ATEST SB567 coverIt’s one of the most important fronts in the battle against slavery: getting companies to investigate their product supply chains to ensure they aren’t using slavery-tainted materials.

Today brings a new tool that can help. The Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking (ATEST) has released a path breaking report, called “Beyond SB 657: How Businesses Can Meet and Exceed California’s Requirements to Prevent Forced Labor in Supply Chains.

The title refers to the first-in-the-nation law that requires major manufactures and retailers in California to investigate and disclose what the company is doing to end human trafficking and slavery within their supply chains.

This pioneering law is viewed as a model for national action for all major companies throughout the U.S.

ATEST estimates that approximately 3,200 businesses will be required to comply with SB 657. “If California were a separate country, California’s economy would be in the top 10 largest economies worldwide. Effective efforts to eliminate human trafficking in supply chains of companies doing business in the state could prevent untold numbers of people worldwide from being trapped into what is essentially modern slavery,” says David Abramowitz, Director of ATEST and Vice President, Policy and Government Relations, Humanity United.

“This report aims to make it easier for companies to comply and even go beyond California’s requirements to eliminate forced labor in supply chains and we hope it will serve as a model for action by all companies committed to having modern sourcing practices that avoid human trafficking.”

In the coming months, ATEST will release results of on-going research on hundreds of company disclosures in order to demonstrate how the law is—and is not—leading to changes in corporate practice around trafficking.

 Free the Slaves is a founding member of the ATEST coalition.

Read the full report here. You can also see the human impact of slavery in the FTS business briefing video: “Becoming a Slavery Free Business.

mtvU backstory art 1There are reasons young people end up in slavery today. We’re all vulnerable to harm, one way or another, at one point or another.

Traffickers spot these weaknesses, and pounce when they see an opening.

The campus video channel mtvU has just launched an amazing social media campaign that visualizes how young people can end up enslaved inside the United States.

The Backstory draws you in to become a central character in the storyline. First, you see provocative online ads, and then you see the painful stories behind those seemingly innocuous posts. Soon, you find out how those ads could have turned someone you know in to a slave.

The Backstory is illustrated through a powerful series of videos featuring dancers from Alvin Ailey II, music scored by Kenna and text read by rapper Talib Kweli.

It’s inspired by real stories, including the book The Slave Next Door by Free the Slaves Co-Founder Kevin Bales and historian Ron Soodalter. The idea for the project started with four students at James Madison University, who answered mtvU’s call for innovative digital tools to raise awareness.

The Backstory asks a central question: what would you do? You have several choices for action. The Backstory is part of mtvU’s Against our Will campaign. Free the Slaves is a partner.

Slavery in this week’s news

We see slavery and trafficking stories throughout the world each week. It’s great news that journalists and bloggers are exposing the problem of slavery, and examining solutions to it. Awareness creates momentum for change. Here are 10 top stories that caught our eye:

1. Yahoo! News. “Apple’s Child-Labor Problem Runs Deep.”

2. “Child Labour and Child Trafficking in Ga South and Dangme West—Christian Council leads mitigation efforts.”

3. GreenBiz. “How business can help achieve a conflict-free Congo.”

4. The Hill. “Heed Congo’s hero women – Send an envoy now.”

5. The New York Times. “Urging Action, Report on Brutal Rape Condemns India’s Treatment of Women.”

6. NBC Sports. “R.A. Dickey is off to India to aid an anti-human trafficking organization.”

7. The Washington Post. “India’s child maids face slavery, abuse and sometimes rape.”

8. Oregon Live. “Washington man gets 10 years in prison for sex trafficking.”

9. IRIN News. “Rainforest riches a curse for civilians in northeast DRC.”

10. WPTV. “Foster care sex trafficking: Pimps, labor contractors targeting youth in Florida foster care system.”

Street Traffic in Bandung, Indonesia

Street Traffic in Bandung, Indonesia

It’s a jumble of memories that encompass my year living in Indonesia: the shock of a sudden, torrential downpour, the flashing colors of a traditional jaipong dancer, the incessant beeping of a thousand motorbikes at rush hour, the lush smells of the dozens of food stalls that dotted my street.

But one image in particular haunts me. An adolescent boy, too young to be called a teenager, crouches on the street across from a cheerfully neon Western-style mall in the dusk of early evening. He raises a plastic bag to his face and inhales.

I had recently moved to the city of Bandung, on the island of Java to teach at an Islamic high school as part of a Fulbright scholarship. Life in the maze of streets that comprised my crowded, working-class neighborhood was overwhelming and delightful. My favorite way to explore the area was on the lumbering vans called angkot that served as the city’s public transportation. I would fold my 5’9” frame into the cramped van, wedge myself into a space on one of the two wooden benches that lined the inside of the van, and answer my fellow passengers’ startled glances with a nod and a smile. Even dressed in the headscarf and loose tunics I had chosen to wear in a (perhaps futile) attempt to blend in, I was clearly a bulé, the ubiquitous word for foreigner that literally translates to “whitey.”

My first encounter with street begging in Indonesia came from one such angkot ride. A young boy, perhaps nine or ten, hopped aboard the moving van and perched precariously inside the open door. He grinned at the passengers and, to my shock, began to sing a popular Bruno Mars hit, strumming his battered ukulele as the angkot lurched through the crowded streets. A few blocks later, he held out a plastic cup for coins and leapt out of the van as quickly as he had arrived. I would see this interaction repeated, often several times over the course of a journey, for the next 10 months. During the day, many of the boys were cheeky and energetic, often asking me to teach them English.

Nights, however, were a different story. This reality was made clear to me by the boy sitting on the street corner who caught my attention as I made my way home from a friend’s house one evening.  I felt like someone had punched me in the stomach, a sudden, visceral blow of shock and hurt. His glassy eyes and hopeless expression stayed with me, as did the faces of all of the other boys (and occasionally girls) who I saw over the course of the year, huddled on corners with bags of glue or bottles of cheap beer to drown out the fear and misery of sleeping on the streets.

I began to ask questions about these children, the adolescent guitar players and their younger counterparts who darted in between motorcycles at crowded intersections to beg for money. The other teachers at my school shook their heads sadly when I raised the issue. “The children have no choice,” said the chemistry teacher. “They are taken from difficult situations and forced to beg.”

In other words, trafficked. I knew the word from my experience as a summer intern for Free the Slaves several years ago, and from the sporadic news articles that popped up every few months. But to confront the reality on a daily basis was so much harsher than discussing the abstract concept. I saw children as young as four and five who had been trafficked into street begging by gangs who exploited at-risk children. Many of them were orphans, while others had run away from abusive families and ended up at the mercy of the gang’s enforcers, who collected the money the children received each day.

Kathryn McNamara in  Indonesia

Kathryn McNamara in Indonesia

At an orphanage in the south of the city where I began to volunteer, several of the children had been rescued from such situations. Seven-year-old Hani (not her real name) had been offered a chance to work through a neighbor’s connections. After the death of her parents, she had little choice but to travel from her home on the island of Sulawesi to the capital, Jakarta to earn a living. However, the “connection” turned out to be a trafficker who forced Hani to spend 12 hours a day or longer begging for money. Hani is one of the lucky ones – her gang was caught and broken up by the police, and she was brought to the crowded orphanage.

In a society like Bandung, where neighbors are as close as family, social services are often nonexistent. It is assumed that the community will act together to take care of the poor and vulnerable. However, when the system breaks down, there are too few private institutions like Hani’s orphanage to take its place. This one orphanage draws children from the entire region of West Java, because there are no options for at-risk children in the small villages that dot this cool, mountainous area. The resources are even fewer in other areas of Indonesia; Java, the main island that is home to the capital city as well as most of Indonesia’s population and industry, is far wealthier than its neighbors.

The Indonesian government is moving towards political decentralization in order to more effectively govern the 17,500 islands and hundreds of ethnic and linguistic groups that make up this far-flung nation. However, it is essential that this process does not allow vulnerable populations such as trafficked children to remain on the margins. Awareness training for police officers would make them more sensitive to the children who populate the street gangs. Strict and consistently applied penalties for those convicted of trafficking would send a clear message for human traffickers and for those officials who take bribes to turn a blind eye to their activities.

In the meantime, Hani is attending school for the first time in her life, and says she hopes to become a policewoman. “I want to catch the bad people,” she says. “I want to help the children like me.”

Editor’s Note: After returning from Indonesia in June 2012, Kathryn moved to Philadelphia for an entirely different kind of adventure. She currently works for a global health company as a liaison for doctors and hospitals.

Slavery in This Week’s News

We see slavery and trafficking stories throughout the world each week. It’s great news that journalists and bloggers are exposing the problem of slavery, and examining solutions to it. Awareness creates momentum for change. Here are 10 top stories that caught our eye:

1. BBC News. “Twelve arrested in US raid on Latin sex-trafficking ring.”

2. CNN Freedom Project. “Trafficking survivor: It’s time to help others.”

3. The Huffington Post. “Could Congressional Indifference Kill the ‘Most Important Anti-Trafficking Law Ever Passed’?”

4. CBS Detroit. “Soap Cleans Up Sex Trafficking During Auto Show.”

5. The Financial Times. “Myanmar violence fuels human trafficking.”

6. The Huffington Post. “California Prop 35, Anti-Human Trafficking Initiative, Blocked By Judge On Free Speech Grounds.”

7. “Shocking video on child labor in India.”

8. International Business Times. “Mali’s Other Crisis: Slavery Still Plagues Mali, And Insurgency Could Make It Worse.”

9. AllAfrica. “Congo-Kinshasa: Being Frank About Conflict Minerals.”

10. The Hill. “150 years after Emancipation Proclamation; Too many people are still for sale.”