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Gabriel with U.N. peacekeepers in Congo | FTS photo

This year brings a remarkable opportunity to a country that has been gripped by conflict for decades. With the M23 rebels vanquished, slavery can become a new focus for building lasting peace and prosperity for all in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

I was in Goma late last year at the end of the M23 rebellion. For the first time in my many trips there, I could feel the climate of tension melting away. The Congolese army, supported by the U.N. intervention brigade, marched on rebel strongholds and successfully retook town after town. The stealth victory has boosted Congolese patriotism.

Many Congolese have renewed faith in their army and they have been calling for sweeping action to crush all of the armed groups that have mushroomed in eastern Congo. But the cornerstones for lasting peace require more than battlefield success. Peace can only be sustained through development and accountability.

Congo remains one of the world’s worst slavery hotspots, with more than 460,000 people estimated to be in slavery according to the Walk Free Global Slavery Index. Much of this slavery has been linked to so-called “conflict-minerals,” which are valuable metals mined by slaves to support armed groups. Free the Slaves research last year documented this widespread slavery in two reports, Congo’s Mining Slaves and Wives in Slavery.

The end of major military action provides a chance to confront slavery in Congo’s post-conflict zones. With the shift of paradigm, Congolese officials at the national and provincial levels will be held accountable for the development and welfare of their citizens.

Addressing the root causes that make people vulnerable to slavery in the DRC — such as poverty, underdevelopment, youth unemployment and gender-based violence – are cornerstones for security and economic development.

It will take time to end slavery in the Congo, just as it has taken time to vanquish the country’s main rebel group. But as we begin 2014, I am optimistic. The Congolese government has an unprecedented opportunity to muster support for decisive action to combat slavery, reducing one of the region’s most widespread human rights violations.

Gabriel Deussom is the Free the Slaves Congo program manager. For more info on our programs in the Congo, see our Congo webpage.

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Nelson Mandela 1918-2013 | Photo: Office of the Presidency of South Africa

Our thoughts are with the people of South Africa, who’ve lost the man who led their nation from one of history’s most notorious forms of oppression.

Nelson Mandela’s triumph over apartheid is a beacon of hope to those who still yearn for freedom and dignity around the globe.

Mandela’s most enduring reference to slavery came in a 2005 speech to more than 20,000 Londoners gathered in iconic Trafalgar Square.

“Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings,” Mandela said.

Although his speech focused on poverty, Mandela’s reference to slavery as a man-made evil that can be overcome are words of inspiration for those working to eradicate human trafficking worldwide.

Mandela’s long walk to freedom helped transform a nation and end a dark chapter in history. But as Mandela himself noted in his London speech, the journey isn’t over.

“As long as poverty, injustice and gross inequality persist in our world, none of us can truly rest,” Mandela said.

lucie logoCongratulations to Lisa Kristine, who was honored last night at Carnegie Hall in New York as the 2013 Humanitarian Photographer of the Year!

The awards are presented by the Lucie Foundation, honoring the world’s top photographers in a range of categories, including fashion, fine art, humanitarianism, photojournalism and documentary.

“Lisa has gained broad recognition for her collaboration with the NGO Free the Slaves,” the foundation notes on its website, calling her 2010 book Slavery (published by Free the Slaves) a “breathtaking body of work.”

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Lisa photographing Haitian children vulnerable to trafficking | FTS photo

Lisa traveled to the front lines of slavery with FTS activists to capture images that reveal the pain of slavery and the hope of freedom.

Calling Lisa “a master storyteller,” the Lucie foundation says her photographs instinctively identify “the universal human dignity in all of us.”

“Awakening compassion and igniting action in a worldwide audience with powerful, broad-sweeping images of courage and tender intimate portrayals, Lisa elevates significant social causes – such as the elimination of human slavery and the unification of humanity – to missions. Her work resonates in the hearts of us all and moves us to act,” the foundation says.

If you haven’t seen Lisa’s TEDX talk about her journey to photograph slavery, you should!

More than 1.1 million people already have.

And you should consider helping Free the Slaves by buying the book Slavery, for yourself, for a friend, for a local library or school, or for your office.

It’s available on Lisa’s website. A portion of the proceeds benefit FTS anti-trafficking programs around the world.

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slavery index cover photoA new estimate of global slavery calculates that 29.8 million men, women and children are enslaved worldwide.

The Global Slavery Index, released today by the Australian-based anti-trafficking group Walk Free, provides a first-of-its-kind country-by-country measure of the extent and risks of trafficking and slavery today.

“Since hidden slaves can’t be counted, it is easy to pretend they don’t exist, the Index aims to change that,” says FTS Co-founder Kevin Bales, who was the project’s lead researcher. Bales is now a professor at the Wilberforce Institute for the Study of Slavery and Emancipation at the University of Hull in the U.K.

The Index reveals that the countries where Free the Slaves has focused its frontline work are among the world’s worst hotspots.

India has more slaves than anywhere else, thought the numerical rankings in the Index are based on the percentage of a country’s total population in slavery.

  • Haiti is ranked number two, with an estimated 209,000 slaves (total population 10.2 million).
  • India is number four, with 14 million in slavery (total population 1.2 billion).
  • Nepal is number five, with 259,000 slaves (total population 27.5 million).
  • Ghana is number 18, with 181,000 slaves (population 25.4 million).
  • The Democratic Republic of the Congo is number 23, with 462,000 slaves (total population 65.7 million).
  • Brazil is number 94, with 209,000 slaves (total population 197.8 million).

The six FTS frontline countries account for 71 percent of today’s slaves, according to Index statistics.

The Index ranked 162 countries in all. The U.S. comes in at number 134, with 60,000 slaves. The world’s worst country is Mauritania. Three countries tied for best: the United Kingdom, Ireland and Iceland.

“The Global Slavery Index is a stark reminder that modern-day slavery, a heinous violation of basic human rights, remains a pervasive problem demanding urgent action,” says FTS Executive Director Maurice Middleberg. “We commend the effort to create a more integrated barometer of the magnitude, risks and responses to slavery in specific nations. The Global Slavery Index is a welcome addition to the literature on slavery. It offers useful insights and underscores the need for systematic collection of primary data on slavery’s prevalence. The Global Slavery Index should compel national leaders to focus on finding durable solutions.”

The Index comes a year after the U.N. International Labor Organization estimated global slavery prevalence at 20.9 million people. The two studies included different numbers of countries, and counted different forms of slavery, providing a range of research now estimating that 21-30 million people are in trapped in various forms of slavery today.

The Index report goes beyond a global headcount to also evaluate risk factors for slavery and the strength of governmental responses in 40 countries. Risks include a country’s human rights record, level of economic development, governmental stability and discrimination against women.

The goal, says Walk Free CEO Nick Grono, is to “shape national and global efforts to root-out modern slavery across the world.” Walk Free plans to update the Index every year.

DRC lawsuit logosA U.S. federal court judge has rejected efforts by three leading business associations to block new rules that require American manufacturers to disclose if their products contain slavery-tainted minerals from central Africa.

Judge Robert Wilkins of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia upheld the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) “Conflict Minerals Rule.” The rule instructs publicly-traded manufacturers to investigate and disclose if their products contain tin, tungsten, tantalum and gold from conflict zones in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and surrounding countries.

The new reporting requirement was mandated by Congress as part of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law, and was intended to reduce the flow of resources to armed groups in Congo that control key mining sites. Free the Slaves research has shown that slavery is rampant in these mining communities.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Business Roundtable and National Association of Manufacturers sued the SEC to block the reporting requirement. The groups argued that the SEC failed to follow proper procedures by proving that the economic benefits of corporate disclosure outweigh the costs of compliance. The groups also claimed that requiring corporate disclosure of human rights violations in the manufacturing of products violates a company’s free-speech rights under the U.S. Constitution.

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New FTS Research shows that “Congo conflict minerals” are often mined by slaves.

Judge Wilkins late Tuesday concluded that those claims “lacked merit.” He noted that Congress required the SEC to create the Conflict Minerals Rule.

“The decision sets an important precedent,” says Free the Slaves Programs Director Karen Stauss. “American consumers and investors will be better able to make informed choices when companies disclose if there is slavery in their products.”

Several socially-responsible investor groups have noted that corporate disclosure of human rights violations in products will be a valuable tool for weighing the risks of investing in a particular company.

A law to require widespread corporate transparency of slavery in product supply chains in expected to be re-introduced in Congress soon.

This week’s court ruling is also expected to strengthen European efforts to require similar corporate disclosure, as activists and authorities there were keeping a close eye on the U.S. case.