FTS Joins InterAction

Interaction-LogoWhat do you call a room full of international development professionals? A golden opportunity!

And that opportunity unfolds this week as InterAction hosts its 30th Annual Forum in Washington. For the first time, Free the Slaves will be on hand as an InterAction member organization.

That’s important because one of our key goals is to get activists who work on causes such as women’s rights, children’s education, micro-enterprise development and rural health to recognize that they should also join the fight against 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.” InterAction fosters partnerships, thought leadership and high standards. FTS was carefully vetted by InterAction’s evaluation team before being accepted for membership earlier this year.

The FTS message at this week’s InterAction conference is that modern-day slavery and other international development causes are interrelated. People fall into slavery because of poverty, discrimination, corruption and a lack of social services. Those problems make them vulnerable prey for traffickers. By reducing those vulnerabilities, and organizing people at the community level to overcome those challenges, we will reduce slavery.

As well, many people don’t benefit from international development investments such as new schools and medical clinics because they are trapped in slavery. When organizations that are promoting education and health also target slavery, more people will be able to participate in development programs. (Read more in this FTS article in InterAction’s monthly magazine.)

FTS Executive Director Maurice Middleberg and our Nepal country director, Neelam Sharma, are spreading the word this week at InterAction that everyone can help end slavery. We’ll let you know how it went in a future post.

What if you had no choice but to send your child away, hoping she’d be fed, go to school and be safe? What if you found out that instead she was held against her will, abused and forced to work?

No father wants to send his daughter to be enslaved as a maid in another family’s home. Or send his son to work off a family debt in a mine. But in the trafficking hot spots where Free the Slaves works, we often meet fathers who seemingly have no other choice.

You can help end that cycle of slavery. This Father’s Day, you can honor your father with a gift that spreads freedom to fathers and their families around the world.

fathersday 2014 ecard

Donate to Free the Slaves in honor of your father and send him this e-card. Click here. | Photo: FTS/Romano

Free the slaves understands what makes families vulnerable to slavery, and why fathers are often challenged in protecting their children. With education, empowerment and support, we help fathers rescue their children from slavery and prevent traffickers from preying on others.

  • In India, we helped a father who’d been trying unsuccessfully to free his boy from slavery inside a factory. His son, and 23 other teens, are now free and back home.
  • In Nepal, we helped two fathers whose entire families were enslaved on a farm. By learning how to stand up for their rights, they obtained legal ownership of half of the land they had been cultivating. They are now free from slavery.
  • In Ghana, the founder of our partner organization, James Kofi Annan, a former slave himself, says he feels like a father to children he rescues. He wants them to follow in his footsteps: “By 10 years time, I should be able to have mentored other survivors who will then become the voice of others who are not yet freed.”

You can help us support more fathers and more families, so that everyone everywhere can experience freedom.

Please contribute to Free the Slaves through our Father’s Day e-card initiative.




Sujata Bijou

The anti-slavery movement is at an historic crossroads. We must do more than awaken the world to the fact that slavery still exists. We must convince the world that slavery can be overcome.

And to do that, we must prove that our work on the front lines is breaking slavery’s grip on the vulnerable communities where we work.

It’s a tall order for Director of Monitoring and Evaluation Sujata Bijou. But she’s never been one to shy away from a challenge. She’s already guided FTS through the process of refining our community-based model for fighting slavery.

Now, she’s begun a world tour to the trafficking hot spots where we’re helping our partner organizations combat slavery.

Haiti M&E Training Workshop

First stop: Haiti. Sujata traveled to Jacmel for a weeklong M&E workshop with Fondasyon Limyè Lavi (FLL). She explained the importance of rigorous monitoring and the different techniques we’ll be using to evaluate the effectiveness of programs. The goal is not only to demonstrate success; it’s to identify weaknesses in order to strengthen field programs over time.

“They enjoyed the training,” Sujata says, “they definitely learned a lot.”

How does she know? By formally evaluating the workshop, of course.

Next stop: Ghana. Sujata leaves soon to work with our Ghanaian partner Challenging Heights.

And true to form, she’s working to strengthen her M&E road show.

“We are hoping on taking the lessons learned during the training in Haiti and using them to make improvements in Ghana,” Sujata says. “I am really looking forward to it!”

Timea Eva Nagy, founder of Walk With Me and a survivor of human trafficking, receives the Freedom Award for Outstanding Courage and Dedication from Free the Slaves Executive Director Maurice Middleberg. The award was presented during "Stolen Lives: An Interprofessional Response to Human Trafficking" at Quinnipiac University's Center for Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences May 30, 2014.

Timea Nagy, founder of Walk With Me and a survivor of human trafficking, receives the Free the Slaves Freedom Award from FTS Executive Director Maurice Middleberg at the “Stolen Lives: An Interprofessional Response to Human Trafficking” conference at Quinnipiac University. | Photo: Quinnipiac University

One of the most important challenges for the anti-slavery movement is to ensure that survivors receive the support they need to reclaim their dignity and restart their lives. And to do that, it’s vital that the people who know slavery best – trafficking survivors themselves – help guide the work.

One such leader is Timea Nagy, who received a Free the Slaves Freedom Award last Friday at the “Stolen Lives” anti-trafficking conference at Quinnipiac University. FTS Executive Director Maurice Middleberg presented Timea with her award during an emotional closing event that featured the premiere of a video minidocumentary of Timea’s ordeal in slavery.

Timea was working as a television producer in Hungary, and flew to Canada to earn some quick cash to finish a TV show. The job offer was a trick; she was trapped in sex slavery in Toronto.

Since her escape, Timea has become a leader in Canada’s anti-trafficking movement. She created the country’s first mobile hotline and safe house for sex trafficking victims. Her team at Walk With Me has received more than 800 calls for help and has sheltered more than 250 survivors. Timea trains police to recognize that women and girls in forced prostitution are victims and not criminals. She frequently raises awareness in the media that modern-day slavery exists in Canada. Her book is called Memoirs of a Sex Slave Surviror.

Our congratulations to Timea on receiving her Freedom Award. FTS periodically awards heroes like Timea for their courage and determination. It’s a way to shine a light on what some of the best anti-slavery work in the world looks like, and to underscore that slavery can be overcome through the kind of courage, innovation and determination that Timea exemplifies. Thank you, Timea!

And our thanks to Quinnipiac University for inviting Timea to present her first-person perspective on slavery’s psychosocial impacts to a prestigious gathering of 200 anti-slavery activists, academic researchers, government policymakers and health care professionals.

india -- women organize vigilance committee to safeguard village from traffickers

FTS has supported women in hundreds of communities in India who organize vigilance committees to safeguard their village from traffickers. | Photo: FTS/Callahan

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.