Unscrupulous businesses reap illicit profits through labor that is cheap or free.

Textile manufacturing is one of Brazil’s largest industries. The International Textile Manufacturers Federation reports that Brazil is among the top 10 textile markets worldwide and among the top five as an apparel producer.

Brazil is also a global hot spot for trafficking, with nearly 210,000 people in modern-day slavery, according to the Walk Free 2013 Global Slavery Index.

With assistance from PiU Comunica, Repórter Brasil created the Moda Livre app to evaluate efforts of Brazil’s major clothing retailers to fight slave labor in their supply chains. The app acts as a real-time shopping aid for consumers, by revealing the actions that Brazilian clothing retailers are taking to prevent their products from being manufactured with slave labor.

To develop the application, 22 companies were asked to answer a questionnaire based on four criteria:

  1. Policies: commitment to fight slave labor in their supply chains.
  2. Monitoring: measures to monitor their clothing suppliers.
  3. Transparency: actions to monitor suppliers and fight slave labor.
  4. Background: summary of companies involved cases of slave labor, according to the government.

Based on their answers, the companies were assigned one of three color rankings according to the level of their commitment to prevent slave labor: green, yellow, or red. Companies who did not respond to the questionnaire were automatically tagged as red.

The app is focused on Brazil’s clothing market, but it includes at least one brand that’s familiar to American consumers.

To visit the Moda Livre download site, click here.

To learn more about other innovative Free the Slaves work in Brazil, click here.

Editors Note: FTS Brazil Program Manager Flavia Modell contributed material for this article.

Slavery Survivors Brief U.S. Senate

Slavery survivors brief U.S. Senate | FTS photo/Hodges

Slavery survivors brief U.S. Senate | FTS photo/Hodges

People who have endured the brutality of slavery are often the best ones to ask about how to end it. Five survivors brought their firsthand experiences to Capitol Hill this morning for a briefing on what the U.S. government should do.

Survivor Sandra Woworuntu, who works with the group Voices of Hope, wants stronger regulations on foreign labor recruiters. She explained that fraudulent labor contractors lure desperate foreign workers to the U.S. with promises of better jobs.

New legislation could subject recruiters to penalties for providing misleading information to incoming workers. Woworuntu praised efforts by Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) to encourage stronger regulation on foreign labor contractors in his Comprehensive Immigration Reform Plan.

Survivor Ima Matul, who works for the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST), focused on the need for the U.S. government to train law enforcers, community leaders, educators, and government officials to learn how to properly identify and profile trafficking victims.

Matul said the proposed Strengthening the Child Welfare Response to Human Trafficking Act of 2013 (S.1823) would help welfare officials prevent future abuse through better identification of trafficked children. Matul also called for quick implementation of the goals listed in the recently-published Federal Human Trafficking Strategic Action Plan.

Survivor Beth Jacobs, of the group Willow Way, discussed how survivors could re-enter more quickly if law enforcement officers treat sex slavery survivors as victims and not criminals – because a prostitution arrest hurts the survivor’s chances of finding a job.

Margeaux Gray, a survivor of child sex trafficking, noted that, “survivors of trafficking are not truly free until we are free of the traumatic aftereffects.” She stressed the need for an increase in services such as art therapy, psychological counseling and medical care for survivors. She called for schools to teach children about trafficking as well as providing programs where students can learn about the value of self-esteem.

The final survivor, James Kofi Annan from the FTS frontline partner group Challenging Heights in Ghana, recently received the 2013 World’s Children’s Prize. He requested the U.S. government to put pressure on Ghana’s government to implement its own trafficking laws. He also praised the U.S. State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report for making African leaders accountable for combatting slavery. He wants the U.S. to increase funding for the Labor Department so it could be “integrating an anti-trafficking lens” in all its programs.
“We all have a role to play to ensure that children will not fall victim to the traffickers who prey on them,” said Annan.

Melysa Sperber, director of the Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking (ATEST) called for increased corporate transparency to cleanse product supply chains of slavery-tainted components or raw materials. She suggested that companies above $100 million in income should report to the Securities and Exchange Commission and on their websites about efforts to address slavery and child labor within their operations. 

Beth Jacobs concluded the briefing with a simple but powerful statement: “Human trafficking is an issue that crosses all lines and doesn’t discriminate. This is a human issue, we are not as far removed from it as we may think.”