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FTS Executive Director Maurice Middleberg on VOA’s “On the Line”

Free the Slaves is spreading the word about global trafficking on global TV and radio. FTS Executive Director Maurice Middleberg was a guest on the most recent edition of “On the Line,” broadcast worldwide by the Voice of America

Even though slavery was abolished, it still exists because victims of poverty, discrimination and corruption remain vulnerable and are preyed upon by traffickers, Maurice explained. “The fact that it’s illegal, doesn’t mean that it stopped existing,” he said.

Slavery looks different today, in comparison to how it looked hundreds of years ago. “Slavery was a terrible part of all of our histories and something that we must not forget, but it’s really until now that the world is waking up to the fact that modern-day slavery exists,” said Joanna Ewart-James, campaign team manager of Walk Free in London, another guest on the program.

In the United States, sex trafficking is one of the most talked about forms of modern slavery. But worldwide, sex slaves constitute a fifth of modern-day slaves. The other 80 percent are enslaved in other forms of forced work where there is intensive manual labor.

“Wherever you need a lot of hands and brute force, there’s where you are going to find slavery,” Maurice explained. “In fact, that’s why it’s often under the noses of people and not really seen because it seems to be part of the workforce. Many of the people that you see working in these industries are in fact in the state of slavery.”

What does it mean to be in “the state of slavery” today? If slavery is under our noses, what can we do to see it and stop it?

For those answers, watch the entire show. It’s a quick and easy way to learn what slavery looks like today, and what we can do to end it within our lifetime.

ORANGE_STAMP_lock logoThis week may bring key votes in Congress responding to the increase in child refugees entering the United States from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

Some of these children are fleeing widespread slavery in their home countries. But one of the policy revisions being debated in Washington would repeal protection for child slaves under American law.

Free the Slaves has joined 90 religious, academic and human rights leaders urging Congress and the Obama administration to safeguard runaway slaves by maintaining the procedures established in 2008 for child refugees under the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act  (TVPRA).

A letter delivered to key House and Senate committee leaders explains that “amending the TVPRA is not the solution” and notes that discarding portions of America’s groundbreaking anti-trafficking law would be “jeopardizing the lives of children seeking safety in the United States.”

Read the full letter to Congress here.

“Instead of abiding by our international obligations and affording these children proper screening for trafficking and persecution, as well as the opportunity to receive fair and full consideration of their legal claims before an immigration judge, members of Congress appear to propose quickly removing them without access to legal counsel. Removals would follow cursory screenings that have already proven entirely inadequate to identify genuine refugee and trafficking claims among Mexican children.”

The joint letter was authored by the Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking (ATEST), a coalition of leading anti-slavery organizations, including FTS.

“We are encouraged that Congress is considering additional funding to both address the conditions of the children as well as provide more rapid consideration of the status of these children and their safe repatriation,” the letter concludes. “These efforts appear to be a better approach than weakening the protections these children deserve by changing the TVPRA.”

If you would like to be heard on protecting child slavery victims, now is the time. You can find the contact information for your U.S. Senators at senate.gov and House member at house.gov. Just type in your zip code in the upper right of the webpages. Then give your elected representatives a call or send them an email to tell them to protect child trafficking victims by protecting the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act.

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Kerry releases 2014 TIP Report | State Dept. Video

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says “no government, anywhere yet, is doing enough” to eradicate slavery, and “zones of impunity” exist around the world that allow trafficking to flourish.

Kerry’s comments came as he unveiled the State Department’s 2014 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report this morning, which provides a country-by-country assessment of governmental efforts to combat modern-day slavery.

“Some aren’t trying enough,” Kerry said, “others are trying hard, but we all need to try harder and do more.”

The TIP Report ranks governments worldwide into three tiers based on their efforts to combat and prevent human trafficking. This year’s report downgraded some countries into the lowest tier, which creates the possibility of U.S. sanctions.  

“Advocates feared poor performing countries, Thailand and Malaysia, would receive a “pass” due to sensitive geopolitical relationships; however, they received a downgrade to Tier 3 (the lowest tier),” according to an assessment released this morning by the Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking (ATEST), a coalition of human rights organizations including Free the Slaves.

“The TIP Report is a critical tool in combating modern slavery,” said ATEST Director Melysa Sperber. “The report’s honest assessment should compel the governments of Thailand, Malaysia and other countries with serious human trafficking problems to step up their efforts to fight this horrific human rights crime.”

TIP2014cover_200_1The U.S. received a top Tier 1 ranking, though “ATEST believes there are still serious gaps in the U.S. response to human trafficking,” according to the group’s statement.

Kerry focused on the need for American leadership in the global battle against slavery, both to advance human rights and to protect global commerce from unfair competition by companies who utilize slave labor to cut costs.

“We need to integrate anti-trafficking efforts into all areas of our diplomatic and development work,” Kerry said. “This is a call to action. It’s a call to conscience. It is a reminder of what happens in many dark places that need light. And we have a responsibility to try to bring that light.”

The countries where Free the Slaves conducts front line field operations received mixed rankings in this year’s TIP Report Tier Ranking Assessments.  India, Nepal, Brazil and Ghana received Tier 2 assessments. The Democratic Republic of the Congo is on the Tier 3 list. Haiti is on a Tier 2 Watch List, which means it has been put on notice that it must improve its anti-slavery efforts or it will be downgraded.

“The heinous persistence of slavery demands accountability against a rigorous set of standards. Secretary Kerry and the State Department are to be commended for holding to account those governments that neglect their responsibilities and for publicly lauding the heroes who are battling this scourge,” said FTS Executive Director Maurice Middleberg. “We urge President Obama, Secretary Kerry and the Congress to now mobilize the level of U.S. resources and political leadership equal to the challenges outlined in the TIP Report.”

“ATEST is calling on the U.S. Government to increase funding and improve policies to:

  • “Stop treating victims as criminals. Children are arrested for prostitution and put in jail or juvenile detention facilities instead of receiving the services they need and deserve as victims of a horrendous crime;
  • “Provide services to all victims of modern slavery. Too many trafficking survivors aren’t getting timely access to the most basic emergency services such as shelter beds and medical care; even more are losing support services well before they are able to recover from such a traumatic crime;
  • “Improve the child welfare system.  Research conducted by states shows that children in the Child Welfare System are at significant risk of being trafficked;
  • “Protect our visa system from fraudulent foreign labor recruiters. An absence of oversight has resulted in the failure to prevent foreign labor brokers from luring men, women and children into forced labor situations in domestic service, restaurant, agriculture, sex trade, and other industries in the U.S.;
  •  “Ensure slave-free commerce. Current policies do not guarantee that the U.S. government and companies doing business in the here have slave-free supply chains or even require transparency about their efforts to prevent human trafficking.”

The ATEST coalition is also calling on Congress to make the fight against human trafficking a higher priority by elevating the State Department Trafficking in Persons Office (J/TIP) to the status of Bureau “so that its leaders can leverage their expertise on modern slavery with greater authority and impact,” the group says.

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Photo Credit: Architect of the Capitol

No consumer wants to buy products made by slaves. And no investor wants to support companies that use slave labor. But it’s extraordinarily difficult for shoppers or stockbrokers to know which products or companies may be tainted by trafficking.

U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) want to help. They’ve just introduced the Business Supply Chain Transparency on Trafficking and Slavery Act of 2014 (H.R. 4842).

The bipartisan bill requires major U.S. companies to publicly disclose measures they are taking to prevent human trafficking, slavery and child labor in their supply chains. Publicly held companies with more than $100 million in global gross receipts would make annual disclosures to the Securities and Exchange Commission.

“Human trafficking, child labor and slavery are, unfortunately, not relics of the past but very much present in the 21st century,” Maloney said in a statement released today. “Every day, Americans purchase products tainted by forced labor and this bill is a first step to end these inhumane practices.” (Read the full statement here.)

The bill is supported by the Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking (ATEST), a coalition of leading human rights organizations, including Free the Slaves, working to eradicate slavery.

“Enactment of supply chain transparency legislation will provide consumers with information about companies that are – and are not – taking substantial steps to address slavery. It will also help investors better understand the reputational and other risks of investing in particular companies,” ATEST said in a statement released today.

“The legislation recognizes a company’s ability to positively impact human rights around the world. Federal legislation can even help American businesses by establishing clear federal standards and a level playing field, avoiding the need for companies to comply with differing state laws on supply chain transparency, such as California’s transparency law,” ATEST notes. (Read the full ATEST statement here.) (Learn about California’s transparency law and corporate compliance here.)

“By requiring companies with more than $100 million in worldwide receipts to be transparent about their supply chain policies, American consumers can learn what is being done to stop horrific and illegal labor practices,” said FTS Programs Director Karen Stauss. “This bill doesn’t tell companies what to do, it simply asks them to tell us what steps they are already taking. This transparency will empower consumers with more information that could impact their purchasing decisions.”

The U.S. is the world’s largest importer, and the public is increasingly demanding information about the human rights impact of products in American stores. In 2012, the U.S. Dept. of Labor identified 134 goods from 74 countries made by forced and child labor.

“Businesses shouldn’t turn a blind eye to the working conditions of people who make their products, and the supply chain transparency act is a great step toward making sure they can’t. American consumers want and deserve to know what’s behind the food, clothing, and other goods they use every day. Having companies report what they are doing to prevent trafficked or forced labor isn’t asking much; and for tens of millions of people working in conditions of modern slavery it is absolutely urgent,” said Melysa Sperber, director of ATEST.

Transparency legislation is being welcomed by investors as well as by anti-slavery activists.

“Given the complexity of global supply chains and the multitude of contractors, recruiters, and suppliers used throughout a production process, companies without comprehensive anti-trafficking and slavery protocols are exposed to a host of financial, regulatory, legislative, legal and reputational risks with the potential to  adversely impact shareholder value,” said the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR), a coalition of 300 investors with assets under management of over $100 billion, in a statement today.

“Proactively addressing these risks can guard against the negative publicity, business interruptions, potential lawsuits, public protests, and reputational damage that may result from undetected human rights violations. As concerned investors, we believe that companies with formal human rights due diligence processes are better positioned to safeguard against these adverse human rights impacts and hence, better able to protect shareholder value.” (Read the full ICCR statement here.)

Timea Eva Nagy, founder of Walk With Me and a survivor of human trafficking, receives the Freedom Award for Outstanding Courage and Dedication from Free the Slaves Executive Director Maurice Middleberg. The award was presented during "Stolen Lives: An Interprofessional Response to Human Trafficking" at Quinnipiac University's Center for Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences May 30, 2014.

Timea Nagy, founder of Walk With Me and a survivor of human trafficking, receives the Free the Slaves Freedom Award from FTS Executive Director Maurice Middleberg at the “Stolen Lives: An Interprofessional Response to Human Trafficking” conference at Quinnipiac University. | Photo: Quinnipiac University

One of the most important challenges for the anti-slavery movement is to ensure that survivors receive the support they need to reclaim their dignity and restart their lives. And to do that, it’s vital that the people who know slavery best – trafficking survivors themselves – help guide the work.

One such leader is Timea Nagy, who received a Free the Slaves Freedom Award last Friday at the “Stolen Lives” anti-trafficking conference at Quinnipiac University. FTS Executive Director Maurice Middleberg presented Timea with her award during an emotional closing event that featured the premiere of a video minidocumentary of Timea’s ordeal in slavery.

Timea was working as a television producer in Hungary, and flew to Canada to earn some quick cash to finish a TV show. The job offer was a trick; she was trapped in sex slavery in Toronto.

Since her escape, Timea has become a leader in Canada’s anti-trafficking movement. She created the country’s first mobile hotline and safe house for sex trafficking victims. Her team at Walk With Me has received more than 800 calls for help and has sheltered more than 250 survivors. Timea trains police to recognize that women and girls in forced prostitution are victims and not criminals. She frequently raises awareness in the media that modern-day slavery exists in Canada. Her book is called Memoirs of a Sex Slave Surviror.

Our congratulations to Timea on receiving her Freedom Award. FTS periodically awards heroes like Timea for their courage and determination. It’s a way to shine a light on what some of the best anti-slavery work in the world looks like, and to underscore that slavery can be overcome through the kind of courage, innovation and determination that Timea exemplifies. Thank you, Timea!

And our thanks to Quinnipiac University for inviting Timea to present her first-person perspective on slavery’s psychosocial impacts to a prestigious gathering of 200 anti-slavery activists, academic researchers, government policymakers and health care professionals.