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.”
Many U.S. companies must soon disclose if their products are tainted by minerals often mined by slaves in central Africa. A federal appeals court panel has upheld most elements of the “conflict minerals rule,” which is a new corporate transparency regulation that can help consumers and investors, as well as people in slavery.
The rule was authorized by the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010 and formally issued by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in 2012. Publicly held companies must determine if their products contain tin, tungsten, tantalum or gold from mines that benefit armed groups in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and surrounding areas. The goal is to inform people who might want to avoid buying these products or investing in the companies that make them. Free the Slaves has demonstrated that slavery is common at mines producing these minerals.
Three business associations challenged the reporting requirement in court, saying the SEC did not conduct a proper cost-benefit analysis and the specific disclosure language violates corporate free-speech rights.
“The court affirmed the SEC’s right to require corporate human rights disclosures – roundly rejecting the arguments of business groups that the SEC rule was issued without the requisite cost-benefit analysis,” says FTS Program Director Karen Stauss. “In fact, the court declined to monetize the ‘benefits’ of the law, which it rightly pointed out involve lives saved and crimes averted.”
The court struck down one piece of the rule that requires companies to state when their products are not “DRC conflict free.”
“That component of the decision represents a potential setback for groups advocating for corporate disclosures on human rights, but not a fatal one,” Stauss says. “That part of the court’s opinion is fairly limited; the rest of the rule remains intact. The court upheld disclosure to investors.”
“Sustainable and responsible investors commend the court’s preservation of the conflict minerals reporting rule and its general support for the SEC’s authority,” the investment groups of the Responsible Sourcing Network said in a joint statement. “We applaud the companies that are already implementing comprehensive due diligence…and call on all covered issuers [of stock] to continue preparing the required disclosures, which remain essentially unaltered by the court’s opinion.”
Business advisors are telling clients to focus on compliance rather than resistance in court. “Conflict minerals requirements are here to stay,” according to Jane Luxton, a partner at the Washington law firm Clark Hill. The court decision on corporate free-speech rights “only delays the inevitable,” she wrote on the Corporate Social Responsibility Wire. The same information “will soon be widely available in the form of government reports,” Hill says.
The lawsuit against the conflict minerals rule was filed by the National Association of Manufacturers, the Business Roundtable and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. It is one of several cases where businesses are asserting they have a constitutional right to not reveal negative aspects of their products to the public, according to Reuters. Another case, involving labels on meat, is headed to court in May. Experts say the ruling in that case could ultimately change the impact of the recent ruling on conflict minerals.
Read more about FTS programs in the DRC on our Congo webpage.
If the battle against slavery hasn’t reached your faith community yet, it may be coming soon. A major global faith initiative to end modern-day slavery is taking root. Leading religious representatives and the Walk Free Foundation signed a groundbreaking agreement last month at the Vatican to work together, establishing the Global Freedom Network. The network will have a reach of more than 2.6 billion people – over a third of the world’s population.
Some of the key initiatives for the network’s first year include:
- All global faiths slavery-proof their own supply chains and investments and take remedial action where needed, and mobilze their youth sections to support plans to eradicate modern slavery;
- The G20 focuses on modern slavery and human trafficking and adopts an anti-slavery and human trafficking initiative; plus supports the establishment of a global fund to end modern slavery;
- Political leaders slavery-proof government supply chains;
- 50 major multinational businesses whose CEOs are people of faith to commit to slavery-proof their supply chains;
- Families, schools, universities, congregations and institutions are educated on what modern slavery is, how to report it, and the destructiveness of harmful social attitudes, prejudices and social systems in relation to slavery.
How was your experience with the pope? Does it make you hopeful or energized?
I participated in a convening at the Vatican to address the issue of modern slavery, as a representative of Walk Free. The convening had been called because the pope had made clear from the beginning of his appointment that fighting
modern slavery was a priority for him and the Catholic Church. That is hugely encouraging because the church has a tremendously important role to play. What is particularly exciting is that the Catholic Church is coming together with the Anglican Church and other faith leaders to encourage the world’s major faiths to prioritize the fight against slavery. It will provide a real opportunity to make big progress in this critically important cause.
Why is it important to engage religious leadership as well as reaching out to congregations?
If the pope says that ending slavery is a priority for him and the Catholic Church then it is much easier to get Catholic congregations actively engaged on this. A lot of good work is being done by congregations all around the world, but when there is demonstrable leadership from the very top of the church, it gives much greater impetus to the effort.
How do statements from religious leaders translate into freedom for people who are enslaved?
In various ways. One way is to raise awareness generally; many people in the U.S. or around the world are still unaware that modern slavery exists. So prioritizing it amongst faith leaders certainly raises awareness. The other thing is that churches have significant resources (institutional and financial), and efforts by church institutions on slavery can be tremendously impactful. When Caritas [the development federation of Catholic churches] adopts the fight against slavery as an important priority in its programming, it brings massive resources to bear on the issue. Likewise, the Anglican Communion has started to prioritize efforts against slavery. So now you have support networks with the ability to provide a full range of interventions that can directly assist in the fight against slavery and trafficking.
Religious leaders were crucial in building the global consensus more than a century ago that slavery is immoral and inhumane. But the job now is actually eradicating slavery. Is eradication harder than abolition?
Absolutely. A declaration of abolition is the beginning of a process. Raising awareness is key, but raising awareness on its own does not bring people out of slavery. It facilitates and creates an environment that is much more amenable to those efforts. Having faith leaders is one very important part, and having world leaders and heads of state is certainly an important part, but it is not the end of the problem. Having people engaged on the community level is critically important. Congregations play a leading role here by helping mobilize and support people at the grassroots level. A proclamation is a wonderful development and moves us closer to the goal of ending modern slavery.
April is a deeply religious period of the calendar for many faiths. Are there particular steps that you would like to encourage individuals to take based on their faith?
The most important step is for people to learn and understand what the problem is, and what role they can play in ending modern slavery. Free the Slaves is a tremendously important resource for this. You have resources that explain what individuals can do. So my hope is that this commitment by faith leaders and Walk Free will encourage individuals to learn more, and then encourage people to take small steps. Lots of small steps taken by lots of people add up to significant progress over time. People can become aware of how their purchasing decisions impact modern slavery. People can become aware of their role in impacting the legislative agenda. There are lots of small things that people can do that collectively make a big difference over time
Regarding Walk Free, how does it get this initiative rolling?
Andrew Forrest, founder of Walk Free, attended a meetingin the Vatican last year where he became aware of the Catholic Church’s commitment to fighting slavery. He then worked to build and strengthen the involvement of other faith leaders in this effort. And so it is not just the faiths, but committed civil society leadership which is key to the success of this initiative.
See video of Andrew Forrest on the new initiative here.
To learn more about modern-day slavery and what you can do to help combat this global injustice, visit Free the Slaves and download the Trafficking Fact Sheet or Action Steps to End Slavery. If you are a member of a faith community, please visit Free the Slaves Faith in Action to see what your community can do to fight slavery!
It isn’t every day that a child slavery survivor from Africa is a featured speaker at a congressional briefing. But this week, Capitol Hill witnessed the award-winning advocate and child trafficking survivor, James Kofi Annan, speaking alongside long time anti-slavery champion Senator Tom Harkin, to address the global injustice of child labor.
The Alliance to End Slavery & Trafficking (ATEST) and the Child Labor Coalition hosted the panel to discuss how to reduce exploitative child labor, reflect on the progress that grassroots and governmental efforts have made, and promote the international benefits of ending child trafficking.
James Kofi Annan, founder of FTS frontline partner Challenging Heights, opened the discussion by acknowledging that although the U.S. has passed measures to combat exploitative child labor, there is still much work to be done. “We have made lots of progress, but we could do so much more,” James said. He remarked that vulnerable countries like Ghana need the U.S. to pressure their governments by shaming their lax enforcement of anti-slavery laws.
Sen. Harkin said was is honored to be in the same room as James. “I just wish I could duplicate James so we could have a leader like him in every country to end child labor,” said Harkin.
The senator focused his remarks on child trafficking issues found in Ghana and the Ivory Coast. He announced that by 2020, he has set a goal to decrease child slavery in these areas by 70 percent. He has led congressional efforts to pass legislation that would prohibit child labor and the production of goods that promote child trafficking. Although he is retiring, he stated, “I may be retiring from the Senate, but I am not retiring on this issue.”
Also featured on the panel were policy advocates from Solidarity Center, GoodWeave and the U.S. Department of Labor. They highlighted the economic and security gains that could occur when child slavery is abolished.
Solidarity Center Director Shawna Bader-Blau stated that “collective bargaining is a requirement for any long term plan to be successful in creating fair and sustainable labor solutions,” and that it is the “creation of jobs in our partnering countries that drives down poverty, which is the root of many exploitation cases.”
Claude Fontheim of GoodWeave noted that a “long term issue such as child exploitation needs a long term investment.” The Labor Department’s Carol Pier explained that for the government to have the greatest impact, it needs to be “intimately aware of the problems and shortcoming in countries’ labor laws.”
The briefing concluded with encouragement to pass federal legislation to build transparency in business supply chains, encourage corporate accountability, and promote good governance in democracies around the world.