U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry | State Dept. Photo

Anticipation is building for the release of this year’s Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report from the U.S. State Department. The report has become an important diplomatic tool in the fight against modern-day slavery. Businesses also use the rankings to understand the risks of slavery connected to their supply chains. This year’s report will be the first for Secretary of State John Kerry and the Obama administration’s second term in office.

The annual TIP report is a global country-by-country evaluation of efforts to combat trafficking. Countries are graded on a scale from 1 to 3 (Tier 1 is the best, Tier 3 is the worst). Sanctions are possible for underperforming nations. A Tier 2 Watch List includes several countries who aren’t doing enough. By law, they must be demoted to Tier 3 if they don’t improve after two years on the watch list, although waivers of the sanctions are allowed.

The Tier 2 Watch List has caught the attention of several members of Congress. They recently wrote to Kerry, laying out their concern about countries lingering on the list.

“We wish to convey our concern about continued, severe trafficking issues in several countries that are on the Tier 2 Watch List, including China, Uzbekistan, Russia, Iraq, Republic of Congo, and Azerbaijan. These six countries have exhausted under U.S. law the time they can remain on the Tier 2 Watch List and must be elevated to Tier 2 or demoted to Tier 3 in the TIP report this year. We are confident you agree that the Watch List protocol was designed to offer countries a brief added opportunity to make needed changes and should never be used to push countries into a higher ranking than their records merit.” (Read the full letter here).

The letter was signed by 16 members of Congress: Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA), Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Rep. John Carter (R-TX), Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH), Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX), Rep. Tim Griffin (R-AR), Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Rep. James McGovern (D-MA), Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), Rep. Joseph Pitts (R-PA), Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX), Rep. Peter Roskam (R-IL), Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA), Rep. Christopher Smith (R-NJ), Rep. Randy Weber (R-TX), Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA).

FTS Director of Programs Karen Stauss says the TIP ranking system has to be “impartial.”

“The U.S. government uses it to target assistance to governments who’ve demonstrated the political will to make progress, but just lack the resources. In other words, places where we can get the most bang for our buck, and won’t be pouring money into a black hole of corruption.”

Stauss believes the 2013 TIP report will be a “moment of truth.”

“We need the U.S. government to keep the pressure on countries that haven’t made any genuine improvements. In other words, no ‘automatic upgrades’ for governments that are not making progress.”

The 2013 TIP report is tentatively scheduled for release in mid-June.

veero 1

Veero Kolhi | Photo: Zia Mazhar for FTS

Veero Kolhi is no stranger to adversity. She escaped single-handedly from slavery, and she’s helped hundreds of others overcome fear and intimidation to also break free.

That’s why Free the Slaves honored Veero in 2009 with a Frederick Douglass Freedom Award.

Tomorrow, Veero takes another inspiring step: she’s on the ballot for provincial parliament (Seat PS-50, Hyderabad).

You can read about her courageous run for office in one of Pakistan’s leading news sites, Dawn. They say her candidacy is astonishing.

One of her biggest supporters, Ghulam Hyder of the Green Rural Development Organization, says Veero’s campaign platform focuses on empowering the poor and marginalized:

  • Release and rehabilitation of 1.7 million bonded labor slaves.
  • Just distribution of opportunities for local people to benefit from Pakistan’s natural resources such as water, oil and forests.
  • Provision of equal wages and opportunities for women, and enabling women access to the court system to seek justice.
  • Ensuring the availability of education, drinking water, sanitation and other basic services.

There are more than 50 candidates competing in the provincial election on May 11. Veero is the only woman on the ballot, and the only slavery survivor to ever run for a general parliamentary seat in Pakistan, Ghulam says.


Pakistan’s elections have been marked this year by violent attacks on candidates. Veero has been subjected to threats, Ghulam says, but she presses forward.

As Veero herself said in her FTS Freedom Award profile video: “The slaveholders have sent messages that I will be murdered. But I don’t fear them anymore. And I will continue to fight. That is the spirit I have inside me.”

POST-ELECTION UPDATE (Monday, May 13): FTS has received news that Veero did not win the election. But everyone involved in her candidacy has felt that her run for office was a tremendous step forward. Veero has issued this statement to supporters:

I, Veero Kohli, your sister, am grateful to the men and women laborers for giving me more than 6,000 votes despite the fact that I could not contact many of you. This shows your confidence in me for which I am personally obliged to each one of you. I have been striving for you in the past and try my level best to come true to your expectations as long I am alive. May you need my assistance and happen to call me I shall proudly rush to you barefooted. Elections apart, I shall continue working on the manifesto declared by me and will contact you in this respect very soon to form a workable strategy for its implementation in letter and spirit.

Confronting the crocodiles was a herculean task and it was expected the rock-hard centuries old system could not be dismantled in a single stroke; nevertheless it is the beginning which is bound to lead to success. I once again offer my sincere thanks to all my benefactors including the people of my class who trusted me and voted for me.


25th Annual Sports EmmysGreat news from Hollywood this week: We’ve learned that the mtvU Against Our Will Campaign has been nominated for a Daytime Emmy Award!

The campaign has been honored in the “New Approaches” category, in recognition of its innovative techniques to build awareness about trafficking among college students.

Three leading anti-slavery organizations serve as partners and content advisors for the campaign: Free the Slaves, Polaris Project, and GEMS.

Broadcast to more than 750 college campuses nationwide, mtvU reaches nearly 9 million U.S. college students – making it the largest, most comprehensive television network just for college students. mtvU can be seen in the dining areas, fitness centers, student lounges and dorm rooms of campuses throughout the U.S.

mtvu-headerlogoThe Against Our Will Campaign was launched in 2011 at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York. The campaign amplifies America’s college students’ efforts to end modern-day slavery in the U.S., and empowers them to learn more and get involved.

The campaign’s website features remarkably creative material – including slavery survivor poetry read by A-list musicians and actors such as Alicia Keys and Jada Pinkett Smith, as well as interactive stories depicting how young people become enslaved, portrayed by interpretative dancers from Ailey II of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.

Fingers crossed! The Daytime Emmy winners will be announced in mid-June.

atest logoThere’s a terrific online opportunity today at 1 p.m. ET to learn about the loosely regulated world of international labor recruiters, and what needs to be done to stop traffickers from posing as legitimate labor brokers.

With millions of people on the move from poorer countries to wealthier ones, looking for a chance to build a better life and send money back home, conditions are perfect for traffickers to pretend that they are  legitimate labor recruiters. One activist says there’s a “Wild West” atmosphere in parts of the labor recruiting industry, allowing traffickers to operate openly, without fear.

Today at 1 p.m. ET, the Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking (ATEST) will present a half-hour webcast and online discussion forum to raise awareness about the problem and potential solutions.


Hidden in Bondage: Labor Intermediaries and Human Trafficking”

Wednesday, May 1, 1:oo p.m. ET.

Live Webcast:


ATEST experts will be joined by a survivor of labor trafficking to discuss the ways in which labor intermediaries not only facilitate, but also engage in human trafficking for sex slavery, domestic servitude and other forms of forced labor slavery.

The interactive webcast will explore the exploitative recruitment practices used by labor intermediaries, the potential regulations to prevent abuses, and the solutions to hold traffickers accountable.

As a participant, you will be able to chat live with our panelists throughout the event. Please note that you do not have to register in order to attend. Simply click on the link the day and time of the event, and you’ll be set!

Labor recruiters are often complicit or directly involved in the trafficking of workers. Last week, U.S. senators introduced a comprehensive immigration reform bill, S. 744, which incorporates provisions that strengthen regulations of foreign labor recruiters for the prevention of human trafficking and forced labor slavery.

Today is May Day throughout the world, a day of international recognition of workers. A good way to spend one hour of your May Day could be to learn the latest on ways to protect workers from becoming slaves.

A Cool Gift for Your Cool Mom

hearts necklace-tightWith Mother’s Day fast approaching, here’s a stylish way for your mom to show her love for children everywhere.

We have partnered with the sustainable fashion company, Hearts, to create the Free the Slaves Key 2-in-1 necklace/bracelet.

Inspired by the Free the Slaves padlock logo, jewelers designed a pewter key with the letters FTS, which can be worn on the neck or wrist.

They cost $32, with $12 from every purchase going to FTS projects that help slaves break free and stay free.

hearts bracelet tightIf your mom prefers just a bracelet, FTS also receives 50% of the proceeds from the beautiful iHeart Freedom & Social Justice bracelet, which costs $24.

Both are unique, limited edition fashion accessories that help make the world a more humane place. All the jewelry is made under fair-trade slavery-free conditions.

If neither of the pieces fit your mom’s style, both are still inexpensive gifts to give to a friend, while giving slaves the gift of freedom.

Visit Hearts to order yours today.