The #bringbackourgirls hashtag has sparked widespread revulsion over the kidnapping of Nigerian girls who might be sold into bondage, including congressional resolutions condemning the group Boko Haram. While hashtag activism and expressions of outrage are important, they will not be enough to eradicate slavery. What’s needed is a concerted global campaign that’s equal to the scope of slavery’s worldwide reach.
Boko Haram leader Aububakar Shekau was right when he said in his haunting video that: “there is a market for selling humans.” Slavery has been outlawed but has not ended, a grim testament to the fact that trafficking attracts torrents of rhetoric but too little action. The number of people in slavery is estimated conservatively to be 21 million by the U.N. International Labor Organization and 30 million by the Walk Free Global Slavery Index. The vast majority of slaves are in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. They generate $150 billion a year in profits for slaveholders.
More than half of slaves are women and girls. Forced marriage, which is what Boko Haram threatens for the Nigerian girls, is much more prevalent than is commonly understood. For example, research by our organization in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has documented many variants of this travesty, including the kidnapping of children for marriage, forcing rape victims to marry their rapists, and selling daughters into marriage to pay off family debts.
Sex slavery, which represents about a fifth of all slavery, is only part of the story. Most slavery today is forced labor in industries where intensive manual labor is needed, including construction, garment and textile manufacturing, fishing, mining, agriculture, domestic work and restaurants. Child soldiers forced into service must also be counted among those enslaved. All too often, slave labor is embedded in products unwittingly purchased by Americans.
Typically, entire rural villages are susceptible to slavery. Most often, people are enslaved in or near the areas where they were born. For example, loan sharks will require forced labor in return for debts that can never be paid off because of exorbitant interest. Ruthless landlords will force people to work in farm fields without compensation. Slavery disproportionately affects the poor, the uneducated, the socially marginalized and the desperate.
Ending slavery will require a large-scale, coordinated response that matches the size of the problem. Much more vigorous action is needed from the governments of highly affected countries. Of the 10 nations that account for more than 75 percent of slavery today, none, according to the U.S. State Department’s Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report, meets the minimum standards for actions to eradicate slavery. China, Russia and the DRC, for example, are ranked as “Tier 3” countries in the TIP report, which means they aren’t making a good faith effort to comply with minimum standards. In virtually every country, law enforcement falls far short of the scope of this crime. In 2012, says the State Department, there were only 4,746 convictions for trafficking in the entire world.
The resources available to fight slavery are meager. Even with progress last week toward enacting several anti-trafficking bills in Congress, the U.S. government’s response is inadequate. Congress appropriated only $42 million in 2014 to the State Department’s Office to Combat Trafficking in Persons, a very small amount compared to a multi-billion dollar criminal enterprise. The Alliance To End Slavery and Trafficking has asked Congress to double this amount in 2015; the president and Congress should act to provide the requested funds. On the private sector side, important philanthropies are funding anti-trafficking work, but the overall level of giving remains quite low.
Multinational corporations must also play their part. Some have acted responsibly, but many have turned a blind eye to the lower reaches of their supply chains where slavery occurs. At minimum, all major corporations engaged in international trade should make publicly available their policies and practices for ensuring their products are not tainted by slavery, as well as disclosing when cases of slavery are found. If companies don’t act, national legislation requiring transparency should be adopted, as California has done for businesses operating there.
Civil society organizations also need to make changes. Better coordination and exchange of lessons learned, as well as the pooling of resources to achieve efficiencies, would help non-governmental organizations fighting slavery be more effective. While a great deal of practical experience has been gained, we need better data and more evidence about successful interventions to end slavery.
The good news is that slavery is a non-ideological and non-partisan issue. There isn’t a “pro-slavery” argument that rises above the level of the lunatic. Prominent cases of enslavement draw universal condemnation and a desire to help. But transient outbursts of emotion won’t get the job done. Sentiment must now lead to a sustained and much larger attack on the ancient curse of slavery.
The House of Representatives approved a range of proposals Tuesday to combat sex slavery in the U.S., including training for police to recognize trafficking cases and treat victims appropriately, a ban on advertising sex for sale with children, and an initiative for sex slavery survivors to receive restitution from pimps.
“While an interest in human trafficking has long been a focus of conservatives, the issue has attracted significant bipartisan interest in recent months,” reports the New York Times. “Representative Eric Cantor, Republican of Virginia and the House majority leader, held a news conference on Tuesday to push the legislation, an usual amount of attention for low-profile measures.”
Cantor has launched a webpage dedicated to modern-day slavery. “The scourge of human trafficking remains one of the most horrific crimes that plagues our world,” the webpage notes. House Republicans have also created a YouTube video called “Together, Let’s End Human Trafficking.”
“Measures to combat human trafficking were already listed as part of the House’s spring agenda, but they gained momentum amid reports of the abduction of Nigerian girls by extremist group Boko Haram,” reports The Hill.
Five bills passed the House with broad bipartisan support, along with a resolution condemning the Boko Haram kidnappings, according to CNN:
- H.R. 4058: Requires states to identify and address sex trafficking of minors in foster care.
- H.R. 4573: Directs the State Department to give “advance notice of intended travel” of those convicted of sex offenses against children and asks other nations to reciprocate.
- H.R. 3530: Imposes additional financial penalties on sex traffickers and helps increase the amount of restitution victims could receive.
- H.R. 3610: Encourages states to put in place laws that treat minors who have been sex trafficked as victims rather than criminals.
- H.R. 4225: Makes it a federal crime to knowingly advertise for the commercial sexual exploitation of minors and trafficking victims.
The 2013 Walk Free Global Slavery Index estimates that there about 60,000 people in various forms of slavery inside the U.S. You can learn more about slavery in America in the State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report.
If you can invest just one hour to learn about modern-day slavery and what can be done to end it, you should watch the new documentary film #standiwithme. After premiering in 30 U.S. cities earlier this year, the movie is now available to watch online. People who watch it via the player below on the FTS blog will help support Free the Slaves; a portion of every screening sale goes to FTS.
Yekra is a revolutionary new distribution network for feature films.
Only a 9-year-old would dream a lemonade stand could free 500 enslaved children. After seeing a photo of two enslaved boys in Nepal, Vivienne Harr is moved to help in the only way she knows how: by setting up her lemonade stand. With the goal of freeing 500 children from slavery, she sets up her stand every day, rain or shine. In telling Vivienne’s story, #standwithme examines the realities of modern-day slavery, the role we play in it as consumers, and the importance of knowing the story behind what we buy.
#standwithme shows what you get when you combine the world-class photography of Lisa Kristine, the innovative front line anti-slavery projects of Free the Slaves, and a vivacious 9-year-old California girl who decided she wants to help end child slavery. This powerful documentary spreads the message that slavery still exists but can be overcome. It chronicles how artistry and activism can build bridges to freedom for millions trapped in slavery around the world.
The film tells the story of Lisa Kristine’s heart-stopping photographs of slavery hot spots where Free the Slaves works. (Purchase Lisa’s prints and book here – proceeds benefit Free the Slaves.) A California family saw Lisa’s slavery photos in her gallery – and decided to snap into action. Vivienne Harr raised thousands of dollars for the anti-slavery movement by selling lemonade. Her family has started bottling the recipe and selling it online and in small grocery stores. Free the Slaves is one of several organizations that benefit from Make A Stand Lemon-Aid sales.
If you’re unable to stream on your mobile device, visit this link from a desktop computer.
A new report underscores how profitable and widespread modern-day slavery has become. The U.N. International Labor Organization (ILO) this morning estimates that trafficking generates $150 billion in illicit profits each year. The figure is three times more than previously estimated.
The ILO report, Profits and Poverty: The Economics of Forced Labor, says two thirds of the profits – about $99 billion – comes from sex slavery, while another $51 billion comes from forced labor slavery such as domestic work, farming, mining, fishing, construction and logging.
“This new report takes our understanding of trafficking, forced labor and modern slavery to a new level,” said ILO Director-General Guy Ryder.” Forced labor is bad for business and development and especially for its victims. Our new report adds new urgency to our efforts to eradicate this fundamentally evil, but hugely profitable practice as soon as possible.”
The ILO says “income shocks and poverty” are the main economic factors that push individuals into slavery. Other factors include a lack of education, illiteracy, gender and migration.
“We must now focus on the socio-economic factors that make people vulnerable to forced labor in the private sector,” said Beate Andrees, head of the ILO’s Special Action Program to Combat Forced Labor. Andrees called for a series of measures:
- Bolstering social protection floors to prevent poor households from abusive lending or indenture in the event of sudden income shocks;
- Investing in education and skills training to fortify job opportunities for vulnerable workers;
- Promoting a rights-based approach to migration to prevent irregular employment and abuse of migrant workers; and
- Supporting the organization of workers, including in sectors and industries vulnerable to forced labor.
“If we want to make a significant change in the lives of the 21 million men, women and children in forced labour, we need to take concrete and immediate action,” the ILO Director-General said. “That means working with governments to strengthen law, policy and enforcement, with employers to strengthen their due diligence against forced labour, including in their supply chains, and with trade unions to represent and empower those at risk.”
Free the Slaves Programs Director Karen Stauss says the new report underscores the need to increase funding to combat modern-day slavery. “Trafficking is one of the world’s largest criminal enterprises and the estimate of its profitability continues to rise, yet the level of funding to combat it has not kept pace and remains remarkably low,” Stauss says. “Slavery can be conquered if governments, international institutions, foundations, corporations and civil society join together to marshal the funding and political will to get the job done.”
Unchosen, an anti-trafficking charity that organizes film campaigns to combat modern slavery in the U.K. and Ireland, is launching its 2014 Short Film Competition. The aim is “to challenge what people choose not to see.”
“The more people that know about the matter, the more likely it is to cause effective change,” says Unchosen.
Film entries from 2013 featured shorts on domestic servitude, sexual abuse and forced labor. Last year’s winner was titled “The Trip,” directed by Prano Bailey-Bond. It dramatizes the true story of Hung, a young Vietnamese man trafficked abroad on the promise of a job and a new life, only to be forced to work in a cannabis factory.
You must register by May 23 to be considered for this year’s competition, and complete your film by August 13.