U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is speaking out against modern-day slavery, saying it’s “urgent” to “more successfully identify, assist, and seek justice on behalf of the millions of human trafficking victims who have been trapped in some form of slavery, bonded labor, or forced prostitution.”

He spoke Tuesday evening in Little Rock, Arkansas at the Clinton School of Public Service.

“It is alarming, and almost unfathomable,” Holder noted, “to consider that – 150 years since President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation; more than six decades after the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights prohibited the practice of slavery on a global scale; and nearly a dozen years from the day that, with President Clinton’s approval, the landmark Trafficking Victims Protection Act became law – today, in communities across and beyond this country, slavery persists.”

Holder noted it was fitting that his remarks came during National Crime Victims Rights Week.

“Without question,” Holder said, slavery has reached “crisis proportions.” For his full remarks, click here.

D.C. Emancipation Act | National Archives Photo

Today is Emancipation Day in our nation’s capital. It is more than just a local holiday and the reason your federal taxes are due a day later this year. That is because this year marks the 150th anniversary of emancipation in America.

On April 16, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed the District of Columbia Emancipation Act, passed by Congress, to free nearly 3,000 slaves in D.C. The act ended slavery in the district several months before Lincoln announced that he would issue the Emancipation Proclamation to free slaves in the South.

Although slavery is now illegal, on this anniversary it is important to remember that it still exists—in the U.S. and around the world. The work of the abolition movement is not done. What Lincoln and others began remains unfinished business.

On this D.C. Emancipation Day, I would like to express a thank you to each and every person who remains committed to supporting Free the Slaves and the work we are doing to end slavery worldwide.

For some inspirational reading, here is a link to the actual text of the D.C. Emancipation Act.

Editor’s Note: This Sunday, March 25, marks the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and Transatlantic Slave Trade. We thought it would be a good opportunity to invite Sarah Mendelson to guest blog about an important new anti-trafficking initiative at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). She is USAID’s deputy assistant administrator at the Bureau of Democracy, Conflict & Humanitarian Assistance.

Sarah Mendelson | USAID Photo

Last week, the White House hosted the annual Presidential Inter-Agency Task Force (PITF) on counter-trafficking in persons (C-TIP).  This high-level meeting, chaired by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, is an opportunity for leadership throughout the Administration to reaffirm our commitment to combatting trafficking in persons, outline steps taken, and those to come.

This was my second time attending the PITF, and this year I was especially proud when USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah announced the Agency’s new policy on Counter-Trafficking in Persons (C-TIP), delivering on a promise he made to Secretary Clinton a year ago.

This policy draws on the best practices from the last decade and input from experts around the world.  It places a premium on learning and evaluation so we can make sure we’re pursuing the most effective approaches; focuses on innovation and technology, using the same tools traffickers use to, in this case, raise awareness of the dangers of TIP, provide trainings, and support victims; and champions the need to create exciting and effective partnerships because no one person, organization, or agency can tackle this issue alone.

Perhaps most critical, it elevates the Agency’s focus on C-TIP in conflict and post-conflict contexts.   As someone who has worked in this arena for over a decade, research shows that TIP is significantly higher in and around conflict and crisis-affected regions—whether during war, peacekeeping operations, stabilization efforts, or following a natural disaster.

Widespread sex trafficking of women and girls in conflict and post-conflict settings is an unfortunate and prevalent reality.  There is also an increased danger for children, separated from parents and caretakers during conflict or crisis, to be forced into child labor.  The good news is that countries recovering from crisis or conflict often have greater political space for tackling challenges and instituting change. USAID will target this particularly acute period of need and moment of opportunity with specialized and enhanced interventions.

USAID is serious about these issues.  Last December, the Agency worked with the White House, Department of State, Department of Defense, and civil society groups at home and abroad to launch the first U.S. National Action Plan (NAP) on Women, Peace, and Security.  The United States now joins 34 countries around the world with plans in place.  This is only the beginning.  USAID is hard at work on an implementation plan, and we look forward to collaborating and elevating our efforts to combat TIP.

In addition to our external efforts, USAID is also walking the walk internally.  This C-TIP policy builds on our 2011 Counter-Trafficking Code of Conduct that advances the highest ethical standards of our personnel, contractors, and grantees.  USAID will provide staff trainings on C-TIP and actively recruit more champions, building an Agency-wide network of C-TIP experts.  We will also educate contractors and grantees on how to recognize and respond to TIP, prohibitions on trafficking and the procurement of commercial sex, and the available disciplinary measures for documented violations. The Agency reserves the right to terminate grants and contracts if contractors, grantees, or sub-recipients engage in prohibited conduct.

Finally, during last week’s PITF, Administrator Shah also announced the launch of a campus challenge to combat trafficking in persons, an exciting partnership to engage new, innovative ideas on prevention and protection.  Stay tuned for more details on this collaborative effort, which we hope will be a real opportunity to not only raise awareness about trafficking in persons on U.S. college and university campuses, but work with them to combat it.

USAID has made tremendous progress in the past year on C-TIP and I’m already looking forward to next year’s PITF, where we can share how we’ve turned our policy into action, announce concrete deliverables, and make new commitments to combating this horrific crime.  We hope all our partners inside and outside the government will hold us accountable.

CNN calls Mauritania "slavery's last stronghold." CNN Photo

CNN’s Freedom Project has just posted powerful coverage of Mauritania, the last country on Earth to formally outlaw slavery.

“On this land, everybody is exploited,” one source told CNN. Only one slaveholder has been successfully prosecuted since slavery was criminalized in 2007, CNN reports. 

CNN’s team produced a moving 23-minute documentary and companion article featuring FTS co-founder Kevin Bales, who traveled undercover to Mauritania for his groundbreaking book Disposable People

CNN’s documentary coverage is a rare look into a little-covered corner of West Africa.

Some interesting and inspiring stories came out in the news this week:

Former “slaves” build Brazil World Cup stadium (Reuters)

This is a beautiful story about a Brazilian anti-slavery program which places formerly enslaved laborers into legitimate jobs—while providing education so they can have marketable skills. One of the stadiums to be used for the world cup in 2014 is being built by 25 workers in this program:

More than 2,600 people were “rescued” from slave labor in 2010, the labor ministry says. Brazil’s government has made the problem a top priority over the past decade, and expanded the definition of slavery in 2003 to include both forced labor and degrading working conditions – a broader definition than many countries, says the International Labor Organization.

Government programs such as the one that placed the workers at the Cuiaba stadium, which included six months of on-site training, are critical to ensuring that slavery ultimately disappears for good in Brazil, says Valdiney Arruda, the superintendent at the labor ministry in Mato Grosso state.

“The biggest challenge is often to prove to these people that they are capable” of working dignified jobs, Arruda said. “How do you leave behind a whole lifetime in just six months? … It’s not easy, but they’re doing it.”

Read more >>

Find out more about the work of Free the Slaves’ frontline partner in Brazil. 

An Exhibition on Modern Slavery Opens at Lincoln’s Cottage in DC

On February 17 (last Friday), Lincoln’s Cottage opened an exhibition on modern-day slavery. The show, titled Can You Walk Away? is produced in partnership with Polaris Project, and features filmed interviews with slavery survivors, and offers educational resources. The Lincoln Cottage shop is also now selling Fair Trade products. The show was conceived as a way to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, which legally ended slavery in the U.S.The exhibition is on view until August 2013.

Free the Slaves works with Polaris Project through the Alliance to End Slavery & Trafficking—a group made up of U.S.-based anti-slavery nonprofits. We also collaborate with Polaris Project through mtvU’s “Against Our Will” campaign, which raises awareness about modern-slavery.