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 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.

If the battle against slavery hasn’t reached your faith community yet, it may be coming soon. A major global faith initiative to end modern-day slavery is taking root. Leading religious representatives and the Walk Free Foundation signed a groundbreaking agreement last month at the Vatican to work together, establishing the Global Freedom NetworkThe network will have a reach of more than 2.6 billion people – over a third of the world’s population.

Global Freedom Network

Global Freedom Network agreement is signed at the Vatican in March by Catholic, Anglican and Sunni Muslim representatives. Photo: Walk Free.

Some of the key initiatives for the network’s first year include:

  • All global faiths slavery-proof their own supply chains and investments and take remedial action where needed, and mobilze their youth sections to support plans to eradicate modern slavery;
  • The G20 focuses on modern slavery and human trafficking and adopts an anti-slavery and human trafficking initiative; plus supports the establishment of a global fund to end modern slavery;
  • Political leaders slavery-proof government supply chains;
  • 50 major multinational businesses whose CEOs are people of faith to commit to slavery-proof their supply chains;
  • Families, schools, universities, congregations and institutions are educated on what modern slavery is, how to report it, and the destructiveness of harmful social attitudes, prejudices and social systems in relation to slavery.
Nick Grono Meeting with Pope

Nick Grono meets Pope Francis.

Free the Slaves asked Nick Grono, the former CEO of Walk Free and current CEO of the Freedom Fund, about the importance of mobilizing people of faith.

How was your experience with the pope? Does it make you hopeful or energized?

I participated in a convening at the Vatican to address the issue of modern slavery, as a representative of Walk Free. The convening had been called because the pope had made clear from the beginning of his appointment that fighting modern slavery was a priority for him and the Catholic Church. That is hugely encouraging because the church has a tremendously important role to play. What is particularly exciting is that the Catholic Church is coming together with the Anglican Church and other faith leaders to encourage the world’s major faiths to prioritize the fight against slavery. It will provide a real opportunity to make big progress in this critically important cause.

Why is it important to engage religious leadership as well as reaching out to congregations?

If the pope says that ending slavery is a priority for him and the Catholic Church then it is much easier to get Catholic congregations actively engaged on this. A lot of good work is being done by congregations all around the world, but when there is demonstrable leadership from the very top of the church, it gives much greater impetus to the effort.

How do statements from religious leaders translate into freedom for people who are enslaved?

In various ways.  One way is to raise awareness generally; many people in the U.S. or around the world are still unaware that modern slavery exists. So prioritizing it amongst faith leaders certainly raises awareness. The other thing is that churches have significant resources (institutional and financial), and efforts by church institutions on slavery can be tremendously impactful. When Caritas [the development federation of Catholic churches] adopts the fight against slavery as an important priority in its programming, it brings massive resources to bear on the issue. Likewise, the Anglican Communion has started to prioritize efforts against slavery. So now you have support networks with the ability to provide a full range of interventions that can directly assist in the fight against slavery and trafficking.

Religious leaders were crucial in building the global consensus more than a century ago that slavery is immoral and inhumane. But the job now is actually eradicating slavery. Is eradication harder than abolition?

Absolutely. A declaration of abolition is the beginning of a process. Raising awareness is key, but raising awareness on its own does not bring people out of slavery. It facilitates and creates an environment that is much more amenable to those efforts. Having faith leaders is one very important part, and having world leaders and heads of state is certainly an important part, but it is not the end of the problem. Having people engaged on the community level is critically important. Congregations play a leading role here by helping mobilize and support people at the grassroots level. A proclamation is a wonderful development and moves us closer to the goal of ending modern slavery.

April is a deeply religious period of the calendar for many faiths. Are there particular steps that you would like to encourage individuals to take based on their faith?

The most important step is for people to learn and understand what the problem is, and what role they can play in ending modern slavery. Free the Slaves is a tremendously important resource for this. You have resources that explain what individuals can do. So my hope is that this commitment by faith leaders and Walk Free will encourage individuals to learn more, and then encourage people to take small steps. Lots of small steps taken by lots of people add up to significant progress over time. People can become aware of how their purchasing decisions impact modern slavery. People can become aware of their role in impacting the legislative agenda. There are lots of small things that people can do that collectively make a big difference over time

Regarding Walk Free, how does it get this initiative rolling?

Andrew Forrest, founder of Walk Free, attended a meeting in the Vatican last year where he became aware of the Catholic Church’s commitment to fighting slavery. He then worked to build and strengthen the involvement of other faith leaders in this effort. And so it is not just the faiths, but committed civil society leadership which is key to the success of this initiative. 

See video of Andrew Forrest on the new initiative here.

Last week, Pope Francis met with sex trafficking survivors at the Vatican and declared that slavery is a “crime against humanity.” See news coverage here and here.

To learn more about modern-day slavery and what you can do to help combat this global injustice, visit Free the Slaves and download the Trafficking Fact Sheet or Action Steps to End Slavery. If you are a member of a faith community, please visit Free the Slaves Faith in Action to see what your community can do to fight slavery!

freepeopleWe’ve just completed our 2013 year-end review, and the results are both impressive and inspiring. In partnership with local organizations around the globe, we helped free more people from slavery last year than ever before. Here are the numbers from our frontline work in six trafficking hot spot countries:

  • 3,127 people freed from slavery
  • 18,465 villagers educated on how to protect their families from traffickers
  • 1,157 village and neighborhood groups supported to protect their communities from slavery
  • 1,518 government officials trained on how to more effectively stop slavery
  • 105 traffickers and slaveholders now facing legal action

Beneath these statistics are the stories of lives that you helped change through your support of Free the Slaves: a mother reunited with her trafficked daughter in Nepal, young girls returning to normalcy in a sex slavery survivor shelter in India, young boys in Ghana rescued off rickety fishing boats, and the transformation of a village in Haiti, where one resident said, “We were in obscurity, now we are in the light.”

Free the Slaves was also very active in 2013 advocating for government and business policies that help defeat slavery. One remarkable achievement: reauthorization of the Trafficking Victims Protection and Recovery Act, which governs the U.S. response to human trafficking. Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee Senator Patrick Leahy commended Free the Slaves Programs Director Karen Stauss for her personal contribution to the reauthorization.

As a supporter of Free the Slaves, these are your accomplishments, too. With your help, we will make an even bigger difference in 2014.