U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says “no government, anywhere yet, is doing enough” to eradicate slavery, and “zones of impunity” exist around the world that allow trafficking to flourish.
Kerry’s comments came as he unveiled the State Department’s 2014 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report this morning, which provides a country-by-country assessment of governmental efforts to combat modern-day slavery.
“Some aren’t trying enough,” Kerry said, “others are trying hard, but we all need to try harder and do more.”
The TIP Report ranks governments worldwide into three tiers based on their efforts to combat and prevent human trafficking. This year’s report downgraded some countries into the lowest tier, which creates the possibility of U.S. sanctions.
“Advocates feared poor performing countries, Thailand and Malaysia, would receive a “pass” due to sensitive geopolitical relationships; however, they received a downgrade to Tier 3 (the lowest tier),” according to an assessment released this morning by the Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking (ATEST), a coalition of human rights organizations including Free the Slaves.
“The TIP Report is a critical tool in combating modern slavery,” said ATEST Director Melysa Sperber. “The report’s honest assessment should compel the governments of Thailand, Malaysia and other countries with serious human trafficking problems to step up their efforts to fight this horrific human rights crime.”
Kerry focused on the need for American leadership in the global battle against slavery, both to advance human rights and to protect global commerce from unfair competition by companies who utilize slave labor to cut costs.
“We need to integrate anti-trafficking efforts into all areas of our diplomatic and development work,” Kerry said. “This is a call to action. It’s a call to conscience. It is a reminder of what happens in many dark places that need light. And we have a responsibility to try to bring that light.”
The countries where Free the Slaves conducts front line field operations received mixed rankings in this year’s TIP Report Tier Ranking Assessments. India, Nepal, Brazil and Ghana received Tier 2 assessments. The Democratic Republic of the Congo is on the Tier 3 list. Haiti is on a Tier 2 Watch List, which means it has been put on notice that it must improve its anti-slavery efforts or it will be downgraded.
“The heinous persistence of slavery demands accountability against a rigorous set of standards. Secretary Kerry and the State Department are to be commended for holding to account those governments that neglect their responsibilities and for publicly lauding the heroes who are battling this scourge,” said FTS Executive Director Maurice Middleberg. “We urge President Obama, Secretary Kerry and the Congress to now mobilize the level of U.S. resources and political leadership equal to the challenges outlined in the TIP Report.”
“ATEST is calling on the U.S. Government to increase funding and improve policies to:
- “Stop treating victims as criminals. Children are arrested for prostitution and put in jail or juvenile detention facilities instead of receiving the services they need and deserve as victims of a horrendous crime;
- “Provide services to all victims of modern slavery. Too many trafficking survivors aren’t getting timely access to the most basic emergency services such as shelter beds and medical care; even more are losing support services well before they are able to recover from such a traumatic crime;
- “Improve the child welfare system. Research conducted by states shows that children in the Child Welfare System are at significant risk of being trafficked;
- “Protect our visa system from fraudulent foreign labor recruiters. An absence of oversight has resulted in the failure to prevent foreign labor brokers from luring men, women and children into forced labor situations in domestic service, restaurant, agriculture, sex trade, and other industries in the U.S.;
- “Ensure slave-free commerce. Current policies do not guarantee that the U.S. government and companies doing business in the here have slave-free supply chains or even require transparency about their efforts to prevent human trafficking.”
The ATEST coalition is also calling on Congress to make the fight against human trafficking a higher priority by elevating the State Department Trafficking in Persons Office (J/TIP) to the status of Bureau “so that its leaders can leverage their expertise on modern slavery with greater authority and impact,” the group says.
The director of Manav Sansadhan Evam Mahila Vikas Sansthan (MSEMVS) in India, Bhanuja Sharan Lal, Ph.D., has been honored this morning by the U.S. State Department as a global anti-slavery hero in the 2014 Trafficking in Persons report.
His team of more than 75 front line anti-slavery activists has been progressively dismantling entrenched systems of slavery at brick kilns, farms and quarries in the states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. They have transformed hundreds of communities into no-go zones for traffickers, fully eradicating slavery in more than 130 villages. The group’s name in English means the “Society for Human Development and Women’s Empowerment.” It has been a Free the Salves partner organization since 2005.
Led by Dr. Lal, the MSEMVS Sustained Liberation Program helps residents establish community vigilance committees, a process through which groups of slaves come to freedom by exercising collective power and by pressuring police to enforce anti-slavery laws. His strategy focuses on movement building, so that community-level committees are united in 14 district-level networks and a larger federation, through which they enable local government to address root causes of slavery.
MSEMVS teams are currently assisting in rescues of approximately 65 men, women and children every month, providing slavery survivors with follow-up reintegration support. Under Dr. Lal’s leadership, MSEMVS launched and manages a rescue shelter in Bihar, providing rights-based assistance and recovery to sex trafficking survivors. Currently, 14 village-based transitional schools are enabling more than 100 child slavery survivors to catch up on their education, so that they can successfully enter public schools within three years.
Dr. Lal became director of MSEMVS in 2003, and his leadership has been characterized by a commitment to ownership of anti-slavery efforts by those most affected, as well as by rigorous documentation of the program’s achievements, and tenacious engagement of authorities. He has guided many documentary filmmaking teams to bring the realities of modern slavery in India to a global audience. He has set a personal example of caring for and diligently assisting each person coming out of slavery – enabling those in slavery to understand their own unique human worth.
Quick Questions & Answers with Dr. Lal
How did you become an anti-slavery activist and why have you chosen this as your life’s work?
“There are so many sectors where bonded labor and child labor are being used, one can see the daily exploitation. The situation touched me, a lot. The laborers were not being paid; they were beaten up. They were chained in the carpet industry. And nobody was there to help them. So I started. I started to do my best to bring human dignity to their lives.
What impact is slavery having on the people and the economy of India?
“Many business owners are only thinking about profit, they are not thinking about the lives of the people who are working for them. This will have an effect on the Indian economy because of international efforts to avoid products made by bonded labor and child labor. For example: when the carpet industry was using bonded and child labor, sales declined because of international campaigns against Indian carpets. When the industry worked to cleanse itself, the Indian carpet industry began again to grow.”
How does your organization work to end slavery: what is the strategy or process?
“First: identify communities affected by slavery and trafficking. Many are identified when some of their members are rescued. Second: conduct systematic baseline research to assess the situation and needs. Third: form a community vigilance committee to develop and lead the community’s strategy to break free. Fourth: identify why slavery is happening in an individual community. Fifth: address the causes – communities build collective strength and capacity through skills training, legal literacy, independent income generation and accessing government entitlements, which empowers the community to challenge the grip of slaveholders and traffickers. Sixth: rescue slavery victims, rehabilitate survivors and in some places create transitional schools for former child slaves, aimed at establishing lasting freedom by ensuring the community can sustain its efforts.”
What is the most rewarding part of your work; what keeps you optimistic?
“It is whenever we see slavery victims and communities moving toward sustainable freedom and building their collective power against slavery. I have witnessed many individuals and communities doing this. It gives me courage, motivation and energy to work for the elimination of slavery.”
FTS Nepal Director Neelam Sharma flew half way around the world last week to represent Free the Slaves at the InterAction annual forum in Washington.
Her mission: build consciousness among human rights professionals that they have a role to play in eradicating modern-day slavery.
InterAction, a “united voice for global change,” is an association of more than 180 organizations working toward a “peaceful, just and prosperous world.” Free the Slaves has recently joined the coalition.
We asked Neelam how her interactions went at the conference.
How did people react at the InterAction forum when you told them that you fight modern-day slavery?
Just our organization’s name, Free the Slaves, was very new and surprising for many participants. They asked: ‘Oh! Does slavery still exist in this world?’ When I said: ‘Yes slavery exists and we are fighting against it’ they became very serious, curious and ready to listen and learn about it. They started asking questions about the various forms of slavery how that is degrading human lives. The reaction was almost same from everyone, saying: ‘The work you are doing is very important.’
What did you tell people at the InterAction forum that they could do to help the fight against modern-day slavery?
First, I simply asked: ‘What are you doing to fight modern-day slavery?’ And most conference participants didn’t have any answer. They replied: ‘This is a very serious issue, we should do something, however we are not doing anything at present.’ I followed the question by saying: “So you can help us to fight against modern-day slavery by starting to think about what’s going on in your own backyard, starting to address the problem through your existing programs, integrating a ‘slavery lens’ in your broader efforts so that you see and address slavery.” People took that with genuine appreciation.
Why is it important that international development professionals join the fight against modern day slavery?
It is crucial because this is something going on throughout the world, not only in a few specific places. It will require a joint effort by organizations that are operating globally to fight modern-day slavery on a worldwide scale.
What did you learn at the InterAction forum that will help you fight modern-day slavery?
I learned that even though people accepted the reality that modern-day slavery is a critical human rights problem, very few organizations are fighting directly against it. It was an important lesson. We must not only continue our own work against modern-day slavery, but we must work to bring others into the effort and the issue of slavery into the mainstream.
Are you hopeful that other types of organizations will join with the anti-trafficking movement?
Yes, I am hopeful that other types of organizations will join hands in the future to strengthen the anti-slavery movement. However, I felt a lot of awareness-raising is still needed.
Editor’s Note: Our thanks to InterAction for providing a scholarship that allowed Neelam to attend the group’s 30th Annual conference.
No consumer wants to buy products made by slaves. And no investor wants to support companies that use slave labor. But it’s extraordinarily difficult for shoppers or stockbrokers to know which products or companies may be tainted by trafficking.
The bipartisan bill requires major U.S. companies to publicly disclose measures they are taking to prevent human trafficking, slavery and child labor in their supply chains. Publicly held companies with more than $100 million in global gross receipts would make annual disclosures to the Securities and Exchange Commission.
“Human trafficking, child labor and slavery are, unfortunately, not relics of the past but very much present in the 21st century,” Maloney said in a statement released today. “Every day, Americans purchase products tainted by forced labor and this bill is a first step to end these inhumane practices.” (Read the full statement here.)
The bill is supported by the Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking (ATEST), a coalition of leading human rights organizations, including Free the Slaves, working to eradicate slavery.
“Enactment of supply chain transparency legislation will provide consumers with information about companies that are – and are not – taking substantial steps to address slavery. It will also help investors better understand the reputational and other risks of investing in particular companies,” ATEST said in a statement released today.
“The legislation recognizes a company’s ability to positively impact human rights around the world. Federal legislation can even help American businesses by establishing clear federal standards and a level playing field, avoiding the need for companies to comply with differing state laws on supply chain transparency, such as California’s transparency law,” ATEST notes. (Read the full ATEST statement here.) (Learn about California’s transparency law and corporate compliance here.)
“By requiring companies with more than $100 million in worldwide receipts to be transparent about their supply chain policies, American consumers can learn what is being done to stop horrific and illegal labor practices,” said FTS Programs Director Karen Stauss. “This bill doesn’t tell companies what to do, it simply asks them to tell us what steps they are already taking. This transparency will empower consumers with more information that could impact their purchasing decisions.”
The U.S. is the world’s largest importer, and the public is increasingly demanding information about the human rights impact of products in American stores. In 2012, the U.S. Dept. of Labor identified 134 goods from 74 countries made by forced and child labor.
“Businesses shouldn’t turn a blind eye to the working conditions of people who make their products, and the supply chain transparency act is a great step toward making sure they can’t. American consumers want and deserve to know what’s behind the food, clothing, and other goods they use every day. Having companies report what they are doing to prevent trafficked or forced labor isn’t asking much; and for tens of millions of people working in conditions of modern slavery it is absolutely urgent,” said Melysa Sperber, director of ATEST.
Transparency legislation is being welcomed by investors as well as by anti-slavery activists.
“Given the complexity of global supply chains and the multitude of contractors, recruiters, and suppliers used throughout a production process, companies without comprehensive anti-trafficking and slavery protocols are exposed to a host of financial, regulatory, legislative, legal and reputational risks with the potential to adversely impact shareholder value,” said the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR), a coalition of 300 investors with assets under management of over $100 billion, in a statement today.
“Proactively addressing these risks can guard against the negative publicity, business interruptions, potential lawsuits, public protests, and reputational damage that may result from undetected human rights violations. As concerned investors, we believe that companies with formal human rights due diligence processes are better positioned to safeguard against these adverse human rights impacts and hence, better able to protect shareholder value.” (Read the full ICCR statement here.)
The world’s attention shifts to Brazil today, where Jennifer Lopez and Pitbull will open the FIFA World Cup tournament with the song Ole Ola (We are One), and soccer teams will begin competition to determine who is the world’s best.
But far from the soccer stadiums, a different kind of team is setting a different kind of global standard.
They are elite units that swoop in to free slaves from farms, mines and factories — then publicly shame traffickers on a national “dirty list” and persuade major companies to cleanse their supply chains of slavery-tainted raw materials.
Brazil’s innovative anti-slavery program is one of the world’s best, with more than 45,000 people liberated so far. A new FTS video profiles the woman whose inventiveness and leadership made it happen: Ruth Vilela, recipient of a Free the Slaves Freedom Award.
Her first raid “looked like an Indiana Jones movie,” Ruth says. “It was an adventure, surrounded by improvisation.” In the video, she reflects on her remarkable career as Brazil’s Secretary of Labor Inspection at the Ministry of Employment and Labor. “The truth is, I feel a little bit like the mother of this work,” she says, “but it is with great joy that I see other people now taking up this job.” Ruth retired two years ago.
Our thanks to Ruth for her tireless and invaluable contributions to the anti-slavery movement, and our congratulations to her as the most recent recipient of a FTS Freedom Award.
Although they’ve freed tens of thousands of people from slavery, there is still plenty of work for Brazil’s anti-slavery squads. The 2013 Walk Free Global Slavery Index estimates that there are 210,000 people in various forms of slavery in Brazil today.
To learn more about Free the Slaves programs in Brazil, visit our Brazil webpage. Many of the raids executed by government agents are triggered by investigations conducted by our front line partner group, CPT. As well, our front line partner Reporter Brasil publicizes every raid, helping forge a national consensus to bring slavery to an end in Latin America’s largest economy.