Yesterday members of Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) and US SIF submitted a letter  on behalf of 80 institutional investors, research and investment firms, to Rep. John Boehner (Speaker, U.S. House of Representatives) and Rep. Eric Cantor (Majority Leader, U.S. House of Representatives) seeking support on the Business Transparency on Trafficking and Slavery Act (HR 2759). HR 2759 requires companies that make over 100 million annually to include in their yearly report, actions being taken to identify and address issues of slavery. The letter strongly encourages the Republican House Leadership to “support investors, companies, workers and consumers by moving this important legislation forward in an expeditious manner.”

Read the letter here

Kevin Bales Talks Cocoa on CNN

Free the Slaves co-founder Kevin Bales was on CNN last Friday. He was interviewed by Richard Quest about the state of slavery in the cocoa industry. Just over 10 years ago, in September 2001, Free the Slaves helped broker the historic Harkin-Engel Protocol.

Otherwise known as the “Cocoa Protocol,” the agreement marked the first time in the 250-year history of the anti-slavery movement that a global industry took responsibility for slavery in its supply chain. Chocolate companies, several NGOs, international labor organizations, Senator Harkin, Representative Engel, and the governments of Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire all signed on.

The agreement was inspired by a growing awareness of slavery and other human rights abuses on the cocoa farms of West Africa. Free the Slaves helped shed light on these abuses in the Peabody award-winning documentary, “Slavery: A Global Investigation” which aired in 2001.

In the CNN interview above, Kevin Bales reflects on what has happened in the 10 years since the protocol was signed:

“I was proud to sign it and not least because there is something historic about an entire industry coming together to pool their funds to address the issue of child slavery and adult slavery in cocoa… But I am disappointed. To a large part it’s a resource question. It’s about the fact that while several million dollars a year are moving from the chocolate industry into work on the ground in West Africa, it’s simply not enough to meet the size of the problem… I believe that any time anyone happens to be in slavery, that’s a serious problem.”

Bales added that, while it is important to continue to pressure the chocolate industry to keep their supply chains free of slavery, there are other cocoa-using industries—like cosmetics and food manufacturers—that have not “taken part in dealing with the problem in their source material.”

Check out Free the Slaves’ mini-documentary “Becoming a Slavery-Free Business: Removing Slavery from Product Supply Chains” here!

Follow CNN’s Freedom Project—a yearlong initiative to cover the modern slavery, and the movement to end it—here!

These children are standing just down the hill from a mine in eastern DRC. They are vulnerable to slavery.

The newest front in fighting slavery involves educating consumers that many everyday products are tainted by slavery. Sometimes it’s sweatshop slavery where products are made. Other times, slaves are forced to harvest or mine raw materials. America’s most influential business news organization, The Wall Street Journal, has been looking into the connection between slavery and gold. Here’s the article from their MarketWatch webpage. It features Free the Slaves Director of Programs Karen Stauss, who is urging Congress and companies to get the slavery out of products in American stores.

Speaking about children who end up in slavery, Karen says:

“It’s important to understand the motivations of the children, but also for governments, civil society and companies to take responsibility for protecting them and ensuring they have viable alternatives… It may feel like a necessity for the children under the present circumstances, but their willingness to literally risk their lives to do this work does not mean that we can accept it on their behalf as well. There is a duty of care.”

Read the rest of the article here.

Also, check out the Free the Slaves mini documentary about slavery in Congo mines below. To learn more about our work in the Democratic Republic of Congo, go to our website here.

Sofia, a former victim of sex trafficking. Photo courtesy of Nicole Bengiveno, New York Times.

Some of them run away. Some of them simply have nowhere to go.

But the lives of prostitutes—often coerced into sex slavery—are usually misunderstood.

Trafficking is considered the third largest industry for organized crime, generating billions of dollars annually.

Here’s a news roundup of some recent news stories about sex trafficking:

New York Times: “Shining Light on the Role of Drivers in Prostitution” by Christine Haughney:

Sofia, a sweet-voiced and cherubic 24-year-old, was one of the lucky ones: She managed to escape much of the suffering shared by the millions of sex workers trafficked throughout the world, and even saw two of her traffickers forced out of the country and back to Mexico.

But the young woman said she still feels that complete justice has eluded her, because the drivers who ferried her from john to john, her de facto bosses, remain at large.

Deseret News: “Stolen Innocence: The battle against modern-day slavery in the US” by Elizabeth Stuart:

ATLANTA — Maybe it was the defiant glint in her eye. Maybe it was the way she dragged her feet on the way to join the other underage girls in tube tops and 8-inch heels hawking their bodies in a bad part of Atlanta. Keisha Head wasn’t sure. But somehow Sir Charles always knew when she was considering trying to escape.

“You better not be thinkin’ ’bout leaving,” the pimp would say. “You know what’s gonna happen.”

CBS News: “Captive sex slave for 10 years tells her story” by CBS News:

 For 10 years, Tanya Kach, of McKeesport, Pa., was held as a sex slave under her abductor’s complete control. Now, she’s come out to tell her amazing survival story.

In 1996, Kach was a 14-year-old girl carrying around grown-up problems. Her parents were splitting up. And, like most girls that age, adjusting to the teenage years was tough.

Read more>>

A child laborer carries a basket of fair-trade organic cotton in Burkina Fatso. Photo courtesy of Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Recent news that cotton used by Victoria’s Secret to sew women’s lingerie may have been harvested by slaves has sparked a broader debate about how deep companies should go into policing their supply chains. It’s also prompting discussion in Washington about strengthening slavery disclosure rules for businesses. The story below includes comments from Free the Slaves Director of Programs Karen Stauss, a key proponent of stronger disclosure requirements.

Child Labor for Victoria’s Secret Cotton Examined By U.S.

U.S. investigators are conducting a preliminary inquiry into forced child labor used in an organic and fair-trade cotton program that supplies the American lingerie retailer Victoria’s Secret, a federal law enforcement official confirmed this week.

Victoria’s Secret’s parent company, Limited Brands (LTD) Inc., said in an e-mailed statement yesterday that it continues “to take this matter very seriously as we do not tolerate child labor.” Those practices were disclosed in a Dec. 15 Bloomberg News report about the program the company buys from in Burkina Faso. Fairtrade International, the Bonn-based organization that certified the cotton, said in a statement last week that it has“prioritised further training on child labour and child protection for its members” beginning in early 2012.

Read more>>