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.”
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.
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.
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.)
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.
The House of Representatives approved a range of proposals Tuesday to combat sex slavery in the U.S., including training for police to recognize trafficking cases and treat victims appropriately, a ban on advertising sex for sale with children, and an initiative for sex slavery survivors to receive restitution from pimps.
“While an interest in human trafficking has long been a focus of conservatives, the issue has attracted significant bipartisan interest in recent months,” reports the New York Times. “Representative Eric Cantor, Republican of Virginia and the House majority leader, held a news conference on Tuesday to push the legislation, an usual amount of attention for low-profile measures.”
Cantor has launched a webpage dedicated to modern-day slavery. “The scourge of human trafficking remains one of the most horrific crimes that plagues our world,” the webpage notes. House Republicans have also created a YouTube video called “Together, Let’s End Human Trafficking.”
“Measures to combat human trafficking were already listed as part of the House’s spring agenda, but they gained momentum amid reports of the abduction of Nigerian girls by extremist group Boko Haram,” reports The Hill.
Five bills passed the House with broad bipartisan support, along with a resolution condemning the Boko Haram kidnappings, according to CNN:
- H.R. 4058: Requires states to identify and address sex trafficking of minors in foster care.
- H.R. 4573: Directs the State Department to give “advance notice of intended travel” of those convicted of sex offenses against children and asks other nations to reciprocate.
- H.R. 3530: Imposes additional financial penalties on sex traffickers and helps increase the amount of restitution victims could receive.
- H.R. 3610: Encourages states to put in place laws that treat minors who have been sex trafficked as victims rather than criminals.
- H.R. 4225: Makes it a federal crime to knowingly advertise for the commercial sexual exploitation of minors and trafficking victims.
The 2013 Walk Free Global Slavery Index estimates that there about 60,000 people in various forms of slavery inside the U.S. You can learn more about slavery in America in the State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report.
A new report underscores how profitable and widespread modern-day slavery has become. The U.N. International Labor Organization (ILO) this morning estimates that trafficking generates $150 billion in illicit profits each year. The figure is three times more than previously estimated.
The ILO report, Profits and Poverty: The Economics of Forced Labor, says two thirds of the profits – about $99 billion – comes from sex slavery, while another $51 billion comes from forced labor slavery such as domestic work, farming, mining, fishing, construction and logging.
“This new report takes our understanding of trafficking, forced labor and modern slavery to a new level,” said ILO Director-General Guy Ryder.” Forced labor is bad for business and development and especially for its victims. Our new report adds new urgency to our efforts to eradicate this fundamentally evil, but hugely profitable practice as soon as possible.”
The ILO says “income shocks and poverty” are the main economic factors that push individuals into slavery. Other factors include a lack of education, illiteracy, gender and migration.
“We must now focus on the socio-economic factors that make people vulnerable to forced labor in the private sector,” said Beate Andrees, head of the ILO’s Special Action Program to Combat Forced Labor. Andrees called for a series of measures:
- Bolstering social protection floors to prevent poor households from abusive lending or indenture in the event of sudden income shocks;
- Investing in education and skills training to fortify job opportunities for vulnerable workers;
- Promoting a rights-based approach to migration to prevent irregular employment and abuse of migrant workers; and
- Supporting the organization of workers, including in sectors and industries vulnerable to forced labor.
“If we want to make a significant change in the lives of the 21 million men, women and children in forced labour, we need to take concrete and immediate action,” the ILO Director-General said. “That means working with governments to strengthen law, policy and enforcement, with employers to strengthen their due diligence against forced labour, including in their supply chains, and with trade unions to represent and empower those at risk.”
Free the Slaves Programs Director Karen Stauss says the new report underscores the need to increase funding to combat modern-day slavery. “Trafficking is one of the world’s largest criminal enterprises and the estimate of its profitability continues to rise, yet the level of funding to combat it has not kept pace and remains remarkably low,” Stauss says. “Slavery can be conquered if governments, international institutions, foundations, corporations and civil society join together to marshal the funding and political will to get the job done.”