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Elite police squads in Brazil have rescued thousands of men, women and children who have been forced into various forms of modern-day slavery. | Photo: FTS/Romano

There was a horrifying phrase in the news this week from Abubakar Shekau, the leader of Boko Haram in Nigeria, as he spoke about the girls his group has kidnapped.

“There is a market for selling humans,” he said.

He is right, and his comment unveils a terrible truth about the persistence of slavery. Too many people think slavery ended more than a century ago. Though outlawed, slavery continues in new forms, hidden from sight. What makes this incident in Nigeria different is that it is out in the open.

The unpardonable sin being committed Boko Haram should focus our attention on the fact that children are forced into modern-say slavery in nearly every country. Recent research estimates that there are 21 to 30 million people in slavery today, about 26 percent of them children. They are forced to work without pay, under threat of violence, and they cannot walk away. That’s millions of child sex slaves, child labor slaves and child slave brides. According to the Global Slavery Index, there are as many as 700,000 slaves in Nigeria alone.

We applaud the effort to rescue the captive girls and pray for success. Equal determination must be shown to end slavery everywhere once and for all. This means breaking the trade in humans. Rescues are only part of the story. Over the long term, the only cure for slavery is to end the demand for humans as property and choke off the supply of vulnerable people.

Boko Haram and their ilk rightly fear education, especially education of girls. Children and adults who are educated about their rights are less likely to succumb to slavery or be duped by traffickers. Children who are not in school are particularly vulnerable to being enslaved. An educated child has options in life. An educated child is of value to her family and less likely to be entrusted to a trafficker, sold or married into slavery. A school is often a social anchor around which a community organizes to stand up for its rights and resist slaveholders and traffickers.

Trafficking and slavery fall disproportionately on highly vulnerable communities. Putting an end to slavery will require educating adults and children in these communities. They will need the support of capable non-governmental organizations and community anti-slavery committees, which can act as buffers and protectors against slavers and traffickers. They must have access to schools, essential health care and legitimate sources of credit so predators do not exploit them.

On the demand side, consumers should be directed to products and companies that are not tainted by slavery in their supply chains. Individuals and institutional investors should insist the companies they own follow responsible policies and practices that reduce the demand for products made by slaves. Companies should openly post their anti-slavery policies and practices. Companies that fail to act responsibly must be subjected to severe penalties.

Better laws and more aggressive law enforcement are also needed to reduce demand. According to the U.S. State Department, the punishment for people convicted of trafficking in Nigeria can be a modest fine ($645-$1,250), which is not enough to deter criminal behavior. In 2012, the last year for which data are available, only 25 people were convicted of trafficking in Nigeria. This is typical of a very widespread, global pattern of lax laws and even weaker law enforcement in response to slavery.

So may the righteous anger over the Boko Haram crime inspire a renewed commitment to eradicating slavery.  While we wait and hope for the rescue of the Nigerian girls, let us also mobilize on behalf of the millions who did not appear in the headlines.

Editor’s Note: Listen to Maurice discuss the Nigeria situation and global slavery on San Francisco talk radio this week at 14:15 into this online podcast recording.

Wherever Free the Slaves works, there are poignant and inspiring stories of women who would give anything to protect their children from slavery.

  • In Nepal, Lucky was forced to leave her daughter behind when she escaped enslavement in an Indian circus. She set in motion a coordinated international effort to rescue her daughter, who is now safely reunited with her mother.
  • In India, women have organized “Mother’s Club” meetings to develop ways to improve their children’s education and safeguard them from traffickers.
  • In the Congo, Ombeni, who was once abducted by a soldier and held in sex slavery, began training in sewing after her liberation. She now owns a sewing boutique and is able to provide for her two children.
  • In Ghana, Kofi summed up the joy he experienced after he and his brother were rescued from fishing slavery: “At long last we can go back to our mother, escaping this slave master and all his cruel treatment.

Donate to Free the Slaves in honor of your mother, and you can send her a customizable e-card with this photo for Mother’s Day. Click here.

Because of the work you support through Free the Slaves, mothers and countless others have been given the tools, training and support to rescue their children, reunite their families and protect entire villages from traffickers.

Maybe you are a mother. Or maybe your mother resembles the strength and sacrifice of the women overcoming slavery today. This Mother’s Day, you can empower and protect mothers around the world.

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

There are thousands of NGO’s working toward a better future. Whether it is environmental issues, poverty reduction, anti-human trafficking, disaster relief or veteran services, the world’s civil society is on the rise.

Classy Awards

To honor these organizations and the people who are putting their lives on the lines for others everyday, the Classy Awards, in conjunction with the United Nations Foundation, is awarding U.S and Canadian organizations that are “champions of social progress.”

Classy Awards judges look for nominees that are leaders who are innovative in the way that they tackle social issues. Nominees are goal oriented, take risks, and are making a huge difference in the world.

CLASSY AwardThis year in the Human Rights and Social Justice awards category, Free the Slaves has been chosen as a top five nominee for  labor rights. We were chosen because of our dedication to bring people out of slavery and into freedom by addressing slavery’s root causes and helping those who are enslaved to liberate themselves.

The awards ceremony is May 3rd in San Diego, and Free the Slaves Executive Director Maurice Middleberg will be on hand. Our thanks to the Classy Awards judges for honoring Free the Slaves as a top nominee.


Children are often forced into slavery in Congo mines | Photo: Free the Slaves/Callahan

Children are often forced into slavery in Congo mines | Photo: Free the Slaves/Callahan

You might feel disconnected from events at remote mining sites in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). But American consumers are linked to the armed violence and slavery that grip eastern portions of the country.

Many everyday products in our homes, offices and schools contain minerals mined by Congolese slaves, many of them children. Profits from the sale of DRC minerals often fuels the fighting.

That’s why Free the Slaves is co-sponsoring a Congo Town Hall meeting with U.S. Congresswoman Karen Bass on May 14th at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. The event is hosted by Jewish World Watch and will focus on challenges and opportunities for stabilizing the DRC, as well as fostering economic growth throughout Africa.

Speaking along with Rep. Bass will be:

  • Naama Haviv, Jewish World Watch
  • Pastor Kasereka Kasomo, African Christian Community Church
  • Sasha Lezhnev, Enough Project

If you are from the Los Angeles area or are visiting on May 14th, please join us at 7 p.m. The event is free but you should get tickets in advance here.

Learn more about Free the Slaves research on slavery in the DRC on our Congo webpage.

thunderbird logoIt takes more that a bold vision and deep commitment to conquer slavery. It takes exceptional strategic planning and programmatic execution skills to actually eradicate trafficking in global hot spots.

That’s why FTS is thrilled that three key staffers have been selected to attend the American Express Leadership Academy at the  Thunderbird School of Global Management in Arizona in May.

Ghana Director Joha Braima, Haiti Director Smith Maxime and Deputy Development Director Lee McClure will join colleagues from nine other international social sector and non-government organizations.

Other attendees come from the TED conferences, BRAC, Charity: Water, Feed My Starving Children, iDE, Make-A-Wish International, Pencils of Promise, Project C.U.R.E. and Special Olympics International. Participants will develop new strategies and skills to assist them in operating more productive and successful organizations.

“Thunderbird is widely recognized for its leadership in global management,” says FTS Executive Director Maurice Middleberg. “We are delighted and grateful that three members of the FTS team will have the opportunity to enhance their skills and engage in a guided reflection on our strategy to combat slavery Ghana and Haiti.”

“The selection process for the academy is rigorous,” says Doug Hoxeng, Thunderbird’s program director for the project. “The application process includes executives reviewing their strategic challenges and proposing a project for their emerging leader participant team to further develop at the academy. Each team project must have the potential for significant results within their organization and benefits for those they serve. Our faculty help make that happen.”

In an effort to reach more leaders, American Express will live stream a Leadership Academy session, “Funders Panel: An Inside Perspective” on Wednesday, May 7, from 12:00 p.m. to 1:00 p.m. ET. The panel will feature private and corporate funders discussing emerging issues and best practices related to engaging grant makers. Live stream viewers can join the conversation and submit questions that can be addressed by the panel on Twitter by using the hashtags #AmexLeads and/or #SocEntChat. Register at www.thunderbird.edu/AMEX-live with the access code Amex2014.

There’s a Twitter event today as well. Leadership Academy partners and Ashoka Changemakers will host a one-hour Twitter Discussion (#SocEntChat/#amexleads) on April 24th from 2:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. ET focused on best practices in fundraising. Participants will have the opportunity to share key trends, hear from thought leaders in the field, meet participants of the American Express Leadership Academy and chat with other top nonprofit leaders from across the globe.