Is there slavery in your shopping cart?

It’s hard for consumers to know which of the products we buy are tainted by slavery. But that could change, if you want it to.

U.S Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) have 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.

Now it’s your turn to help. Get your members of Congress to cosponsor this groundbreaking anti-trafficking legislation. Become part of the Business Transparency Campaign by signing their online petition. It’s run by our colleagues at Walk Free.

“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,” according to the Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking, a coalition of leading anti-trafficking organizations, including FTS.

If the bill is passed, every consumer will have an opportunity to make educated decisions when shopping.

If you want to make it happen, take action. Now. Click here.

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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.

Earlier this month, it was reported that Delta Air Lines became the first U.S. airline to sign on to the Code of Conduct for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation in Travel and Tourism (The Code), pledging to train employees to identify and report potential instances of human trafficking—and also educate travelers about modern-day slavery through their in-flight magazine and website.

At a conference on modern-day slavery in the Vatican last week, U.S. Congressman Chris Smith (R–NJ) made note of Delta Air Lines’ groundbreaking efforts. Smith has long been a supporter of anti-slavery efforts. Last July, he took part in a Capitol Hill briefing on how airlines can work to help stop human trafficking, in which he said, “It has come to my attention that U.S. airlines are being exploited as trafficking routes into the United States. Women and children are being transported to lives of slavery in broad daylight, shrouded only by the lack of awareness or inaction of these around them.” Read Smith’s full letter here (PDF)

Ambassador Luis CdeBaca, head of the U.S. State Department’s human trafficking office was also in attendance at last week’s Vatican conference. He reaffirmed the importance of businesses—such as major airlines—incorporating human trafficking awareness and prevention techniques into their staff training programs. The Ambassador said, “It will take private-sector corporations collaborating with countries across regions to … figure out where trafficking exists and how to fight it.”

UN-affiliated NGO Airline Ambassadors International (AAI)—in collaboration with anti-slavery group Innocents at Risk—has also taken action to bring airlines into the anti-slavery movement. They created a training program to educate airline professionals to spot signs of human trafficking. AAI President Nancy Rivard says that airline workers are in a unique position to monitor and thwart trafficking as it happens.”Flight attendants and pilots can play a key role as eyes and ears for international security efforts,” she says. she has called for all U.S. airlines to incorporate human trafficking prevention into their staff safety training, and to make the human trafficking hotline available to passengers.

Read: ‘Airlines Should Be On Frontline of Anti-Human Trafficking Efforts’

AAI President Nancy Rivard's team found a potential case of human trafficking on a Delta flight back from the Dominican Republic.

United Nations affiliated non-profit organization, Airline Ambassadors International (AAI) has teamed up with anti-child slavery organization Innocents at Risk to create a training program to educate airline professionals to spot signs of human trafficking. AAI President Nancy Rivard released a statement about the collaboration, saying “Flight Attendants and pilots can play a key role as eyes and ears for international security efforts.”

Rivard and AAI are calling for all U.S. airlines to incorporate human trafficking prevention techniques in their safety training and make the trafficking hotline available to passengers.

Back in July, a briefing on Capitol Hill addressed the role that airlines can take in eradicating slavery. In a letter inviting airline representatives to the briefing, Congressman Chris Smith (R–NJ) wrote, “It has come to my attention that U.S. airlines are being exploited as trafficking routes into the United States. Women and children are being transported to lives of slavery in broad daylight, shrouded only by the lack of awareness or inaction of those around them.” Read the letter here (PDF).

Rivard has said that she first became aware of modern day slavery when she visited Cambodia. She gathered with eight colleagues in the Dominican Republic to discuss ways to combat the crime. On their return flights, they observed potential cases of human trafficking—and alerted flight attendants. The national trafficking hotline was called, and ICE agents at the airport were dispatched. Each case turned out to be a case of slavery, Rivard told CNN.

Ron Soodalter, co-writer (with Free the Slaves President Kevin Bales) of The Slave Next Door—a book examining the extent of slavery within the U.S.—says that human trafficking thrives in “dark places.” We all have a role to play, to eradicate modern day slavery. Perhaps the  most important first step is to educate ourselves. Learn the signs of human trafficking, find out what your local slavery hotline number is. A great resource is the website EndSlaveryNow.com, which provides educational resources to help you identify slavery—and the best ways to prevent it.

See Nancy Rivard on CNN, talking about AAI’s anti-human trafficking efforts after the jump!

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