Photo Credit: Architect of the Capitol

No consumer wants to buy products made by slaves. And no investor wants to support companies that use slave labor. But it’s extraordinarily difficult for shoppers or stockbrokers to know which products or companies may be tainted by trafficking.

U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) want to help. They’ve just introduced the Business Supply Chain Transparency on Trafficking and Slavery Act of 2014 (H.R. 4842).

The bipartisan bill requires major U.S. companies to publicly disclose measures they are taking to prevent human trafficking, slavery and child labor in their supply chains. Publicly held companies with more than $100 million in global gross receipts would make annual disclosures to the Securities and Exchange Commission.

“Human trafficking, child labor and slavery are, unfortunately, not relics of the past but very much present in the 21st century,” Maloney said in a statement released today. “Every day, Americans purchase products tainted by forced labor and this bill is a first step to end these inhumane practices.” (Read the full statement here.)

The bill is supported by the Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking (ATEST), a coalition of leading human rights organizations, including Free the Slaves, working to eradicate slavery.

“Enactment of supply chain transparency legislation will provide consumers with information about companies that are – and are not – taking substantial steps to address slavery. It will also help investors better understand the reputational and other risks of investing in particular companies,” ATEST said in a statement released today.

“The legislation recognizes a company’s ability to positively impact human rights around the world. Federal legislation can even help American businesses by establishing clear federal standards and a level playing field, avoiding the need for companies to comply with differing state laws on supply chain transparency, such as California’s transparency law,” ATEST notes. (Read the full ATEST statement here.) (Learn about California’s transparency law and corporate compliance here.)

“By requiring companies with more than $100 million in worldwide receipts to be transparent about their supply chain policies, American consumers can learn what is being done to stop horrific and illegal labor practices,” said FTS Programs Director Karen Stauss. “This bill doesn’t tell companies what to do, it simply asks them to tell us what steps they are already taking. This transparency will empower consumers with more information that could impact their purchasing decisions.”

The U.S. is the world’s largest importer, and the public is increasingly demanding information about the human rights impact of products in American stores. In 2012, the U.S. Dept. of Labor identified 134 goods from 74 countries made by forced and child labor.

“Businesses shouldn’t turn a blind eye to the working conditions of people who make their products, and the supply chain transparency act is a great step toward making sure they can’t. American consumers want and deserve to know what’s behind the food, clothing, and other goods they use every day. Having companies report what they are doing to prevent trafficked or forced labor isn’t asking much; and for tens of millions of people working in conditions of modern slavery it is absolutely urgent,” said Melysa Sperber, director of ATEST.

Transparency legislation is being welcomed by investors as well as by anti-slavery activists.

“Given the complexity of global supply chains and the multitude of contractors, recruiters, and suppliers used throughout a production process, companies without comprehensive anti-trafficking and slavery protocols are exposed to a host of financial, regulatory, legislative, legal and reputational risks with the potential to  adversely impact shareholder value,” said the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR), a coalition of 300 investors with assets under management of over $100 billion, in a statement today.

“Proactively addressing these risks can guard against the negative publicity, business interruptions, potential lawsuits, public protests, and reputational damage that may result from undetected human rights violations. As concerned investors, we believe that companies with formal human rights due diligence processes are better positioned to safeguard against these adverse human rights impacts and hence, better able to protect shareholder value.” (Read the full ICCR statement here.)

Free The Slaves/Ruth Beatriz Vasconcelos Vilela

Ruth Vilela, Brazil’s former Secretary of Labor Inspection, made Brazil a world leader in combating slavery. She is the latest recipient of a Free the Slaves Freedom Award/ | Photo: FTS/Romano

The world’s attention shifts to Brazil today, where Jennifer Lopez and Pitbull will open the FIFA World Cup tournament with the song Ole Ola (We are One), and soccer teams will begin competition to determine who is the world’s best.

But far from the soccer stadiums, a different kind of team is setting a different kind of global standard.

They are elite units that swoop in to free slaves from farms, mines and factories — then publicly shame traffickers on a national “dirty list” and persuade major companies to cleanse their supply chains of slavery-tainted raw materials.

Brazil’s innovative anti-slavery program is one of the world’s best, with more than 45,000 people liberated so far.  A new FTS video profiles the woman whose inventiveness and leadership made it happen: Ruth Vilela, recipient of a Free the Slaves Freedom Award.

Her first raid “looked like an Indiana Jones movie,” Ruth says. “It was an adventure, surrounded by improvisation.” In the video, she reflects on her remarkable career as Brazil’s Secretary of Labor Inspection at the Ministry of Employment and Labor. “The truth is, I feel a little bit like the mother of this work,” she says, “but it is with great joy that I see other people now taking up this job.” Ruth retired two years ago.

Our thanks to Ruth for her tireless and invaluable contributions to the anti-slavery movement, and our congratulations to her as the most recent recipient of a FTS Freedom Award.

Although they’ve freed tens of thousands of people from slavery, there is still plenty of work for Brazil’s anti-slavery squads. The 2013 Walk Free Global Slavery Index estimates that there are 210,000 people in various forms of slavery in Brazil today.

To learn more about Free the Slaves programs in Brazil, visit our Brazil webpage. Many of the raids executed by government agents are triggered by investigations conducted by our front line partner group, CPT. As well, our front line partner Reporter Brasil publicizes every raid, helping forge a national consensus to bring slavery to an end in Latin America’s largest economy.

FTS Joins InterAction

Interaction-LogoWhat do you call a room full of international development professionals? A golden opportunity!

And that opportunity unfolds this week as InterAction hosts its 30th Annual Forum in Washington. For the first time, Free the Slaves will be on hand as an InterAction member organization.

That’s important because one of our key goals is to get activists who work on causes such as women’s rights, children’s education, micro-enterprise development and rural health to recognize that they should also join the fight against modern-day slavery.

InterAction, a “united voice for global change,” is an association of more than 180 organizations working toward a “peaceful, just and prosperous world.” InterAction fosters partnerships, thought leadership and high standards. FTS was carefully vetted by InterAction’s evaluation team before being accepted for membership earlier this year.

The FTS message at this week’s InterAction conference is that modern-day slavery and other international development causes are interrelated. People fall into slavery because of poverty, discrimination, corruption and a lack of social services. Those problems make them vulnerable prey for traffickers. By reducing those vulnerabilities, and organizing people at the community level to overcome those challenges, we will reduce slavery.

As well, many people don’t benefit from international development investments such as new schools and medical clinics because they are trapped in slavery. When organizations that are promoting education and health also target slavery, more people will be able to participate in development programs. (Read more in this FTS article in InterAction’s monthly magazine.)

FTS Executive Director Maurice Middleberg and our Nepal country director, Neelam Sharma, are spreading the word this week at InterAction that everyone can help end slavery. We’ll let you know how it went in a future post.

What if you had no choice but to send your child away, hoping she’d be fed, go to school and be safe? What if you found out that instead she was held against her will, abused and forced to work?

No father wants to send his daughter to be enslaved as a maid in another family’s home. Or send his son to work off a family debt in a mine. But in the trafficking hot spots where Free the Slaves works, we often meet fathers who seemingly have no other choice.

You can help end that cycle of slavery. This Father’s Day, you can honor your father with a gift that spreads freedom to fathers and their families around the world.

fathersday 2014 ecard

Donate to Free the Slaves in honor of your father and send him this e-card. Click here. | Photo: FTS/Romano

Free the slaves understands what makes families vulnerable to slavery, and why fathers are often challenged in protecting their children. With education, empowerment and support, we help fathers rescue their children from slavery and prevent traffickers from preying on others.

  • In India, we helped a father who’d been trying unsuccessfully to free his boy from slavery inside a factory. His son, and 23 other teens, are now free and back home.
  • In Nepal, we helped two fathers whose entire families were enslaved on a farm. By learning how to stand up for their rights, they obtained legal ownership of half of the land they had been cultivating. They are now free from slavery.
  • In Ghana, the founder of our partner organization, James Kofi Annan, a former slave himself, says he feels like a father to children he rescues. He wants them to follow in his footsteps: “By 10 years time, I should be able to have mentored other survivors who will then become the voice of others who are not yet freed.”

You can help us support more fathers and more families, so that everyone everywhere can experience freedom.

Please contribute to Free the Slaves through our Father’s Day e-card initiative.




Sujata Bijou

The anti-slavery movement is at an historic crossroads. We must do more than awaken the world to the fact that slavery still exists. We must convince the world that slavery can be overcome.

And to do that, we must prove that our work on the front lines is breaking slavery’s grip on the vulnerable communities where we work.

It’s a tall order for Director of Monitoring and Evaluation Sujata Bijou. But she’s never been one to shy away from a challenge. She’s already guided FTS through the process of refining our community-based model for fighting slavery.

Now, she’s begun a world tour to the trafficking hot spots where we’re helping our partner organizations combat slavery.

Haiti M&E Training Workshop

First stop: Haiti. Sujata traveled to Jacmel for a weeklong M&E workshop with Fondasyon Limyè Lavi (FLL). She explained the importance of rigorous monitoring and the different techniques we’ll be using to evaluate the effectiveness of programs. The goal is not only to demonstrate success; it’s to identify weaknesses in order to strengthen field programs over time.

“They enjoyed the training,” Sujata says, “they definitely learned a lot.”

How does she know? By formally evaluating the workshop, of course.

Next stop: Ghana. Sujata leaves soon to work with our Ghanaian partner Challenging Heights.

And true to form, she’s working to strengthen her M&E road show.

“We are hoping on taking the lessons learned during the training in Haiti and using them to make improvements in Ghana,” Sujata says. “I am really looking forward to it!”