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Many U.S. companies must soon disclose if their products are tainted by minerals often mined by slaves in central Africa. A federal appeals court panel has upheld most elements of the “conflict minerals rule,” which is a new corporate transparency regulation that can help consumers and investors, as well as people in slavery.

The rule was authorized by the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010 and formally issued by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in 2012. Publicly held companies must determine if their products contain tin, tungsten, tantalum or gold from mines that benefit armed groups in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and surrounding areas. The goal is to inform people who might want to avoid buying these products or investing in the companies that make them. Free the Slaves has demonstrated that slavery is common at mines producing these minerals.

Three business associations challenged the reporting requirement in court, saying the SEC did not conduct a proper cost-benefit analysis and the specific disclosure language violates corporate free-speech rights.

“The court affirmed the SEC’s right to require corporate human rights disclosures – roundly rejecting the arguments of business groups that the SEC rule was issued without the requisite cost-benefit analysis,” says FTS Program Director Karen Stauss. “In fact, the court declined to monetize the ‘benefits’ of the law, which it rightly pointed out involve lives saved and crimes averted.”

The court struck down one piece of the rule that requires companies to state when their products are not “DRC conflict free.”

“That component of the decision represents a potential setback for groups advocating for corporate disclosures on human rights, but not a fatal one,” Stauss says. “That part of the court’s opinion is fairly limited; the rest of the rule remains intact. The court upheld disclosure to investors.”

“Sustainable and responsible investors commend the court’s preservation of the conflict minerals reporting rule and its general support for the SEC’s authority,” the investment groups of the Responsible Sourcing Network said in a joint statement. “We applaud the companies that are already implementing comprehensive due diligence…and call on all covered issuers [of stock] to continue preparing the required disclosures, which remain essentially unaltered by the court’s opinion.”

Business advisors are telling clients to focus on compliance rather than resistance in court. “Conflict minerals requirements are here to stay,” according to Jane Luxton, a partner at the Washington law firm Clark Hill. The court decision on corporate free-speech rights “only delays the inevitable,” she wrote on the Corporate Social Responsibility Wire. The same information “will soon be widely available in the form of government reports,” Hill says.

The lawsuit against the conflict minerals rule was filed by the National Association of Manufacturers, the Business Roundtable and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. It is one of several cases where businesses are asserting they have a constitutional right to not reveal negative aspects of their products to the public, according to Reuters.  Another case, involving labels on meat, is headed to court in May. Experts say the ruling in that case could ultimately change the impact of the recent ruling on conflict minerals.  

Read more about FTS programs in the DRC on our Congo webpage.

If the battle against slavery hasn’t reached your faith community yet, it may be coming soon. A major global faith initiative to end modern-day slavery is taking root. Leading religious representatives and the Walk Free Foundation signed a groundbreaking agreement last month at the Vatican to work together, establishing the Global Freedom NetworkThe network will have a reach of more than 2.6 billion people – over a third of the world’s population.

Global Freedom Network

Global Freedom Network agreement is signed at the Vatican in March by Catholic, Anglican and Sunni Muslim representatives. Photo: Walk Free.

Some of the key initiatives for the network’s first year include:

  • All global faiths slavery-proof their own supply chains and investments and take remedial action where needed, and mobilze their youth sections to support plans to eradicate modern slavery;
  • The G20 focuses on modern slavery and human trafficking and adopts an anti-slavery and human trafficking initiative; plus supports the establishment of a global fund to end modern slavery;
  • Political leaders slavery-proof government supply chains;
  • 50 major multinational businesses whose CEOs are people of faith to commit to slavery-proof their supply chains;
  • Families, schools, universities, congregations and institutions are educated on what modern slavery is, how to report it, and the destructiveness of harmful social attitudes, prejudices and social systems in relation to slavery.
Nick Grono Meeting with Pope

Nick Grono meets Pope Francis.

Free the Slaves asked Nick Grono, the former CEO of Walk Free and current CEO of the Freedom Fund, about the importance of mobilizing people of faith.

How was your experience with the pope? Does it make you hopeful or energized?

I participated in a convening at the Vatican to address the issue of modern slavery, as a representative of Walk Free. The convening had been called because the pope had made clear from the beginning of his appointment that fighting modern slavery was a priority for him and the Catholic Church. That is hugely encouraging because the church has a tremendously important role to play. What is particularly exciting is that the Catholic Church is coming together with the Anglican Church and other faith leaders to encourage the world’s major faiths to prioritize the fight against slavery. It will provide a real opportunity to make big progress in this critically important cause.

Why is it important to engage religious leadership as well as reaching out to congregations?

If the pope says that ending slavery is a priority for him and the Catholic Church then it is much easier to get Catholic congregations actively engaged on this. A lot of good work is being done by congregations all around the world, but when there is demonstrable leadership from the very top of the church, it gives much greater impetus to the effort.

How do statements from religious leaders translate into freedom for people who are enslaved?

In various ways.  One way is to raise awareness generally; many people in the U.S. or around the world are still unaware that modern slavery exists. So prioritizing it amongst faith leaders certainly raises awareness. The other thing is that churches have significant resources (institutional and financial), and efforts by church institutions on slavery can be tremendously impactful. When Caritas [the development federation of Catholic churches] adopts the fight against slavery as an important priority in its programming, it brings massive resources to bear on the issue. Likewise, the Anglican Communion has started to prioritize efforts against slavery. So now you have support networks with the ability to provide a full range of interventions that can directly assist in the fight against slavery and trafficking.

Religious leaders were crucial in building the global consensus more than a century ago that slavery is immoral and inhumane. But the job now is actually eradicating slavery. Is eradication harder than abolition?

Absolutely. A declaration of abolition is the beginning of a process. Raising awareness is key, but raising awareness on its own does not bring people out of slavery. It facilitates and creates an environment that is much more amenable to those efforts. Having faith leaders is one very important part, and having world leaders and heads of state is certainly an important part, but it is not the end of the problem. Having people engaged on the community level is critically important. Congregations play a leading role here by helping mobilize and support people at the grassroots level. A proclamation is a wonderful development and moves us closer to the goal of ending modern slavery.

April is a deeply religious period of the calendar for many faiths. Are there particular steps that you would like to encourage individuals to take based on their faith?

The most important step is for people to learn and understand what the problem is, and what role they can play in ending modern slavery. Free the Slaves is a tremendously important resource for this. You have resources that explain what individuals can do. So my hope is that this commitment by faith leaders and Walk Free will encourage individuals to learn more, and then encourage people to take small steps. Lots of small steps taken by lots of people add up to significant progress over time. People can become aware of how their purchasing decisions impact modern slavery. People can become aware of their role in impacting the legislative agenda. There are lots of small things that people can do that collectively make a big difference over time

Regarding Walk Free, how does it get this initiative rolling?

Andrew Forrest, founder of Walk Free, attended a meeting in the Vatican last year where he became aware of the Catholic Church’s commitment to fighting slavery. He then worked to build and strengthen the involvement of other faith leaders in this effort. And so it is not just the faiths, but committed civil society leadership which is key to the success of this initiative. 

See video of Andrew Forrest on the new initiative here.

Last week, Pope Francis met with sex trafficking survivors at the Vatican and declared that slavery is a “crime against humanity.” See news coverage here and here.

To learn more about modern-day slavery and what you can do to help combat this global injustice, visit Free the Slaves and download the Trafficking Fact Sheet or Action Steps to End Slavery. If you are a member of a faith community, please visit Free the Slaves Faith in Action to see what your community can do to fight slavery!

freepeopleWe’ve just completed our 2013 year-end review, and the results are both impressive and inspiring. In partnership with local organizations around the globe, we helped free more people from slavery last year than ever before. Here are the numbers from our frontline work in six trafficking hot spot countries:

  • 3,127 people freed from slavery
  • 18,465 villagers educated on how to protect their families from traffickers
  • 1,157 village and neighborhood groups supported to protect their communities from slavery
  • 1,518 government officials trained on how to more effectively stop slavery
  • 105 traffickers and slaveholders now facing legal action

Beneath these statistics are the stories of lives that you helped change through your support of Free the Slaves: a mother reunited with her trafficked daughter in Nepal, young girls returning to normalcy in a sex slavery survivor shelter in India, young boys in Ghana rescued off rickety fishing boats, and the transformation of a village in Haiti, where one resident said, “We were in obscurity, now we are in the light.”

Free the Slaves was also very active in 2013 advocating for government and business policies that help defeat slavery. One remarkable achievement: reauthorization of the Trafficking Victims Protection and Recovery Act, which governs the U.S. response to human trafficking. Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee Senator Patrick Leahy commended Free the Slaves Programs Director Karen Stauss for her personal contribution to the reauthorization.

As a supporter of Free the Slaves, these are your accomplishments, too. With your help, we will make an even bigger difference in 2014.

Bank Ki-moon summit

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon tells summit: “No child should be enslaved instead of being in school.” | Photo: A World at School Project

Education and slavery are interconnected. There are 57 million children worldwide who should be in school, but aren’t. About 5.5 million of them are slaves.

This is why Free the Slaves has been asked to join a global partnership of leading organizations that is championing A World at Schoola 500-day campaign to accelerate progress towards making schooling universally accessible

The initiative is being led by former U.K Prime Minister Gordon Brown and his wife, Sarah. Yesterday, I had the great privilege of attending the campaign launch in Washington, under the auspices of the United Nations.

Child slaves cannot go to school. Children who are not in school are especially vulnerable to becoming slaves. Schools can be a great vehicle for increasing awareness of slavery both among children and the wider community. We see these realities across all our programs.

A World at School has embraced “zero child labor” as one of its key goals, knowing that child slavery and child labor are fundamental barriers to universal child education. Over the coming months, we will work with A World at School to identify opportunities to more effectively protect children at risk.

The power of education was much in evidence yesterday. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon spoke to us movingly about receiving textbooks from UNICEF as a boy in the midst of the Korean War. The books let him continue his education. Though his classes were held outside, he remembered that inside the books was an admonishment: “Work hard and give back.”

A World at School has named 500 youth ambassadors. Among those who spoke yesterday were Kainat Riaz and Shazia Ramzan, Pakistani girls who were shot on the same bus with Malala Yousafaza. They were equally powerful, amazing and eloquent young women. The Taliban fears educating girls more than they fear bullets, they said. Oppression and servitude cannot persist in the face of awareness and enlightenment.

That is the mission of Free the Slaves, too. To bring children and their parents the knowledge that will protect them from slavery. We will persist in that mission until slavery is studied only in the history books read by children at school.

James_Harkin

James Kofi Annan meets Senator Tom Harkin | Photo: Cavin Elizabeth Photography

It isn’t every day that a child slavery survivor from Africa is a featured speaker at a congressional briefing. But this week, Capitol Hill witnessed the award-winning advocate and child trafficking survivor, James Kofi Annan, speaking alongside long time anti-slavery champion Senator Tom Harkin, to address the global injustice of child labor.

The Alliance to End Slavery & Trafficking (ATEST) and the Child Labor Coalition hosted the panel to discuss how to reduce exploitative child labor, reflect on the progress that grassroots and governmental efforts have made, and promote the international benefits of ending child trafficking.

James Kofi Annan, founder of FTS frontline partner Challenging Heights, opened the discussion by acknowledging that although the U.S. has passed measures to combat exploitative child labor, there is still much work to be done. “We have made lots of progress, but we could do so much more,” James said. He remarked that vulnerable countries like Ghana need the U.S. to pressure their governments by shaming their lax enforcement of anti-slavery laws.

Sen. Harkin said was is honored to be in the same room as James. “I just wish I could duplicate James so we could have a leader like him in every country to end child labor,” said Harkin.

Harkin

Sen. Tom Harkin at briefing | Photo: Cavin Elizabeth Photography

The senator focused his remarks on child trafficking issues found in Ghana and the Ivory Coast. He announced that by 2020, he has set a goal to decrease child slavery in these areas by 70 percent. He has led congressional efforts to pass legislation that would prohibit child labor and the production of goods that promote child trafficking. Although he is retiring, he stated, “I may be retiring from the Senate, but I am not retiring on this issue.”

Also featured on the panel were policy advocates from Solidarity Center,  GoodWeave and the U.S. Department of Labor. They highlighted the economic and security gains that could occur when child slavery is abolished.

Solidarity Center Director Shawna Bader-Blau stated that “collective bargaining is a requirement for any long term plan to be successful in creating fair and sustainable labor solutions,” and that it is the “creation of jobs in our partnering countries that drives down poverty, which is the root of many exploitation cases.”

Claude Fontheim of GoodWeave noted that a “long term issue such as child exploitation needs a long term investment.” The Labor Department’s Carol Pier explained that for the government to have the greatest impact, it needs to be “intimately aware of the problems and shortcoming in countries’ labor laws.”

The briefing concluded with encouragement to pass federal legislation to build transparency in business supply chains, encourage corporate accountability, and promote good governance in democracies around the world.