A 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.
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.
Tomorrow brings a great opportunity to lean about the scope and impact of a hidden form of modern-day slavery: domestic servitude.
The Organization of American States (OAS) is conducting a policy roundtable to raise awareness and promote solutions.
The policy roundtable will be webcast live in English and Spanish from 2:30 p.m. (ET) to 4:30 p.m. ET on the OAS website. If you are in the Washington area, the event itself is open to the public at the OAS Secretariat on the National Mall near the White House. See the invitation here.
The roundtable is designed to create awareness about a growing form of trafficking throughout the Americas. Millions of women — and men — are on the move worldwide, migrating from impoverished rural areas to cities, and from poorer countries to wealthy ones, seeking jobs and better lives. Many times, they end up being tricked by traffickers posing as legitimate labor recruiters. There is growing awareness that many maids, gardeners, cooks, nannies and other domestic helpers these days are held in conditions that constitute modern-day slavery.
The International Labor Organization (ILO) released a report earlier this year estimating that more than 50 million people work as domestic servants worldwide, many of them in conditions of slavery. Two weeks ago, the ILO released research indicating that 10 million of those domestic servants are children. A new international treaty aims to curb abuses.
Tomorrow’s event will feature a top ILO representative, Erick Zeballos, along with FTS Executive Director Maurice Middleberg and Programs Director Karen Stauss. Free the Slaves Freedom Award winner Josefa Condori Quispe will speak too – she’s a domestic servitude survivor who now runs a shelter in South America for girls who escape this form of slavery. Also scheduled to speak are Marcelina Bautista of the International Domestic Workers Network, Carmen Moreno of the Inter-American Commission of Women, Paulina Duarte of the OAS, and Ambassador Luis CdeBaca of the U.S. State Department’s anti-trafficking program.
Mark your calendar for tomorrow – and spread the word!
Two economic powerhouses were downgraded today in the U.S. State Department’s country-by-country annual review of global efforts to reduce trafficking and modern-day slavery.
Russia and China – as well as Uzbekistan — were given “Tier 3” status in the 2013 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report, meaning those countries do “not fully comply” with U.S. anti-trafficking benchmarks and “are not making significant efforts to do so.” (Read the 2013 TIP Report here.)
Tier 3 status is the worst ranking a nation can receive, and it subjects these countries to possible sanctions that can include the withholding of some forms of assistance from the U.S., World Bank and International Monetary Fund.
“This report pulls no punches. It’s not because the United States is better than anybody else or because the United States thinks it has an automatic right to make this judgment, or because we want to point our finger at another country,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said while presenting the TIP report to a packed auditorium at the State Dept. “It hopefully initiates a more productive dialogue,” he added. “Countries are twice as likely to take some kind of action to respond to this crime once they are listed in this report on Tier 3” or in the report’s Tier 2 Watch List, he said.
The TIP Report ranks a country’s anti-trafficking efforts on a three-tier scale. Tier 1 is best, Tier 3 is worst. A Tier 2 Watch List puts countries on notice that they will move to Tier 3 if they don’t improve.
There was concern by abolitionists, and some members of Congress, that several nations lingering on the Watch List, including Russia and China, might be upgraded without merit, to avoid diplomatic friction. (Read the congressional letter to Kerry here.) That so-called “automatic upgrade” did not happen.
“We all have an interest in stopping this crime,” Kerry said. “That’s why President Obama is so focused on this issue. And that’s why as secretary of state, I will continue to make the fight against modern-day slavery a priority for this department and for the country,” he said. “American leadership is required,” Kerry added.
The 2013 TIP report was Kerry’s first as Secretary of State, and it’s the first of the Obama administration’s second term.
“The TIP Report is only as good as it is honest, and we commend the State Department for using fact-based analysis – not concern for sensitive geopolitical relationships – when it assigned Tier 3 rankings to Russia, Uzbekistan and China,” said David Abramowitz, director of The Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking (ATEST), a coalition of 12 U.S.-based human rights organizations, including Free the Slaves. “China, Russia, Uzbekistan and other countries that have largely turned a blind eye to modern slavery deserve the condemnation of the United States and the international community. We hope that all nations Secretary Kerry has found to have serious problems will take this assessment seriously and begin immediately to develop and implement effective strategies to combat and prevent human trafficking within and across their borders.” (Read the full ATEST news release here.)
An ATEST analysis reveals that roughly 16% of the 187 countries ranked in the 2013 TIP report have been given Tier 1 status (including the U.S.), 49% are in Tier 2; 24% are on the Tier 2 Watch List; and 11% are ranked as Tier 3.
“While Russia and China were in the TIP spotlight today, it’s important to remember that more than 150 countries are ranked as Tier 2, Tier 2 Watch List or Tier 3,” says Free the Slaves Director of Programs Karen Stauss. “It will be vital to press for improvements in all countries, big or small.”
Today marks the 12th annual World Day Against Child Labor, started by the International Labor Organization (ILO) to highlight the plight of hundreds of millions of children engaged in work that deprives them of education, health, and basic rights. Many of these children are enslaved.
This year, the ILO focuses on ensuring that children are not exposed to abuse and exploitation in domestic work. The organization releases a report today, which estimates more than 10 million children perform domestic work. The report outlines the types of violence and abuse they face.
FTS is one of many organizations working to put an end to child slavery in domestic work.
Our program in Haiti targets a system known as restavek, which affects about 10 percent of all Haitian children. Thousands of children from rural communities are sold to serve as domestic workers in urban areas, waking before dawn to cook, clean and run errands that last late into the night. Most never go to school and many are abused physically and sexually.
Through our local partner, Fondasyon Limye Lavi, FTS has trained more than 600 community members in child rights and reproductive health through an in depth, community-based process.
This has inspired parents to retrieve 20 children from restavek in the past year. Villagers are forming community child protection committees that serve as watchdog groups to look out for restavek traffickers. Our Haiti program also helps community organizers that support needy families at risk of sending their children into restavek.
The protection of children is a major component of all FTS country programs worldwide.
On this World Day Against Child Labor, FTS is pleased to announce that we have recently joined the U.S.-based Child Labor Coalition, which consists of leading human rights organizations working to combat exploitative child labor domestically and globally.
May 13th is a special day in Brazil. It’s the date Brazilians celebrate the Abolition Act, which outlawed slavery here in 1888. This year marked the 125th anniversary.
Of course, slavery still exists in Brazil even though it has been illegal for more than a century. That’s why officials in several Brazilian states picked this year’s commemoration to launch new anti-slavery initiatives.
In the state of São Paulo, Governor Geraldo Alckmin launched enforcement of a new law to close any business for 10 years if it is found marketing products tainted by slavery.
The exact language for what tainted by slavery means: “in the manufacture of which, in any of its stages of industrialization, have been used practices that characterize conditions analogous to slavery.” Businesses caught selling slavery-tainted goods will have their sales tax license suspended for a decade—making it illegal for the company to continue operating.
Governor Alckman’s announcement came during a conference organized by São Paulo’s Federal Court of Justice. Many judges and attorneys attended, as did American diplomats, former Free the Slaves Global Ambassador Katie Ford, members of the National Commission Against Slavery, and leaders from FTS Brazilian frontline partners Reporter Brasil and the Pastoral Land Commission (CPT).
And there’s more encouraging news! On the same day, May 13, the governor of another state, Mato Grosso do Sul, signed on to a law which is exactly the same as the one approved in São Paulo. And two other states announced they are about to enact similar measures: Maranhão and Tocantins.
Over the past three years, these four states have been among Brazil’s worst slavery hotspots. Nearly 1,900 workers have been rescued in these states by specialized anti-slavery police squads.
This new instrument – to close businesses that make slavery possible – is a big step forward in Brazil’s long campaign to snuff-out slavery forever.
Editor’s Note: Xavier Plassat is a FTS board member and directs the Pastoral Land Commission’s anti-slavery initiative. See a video of him in action.