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:
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.”
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.
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
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.”
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.