On March 21, Free The Slaves wrote a letter of support to Californian Senator Ellen M. Corbett, applauding her introduction of bill SB 861. A landmark piece of legislation, SB 861 prevents publicly traded companies from obtaining procurement contracts with the Californian State if found by the Securities and Exchange Commission of being in non-compliance with federal law relating to conflict minerals in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Embedded within the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act—a series of financial reform measures enacted by President Obama in July 2009—is a regulatory provision relating to the DRC. Under this provision, companies are required by federal law to report on their mineral supply chains, disclose whether they are sourcing minerals from the DRC or its neighbors, and exercise due diligence to ensure that they are not inadvertently serving to fund armed groups committing atrocities there.
Greed for Congo’s mineral wealth on the part of armed groups and rebel militias has been instrumental in fueling the war and associated atrocities in the country. In collaboration with two Congolese human rights organizations, Free the Slaves has documented the prevalence of multiple forms of modern slavery in mining areas of North Kivu, eastern Congo. These abuses include forced labor and debt bondage connected directly to mining activities. Slavery in eastern Congo also includes the use of child soldiers, the abuse of children in prostitution, and other forms of sexual slavery. These abuses constitute recognized violations of slavery and human trafficking under international law and relevant U.S. laws.
The armed groups perpetuating violence in the DRC finance themselves through the trade of four main minerals: tin, tantalum, tungsten, and gold—essential raw materials in electronics products such as cell phones, digital cameras and laptops. Free The Slaves, which represents over 3,200 Californian constituents, stressed in its letter to Senator Corbett that whilst California is rightly proud of its high-tech industry, the State should not be spending tax dollars on companies that fail to comply with federal law.
The Californian bill aims to help curb the multi-million dollar trade in illegally extracted minerals from eastern Congo by incentivizing company compliance with federal regulations; influencing the State’s electronics industry leaders as they decide whether or not to invest in the DRC and ensure that their supply chains are transparent.
The letter ended by emphasizing that SB 861 could help neutralize one of the key economic drivers of the conflict in Congo and protect the country’s children from a future stigmatized by violence and brutality. Through its passage California has the opportunity to show, once again, that it is a leader in protecting the rights of the most vulnerable by encouraging the development of verifiably conflict-free products.
The California State Senate Committee on Government Organization, Chaired by Senator Wright will hold a hearing on April 12, 2011 at 9:30 am in the State Capitol, Room 4203. This hearing will determine whether SB 861 will continue in its course to be signed into law by the State’s Governor.
Free The Slaves eagerly awaits the swift passage of the bill.
Representative Carolyn Maloney (D–New York) announced last week that she will introduce a federal bill modeled on the California Supply Chain Transparency Act (SB 657), recently signed into law by Governor Schwarzenegger. SB 657 requires all businesses that trade in California and gross over $100 million globally, to reveal what they are doing to eradicate slavery in their supply chains.
In a “Dear Colleague” letter sent to other members of Congress, Maloney said this proposed bill, titled Slavery Prevention Supply Chains Act will “allow consumers to make better, more informed choices and motivate businesses to ensure humane practices throughout the supply chain.” Like the California law, this federal bill will require companies grossing over $100 million to post on their websites the systems they have in place to keep their supply chains slavery free.
Free the Slaves has been a public supporter of the California legislation. Together with our colleagues at the Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking (ATEST), we sent Gov. Schwarzenegger a letter urging him to sign the law. Read our statement here (PDF).
Making consumers aware that slavery may exist in the products we use is a powerful step. But it will take more than this to eradicate slavery. The law only requires that businesses reveal their voluntary efforts in keeping a slave-free supply chain. More legislation and follow up is needed to keep the momentum going.
Maloney seems to agree with our stance. She says, “This is one step in a multi-pronged approach to attacking a horrific problem that plagues the world but is found right here in our own back yards. With increased knowledge, consumers can let their opinions on human slavery be known through their pocketbooks.”
Maloney has had a hand in several anti human trafficking bills making their way through congress, including the Prevention of Trafficking of Tsunami Orphans Act of 2005 (H.R. 950)—in response to the alarming trend of vulnerable children falling prey to traffickers in disaster zones.
Editor’s note: Karen Stauss is the Director of Programs at Free the Slaves. Here, she responds to the passage of the California Supply Chain Transparency Act (SB 657), signed into law today by Governor Schwarzenegger.
“We commend Governor Schwarzeneggar for signing into law the most rigorous state law requirement of transparency about slavery in companies’ supply chains. Consumers can now make the choice to buy products from companies that are seriously looking into whether the products they make and sell depend on slave labor. This is ground-breaking. We’re honored to work in a coalition with the lead advocates for this legislation. With this signing, two balls are thrown out: one ball is in the court of companies in California, to see which ones rise to this challenge. The other ball is in the court of everyday American consumers. This law will have an impact on slavery when informed buyers demand slave-free products. We can hold companies accountable with our wallets.”
California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger announced today that he has signed the California Supply Chain Transparency Act (SB 657).
With our partners at the non-partisan coalition of U.S.-based anti-slavery organizations, Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking (ATEST), Free the Slaves signed a letter urging Schwarzenegger to sign SB 657 into law. Read our statement here (PDF).
The law requires all businesses that sell products in California and gross over $100 million a year globally, to disclose what they are doing to ensure that slavery does not exist in their supply chains.
In a statement, Schwarzenegger said:
“Human trafficking is a terrible crime that goes against basic human rights and everything our country stands for. I am proud that in California, we have enacted some of the toughest laws to punish human traffickers and protect their victims. This legislation will increase transparency, allow consumers to make better, more informed choices and motivate businesses to ensure humane practices through the supply chain.”
Other anti-slavery laws Governor Schwarzenegger has signed include AB 17, allowing law enforcement to seize the assets of convicted traffickers and SB 1569, which gives government aid to survivors of slavery. For more on Schwarzenegger’s efforts against slavery, go to the website of the Office of the Governor.
- Global Nations Inquirer: Indie film tackles human trafficking to Sabah: “The issue on human trafficking is like a song whose lyrics and melody everyone knows but which still remains unsung. Unknown to most city dwellers, even in the Philippines, human trafficking is very much rampant.” Independent fiction film “Halaw: Ways of the Sea” follows Filipino migrant workers as they illegally cross the border into Malaysia in search of work. The stories are based on real case studies of human trafficking survivors.
- Detroit Free Press: Miss Michigan to Run Marathon to Raise Awareness About Slavery: “‘Every year nearly 20,000 men, women and children are dehumanized and forced into barbaric situations,’ [Miss Michigan Katie Lynne] LaRoche said in a statement. ‘I want to use the Miss Michigan platform to draw attention to this horrific crime.’”
- Contra Costa Times: Two men held in teen prostitution scheme in Northern California: Two men were arrested “on suspicion of contributing to the delinquency of a minor, possessing methamphetamine, possession of obscene material, unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor, solicitation of prostitution, pandering for prostitution, human trafficking of a subject under 18, and lewd and lascivious acts with a child.”
- News on 6: Oklahoma woman shares tory of teen years as sex trafficking victim: “[Barbara] Maphet, 35, said she was a teenager at an Oklahoma City-area high school when she became a sex trafficking victim. At the time she was 17, homeless and addicted to drugs. That’s when someone suggested she get a job with two men who were looking to hire a professional card dealer. So, she met the men at an apartment complex in west Oklahoma City…”