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.”
Editors Note: this article was written by FTS South Asia Director Supriya Awasthi and FTS Associate Programs Director Ginny Baumann.
Free the Slaves has received deeply disturbing news from our frontline partner organization, Manav Sansadhan Evam Mahila Vikas Sansthan (MSEMVS), about a vicious assault on the group’s staffers, government officials and several slavery survivors.
They were ambushed late Wednesday while traveling to a local police station to give testimony after a rescue at a brick kiln in the Bhadohi District in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.
Santosh Pandey, a coordinator of one of MSEMVS’ anti-slavery projects, was beaten unconscious with bricks, bottles and sticks. He is now hospitalized in serious condition. Two rescued slaves were also beaten, along with three other MSEMVS staffers, one government official and two police officers, although none of these required medical treatment. One woman and child disappeared from the site of the ambush. Eight survivors are now in a safe location, recovering from the incident.
A Routine Raid
MSEMVS had demanded that authorities carry out the raid after hearing allegations that workers were in bonded labor slavery at the Adarsh Marka brick kiln. During the raid, victims provided initial information about their situation. Two female victims gave information about physical and sexual abuse at the kiln.
Authorities had arrested one son of the brick kiln’s owner during the raid, but had not arrested the kiln owner, his other two sons or the managers of the site, who absconded while police were taking information from victims, according to MSEMVS.
As evening began and it was becoming dark, officials decided to move the victims to a police station so they could complete formal statements.
District officials, police, MSEMVS staff and victims left the site in three vehicles. The slavery survivors, Santosh and other MSEMVS staff and volunteers were in the third vehicle.
A Roadside Ambush
Shortly after leaving the brick kiln site, they found the road blocked by two tractors. The smaller official vehicles were able to pass around the tractors, but the third vehicle moved off the road to find a way through. The rescued slaves and MSEMVS staff got down from the vehicle as it tried to move around the roadblock.
That is when the brick kiln owner, his son and a large group of men appeared. They attacked Santosh and the slavery survivors, according to MSEMVS. The government vehicles stopped, and some of the police officers came back to help, but were also beaten. There were not enough police to quell the violence. The brick kiln owner’s men took a gun from one of the police officers. The kiln owner’s son pulled the leading government official on the raid out of his vehicle and beat him, according to MSEMVS. Police officers left the scene as the attack continued.
Police reinforcements were called. When they arrived, they arrested the kiln owner’s son and some of the other assailants. The owner got away. The arrested men have been charged with attempted murder, rape, beating a government official and other criminal offenses, according to MSEMVS. Police have issued a warrant for the arrest of the owner.
The Current Situation
Police are now searching for the two missing slavery survivors. Meanwhile, surrounding brick kilns are deserted and officials are demanding that owners of these kilns explain where their workers are now. It is suspected that the owners are hiding dozens of laborers, who might otherwise come forward to provide similar testimony to authorities about bonded labor slavery.
The lead government official on the raid has said that the head of the local police station should be suspended because his behavior has raised suspicion.
Santosh is suffering injuries to his head, back, arms and legs, but he is now conscious and has spoken to Indian journalists from his hospital bed.
“Our thoughts are with Santosh and others who were injured in this brutal attack,” says FTS Executive Director Maurice Middleberg. “We hope that the missing victims are quickly found and moved to a secure location, and that the perpetrators of this assault are brought to justice.”
The director of MSEMVS, Bhanuja Sharan Lal, says the incident will not deter his group’s work. “Our weapon against exploitation and slavery is the law and Constitution,” he said. “We may get disappointed with such unfortunate incidents, but this makes our team more committed to fight against slavery.”
Systemic Change Needed
Although Indian officials are now focused on protecting the survivors and investigating the attack, the incident highlights extreme systemic failures by authorities in Uttar Pradesh to give meaningful protection to its citizens from conditions of modern slavery:
- In October 2012, the Indian Supreme Court again ordered the states to take systematic actions against forms of bonded labor under their jurisdiction. In particular they were required to carry out surveys of bonded labor slavery in order to find, release and rehabilitate bonded labor slaves. The state of Uttar Pradesh has not carried out such surveys since the court order.
- As in this case, it is consistently left to human rights groups and local community groups to try to get the authorities to rescue victims of bonded labor slavery.
- As in this case, police are typically under-prepared and under-resourced to safely rescue victims, as well as arrest perpetrators during such raids. (Only six police officers were present for this raid.) Despite human rights groups’ efforts and appeals to higher authorities, charges are rarely filed against slaveholders and in Uttar Pradesh there have been no convictions as a result of legal proceedings against brick kiln owners and other managers of slavery sites.
This incident highlights the urgent need for:
- The national government to take decisive action to ensure that each state fulfills its responsibilities for eradication of bonded labor. State governments must be made accountable for their performance against this form of modern slavery.
- The state of Uttar Pradesh to appoint a responsible official with effective powers and resources to mobilize district and local officials against bonded labor slavery. Official vigilance committees at district and tehsil level should be made to function.
- The state to immediately launch the mandated survey of bonded labor slavery, especially targeting sites such as brick kilns, where bonded labor is the norm rather than the exception. All functioning brick kilns in the state should be rapidly registered and inspected, with recognized participation by committed human rights organizations.
- Release and rehabilitation of bonded laborers to be put on immediate priority, emphasizing physical protection, rapid compensation and access to essential entitlements of the victims.
- Impunity of slaveholding business owners to be ended. Prosecution under the Bonded Labor Act should be accelerated, resulting in convictions and sentencing of perpetrators.
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.
Our friends at Walk Free in Australia have just released a new audio podcast, featuring FTS Co-Founder Kevin Bales, to explain that we all have a stake in ending modern-day slavery.
It’s called “Slavery is Not a Game.” The 30-minute discussion is a terrific primer on how slavery-tainted raw materials and finished products wind up in homes, offices, schools and stores throughout the world.
Joining Kevin on the podcast is Ben Skinner, author of A Crime So Monstrous: Face-to-Face With Modern-Day Slavery. He’s now the senior vice president of Tau Investment Management. Also, Sasha Lezhnev, senior policy analyst of the Enough Project. He is the author of Crafting Peace: Strategies to Deal with Warlords in Collapsing States.
After you’ve listened, you can did deeper by visiting the FTS website’s special page on eliminating slavery from product supply chains.
We received terrific news today from our friends at the End It Movement, as they wrap up their campaign.
From January 1 through April 9, young activists mobilized across the country to shine a light on modern-day slavery. They raised awareness on a large scale and helped generate significant resources to support the anti-slavery movement. The results achieved in only a few months are remarkable.
The End It campaign is a wonderful example of solidarity and partnership across the anti-slavery movement. Working together, we can all do more to eradicate slavery.
The campaign is also a testament to faith – faith that people of good will can and will join hands to protect and liberate the most vulnerable.
Once again, I am reminded that though the problem of slavery is shocking, the work of freedom is joyous. The building of a global coalition against slavery – of which the End It campaign is symbol – is heartening and inspiring.
What the campaign organizers have accomplished – and all those who volunteered and donated – is truly remarkable.
You can add your voice by going to the Free the Slaves donation page.