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>>

Here’s a surprising story that was in the news this week: Atlanta, Georgia. Third graders were presented with a math assignment with questions about slavery. Reports say that these questions were an attempt to “integrate social studies and math lessons.” But the result seems to be more offensive than educational. For instance, one assignment question was literally: “Each tree had 56 oranges. If eight slaves pick them equally, then how much would each slave pick?” The NAACP is calling for the teachers to be fired. The school district spokesperson says they are “looking at what human resources actions may be taken.”

Read more about this here and here!

Special Envoy to Congo Appointed!

Ambassador Barrie Walkley delivering remarks at the US consulate in Juba, days before South Sudan's Independence Day.

Free the Slaves and our frontline partners in the DRC have found multiple forms of slavery in and around mining areas of eastern Congo. We in the U.S. are not separated from these human  rights abuses, because there is evidence that minerals from Congo mines end up in the supply chains of cell phones, batteries and laptops—products we use everyday.

Through slavery at gunpoint, debt bondage, peonage, sexual slavery, and child soldiering, the “Three Ts” (tin, tungsten, tantalum) and gold are mined and smuggled into the  global trade in metals. Because U.S. consumers and businesses are economically connected to slavery in Congo, we must be accountable. That’s why Free the Slaves worked with several other NGOs to call for the U.S. government to appoint a special envoy to the Africa Great Lakes region.

Uniting with representatives from affected industries, NGOs, human rights organizations, and socially responsible investor groups, we have called upon the Department of State to prioritize diplomatic efforts required under the Conflict Minerals Act and the Democratic Republic of the Congo Relief, Security, and Democracy Promotion Act.

We are pleased to announce that last Wednesday, the White House appointed Ambassador Barrie Walkley as the Department of State’s new Special Representative to the Great Lakes Region of Africa, which includes the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

“If given sufficient authority and autonomy, Ambassador Walkley could be the needed shot in the arm for the administration’s efforts to make progress on the conflict minerals trade, dismantling the LRA, and tackling justice and security sector reform in Congo,” said John C. Bradshaw, executive director of Enough Project.

Free the Slaves will be watching closely with encouragement and hope for real action to take place in the DRC. We believe that if slavery can be eradicated where it is most entrenched, it can be eradicated everywhere.