How many slaves work for you?
Even if you do not actually have people chained in the basement and forced to work for no wages – like the Muttontown couple who were convicted in 2007 of enslaving two Indonesian women – you may still unwittingly benefit from slave labor.
Now, a new online tool let’s you calculate the number.
Slaveryfootprint.org, organized and supported by MTV, Manpower and Fairtrade Fund, will have everyone look at their own consumption patterns, habits, at the end of the day, how many slaves work for you.
It comes as a shock for most people to learn that in 2011, 149 years after Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, there are still 27 million people in the world in human bondage.
“It’s not enough to say I don’t buy commercial sex, I don’t have a maid enslaved in the basement, I don’t have a farm where men are forced to pick fruit and can’t leave,” said Luis CdeBaca, Ambassador-at-Large, Office of Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons in the US State Department. ” Everyone is touched by modern day slavery, even if we don’t do those things. We create the demand for human traffickers.”
The effort is part of a wide campaign highlighted at the 2011 Clinton Global Initiative where several members made commitments to efforts that would raise awareness, force governments to increase police action, and pressure companies to make sure their supply chains are purged
But most importantly, the effort is aimed at ending human trafficking by attacking it at the source: the demand that makes it so profitable.
The cause has rallied MTV Network, the founder of The Body Shop, and actress Julia Ormond who is founder and President of the Alliance to Stop Slavery and end Trafficking (ASSET), who came together at CGI for a press conference to highlight the new initiative.
The US State Department estimates that 12.3 million adults and children are in forced labor, including sexual servitude, at any one time (though there are no figures as to how many are in the United States).
The online tool is being embraced by a number of major entities: MTV network partnering to give incentives for colleges to do that; the International Justice Mission, a faith-based anti-trafficking NGO, will get 500 churches to calculate slavery footprint of congregations, to challenge each other to bring the scores down.
Under a partnership with Manpower, Inc, the largest employer in the world, the online tool will roll out by having Manpower employees take the test.
“At end of the day, this exciting new tool brings it home: to the cotton in the shorts we wear, the coffee and the cocoa we drink, whether a child is enslaved, all of which affect us in our daily lives,” CdeBaca said.
Steven Freedman, President of MTV Network, said that the network has seen “amazing results when MTV comes to town, talking about this issue. The key, he said, is to partner with experts – so in addition to partnering with the State Department, MTV is partnering with Free the Slaves, GEMS, and the Polaris project.
Raising awareness goes a long way to ending human trafficking. Rotsen Dara (Chinny) Law, a Kenosha State University student activist, said that just seeing a film about a man desperately trying to find his trafficked daughter, inspired her to pay more attention to what was going on in a nearby restaurant.
“Students helped uncover a labor trafficking ring at a restaurant, just outside Atlanta. We saw staff arrive and leave in the same van every day. We took our results to ICE and they took our work, and are using it to investigate a larger trafficking ring outside Atlanta.”
The incident also helped encourage Congress to reauthorize Anti Trafficking legislation.
“Now I am trying to pursue a law degree and hope to one day help prosecute human trafficking cases,” she said.
She also launched Against our Will, a college network to raise awareness among college students.
MTA, in conjunction with againstourwill.org, has created some PSAs which bring the message home. One shows “Next stop hotels, restaurants, beauty shops, strip clubs, brothels. Welcome to modern day slavery in the US. Now that you know, what will you do.”
A second spot is based on an actual case in Newark NJ, and depicts a woman braiding a customjer’s hair: “she worked 14 hours, 7 days a week for 4 years, and never earned a dime.”
The Body Shop, an international chain of stores that sell natural cosmetics, took up this issue last year and is expanding it this year.
Last year, the Body Shop launched a campaign throughout its 2,000 stores to raise awareness, funds, mobilize public support, persuade governments around the world: 1.2 million children trafficked for sexual purposes each year,” Sophie Gasperment, International Executive Chairman of The Body Shop said.
Noting that CGI commitments require concrete, measurable goals, “we were so strongly oriented on results.
“The commitment at the time outlined specific target s – producing progress cards by market and country for more than 40 countries, which were used as the base for petitions in each of the markets.
“From the beginning, we recognized that abuse could not be stopped if decision makers, influencers weren’t taking action… To create change, we needed to respond to each nation with specific concrete actions.
“In 2010, after the first year of fundraising and awareness, we launched global petition in 50 countries across the world, calling upon customers, teams, networks to join in the campaign to creat change.
After 12 months, 7 million people have signed. “These are voices demanding to be heard.”
To date, national petitions have been presented to 36 governments, out of which 15 have already committed to legislative action, she said.
These include Denmark, Norway, Switzerland ,France, Romania, Thailand, Indonesia, Pakistan, Philippines, New Zealand. “This will change lives forever.”
And just that day, New Zealand went further, in signing the United Nations Protocol against human trafficking, putting its commitment into action..
She said that the petition with 7 million names – one of the biggest petitions ever gathered – would be presented to the Human Rights Council in Geneva.
“We are uniting voices calling for social change, to inspire governments to take action, for long term sustainable improvements.”
The effort was “exceptional in scale for Body Shop. “We created the company 35 years ago, we believed businesses could be and should be force for good.
“We can contribute and be a force for positive change – use our business model, our stores, teams around the world,,” she said, noting that the Body Shop employs 20,000 people around the world.
But the issue she raises – that some companies have a noncompetitive advantage by using illegal labor, while others, who do the right thing and pay fair wages and make sure their suppliers do as well, should be speaking out more.
Julia Ormond who founded Alliance to Stop Slavery and end Trafficking (ASSET as a CGI commitment, is focused on pushing corporations to take more responsibility, in order to attack human trafficking at the source: the demand that makes it profitable.
“When you hear the stories- the boy who jumped ship and floated on ocean to escape his bondage, It is hard to then go into a business meeting and try to find the appropriate way to engage,” said Julia Ormond, ASSET founder and president.
ASSET’s commitment last year was to find ways to engage the individual on the street, to get involved in a solution.
“ASSET worked to try to convene the parties who can come to concrete systemic change.”
She focused on the supply chain side – the farmers, the miners – who produce the raw materials that work up the manufacturing chain.
But she pointed to the complexity of supply chains. “It is a huge Pandora’s box for businesses to delve into, yet, it is the piece of solution that only business can do, the NGO (nongovernmental organization) community can’t.
She noted that there is limited amount of control over the supply chain, and that stopping it is as frustrating as stopping shoplifting. “There is – criminal activity that happens around the supply chain.”
So to give greater leverage, Ormond pointed to new legislation in California, California Transparency in Supply Chains law, a kind of consumer rights bill – where businesses over $20 million in size will be required to go public on their policy on trafficking and slavery
Companies have taken the approach, she said, “it is not for us to police the world. But if they don’t have a policy, under this new law, they will need to tell the consumer, so the consumer can choose to support the company that is pushing best practices”
She is encouraged, she said, that consumers have been showing their preference for commercial entities which have sustainable business practices.
The issue is also wrapped up in paying laborers a living wage. “If the wage of Mexican worker goes up by 300%, that doesn’t result in a 300% increase in price at grocery, but a penny increase, and consumers are happy to pay the extra penny.”
Ambassador CdeBaca said that most of the people who are enslaved are within their own countries: they work at the rock quarry in Nigeria, an Indian family may be bonded in slabor in the same kiln their parents and grandparents were bonded to because the great grandfather borrowed 10 pounds in 1905 and the family is still paying off the debt.
But for those who are brought as laborers into the United States, the government provides a pamphlet to inform them of their rights.
He noted that in situations where human trafficked and enslaved individuals have been liberated in the United States, they are not sent back to their native countries, but rather, under existing law, are put on a path to legal status.
As for how a person makes it through such an experience, Ormond said there are safe houses and shelters where individuals are given assistance. “What see more than anything; phenomenal resilience of human spirit to overcome such extraordinary atrocities.”
“At the end of the day, the best thing can do is to give them a job,” Ambassador CdeBaca said. “At the end of the day, they have suffered something horrible, but they are motivated.” He said he knows of a number of survivors who are now business owners, another is getting a law degree. What happened to her is not her. Jobs are a great way to have rehabilitation.”
“Because of Bill Clinton, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 allows a person to stay and even bring family over, despite the fact they came illegally or even chosen to come… predicated on the argument that Clinton made at the time, that if this most horrible thing that goes against everything we are, that violates Lincoln’s promise, if that happens to someone in America now, the least we can do is take care of their immigration status – INS people very serious – numbers aren’t as high – and when you see that child get reunited with family at airport, woman who has been enslaved in a suburban house in US for years, makes it worth it.”
Ambassador CdeBaca said there are no reliable statistics of slavery in the United States but the numbers are in the thousands, not hundreds. “But on the global scale, good research by Free the Slaves gets us to 27 million worldwide who are living in compelled servitude (debt, hereditary, threats), including labor and sex victims.
“International labor organization and some other UN folks estimate cost of coercion is $30 billion a year in profits to traffickers, and $20 billion in lost income to victims – $50 billion industry worldwide.”
So if industries – such as hotels and restaurants in the United States – are put in an unfair competitive position against other companies that violate the law, why aren’t more industry associations like the American Hotel & Motel Association and US Travel Association taking a more vigorous stand? And where are the labor unions, whose members are disadvantaged by the downward pressure on wages?
Ambassador CdeBaca said there is a business coalition against trafficking led by some of the big players in travel industry, Marilyn Carlson Nelson who heads Carlson Companies (Radisson, TGI Fridays), for example, signed a code of conduct but sometimes it takes a wake up call.” Hilton Hotels ” only signed the code of conduct after a major sex trafficking scandal at its hotel in China.
“There are business models,” said Gasperment of The Body Shop. “And yet there in a world with 27 million slaves, there is a lot to do.”
Noting that the day coincided with the 149th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln signing the Emancipation Proclamation, Ambassador CdeBaca said, “When we come back a year from now, the 150th anniversary of Emancipation Proclamation, we will be just that much closer to what hoping to achieve, a world without slavery.”
For more information, visit slaveryfootprint.org.
For more information on Clinton Global Initiative and the commitments, visit www.clintonglobalinitiative.org.
Slavery on Long Island
The New York Times reported that in 2002, wealthy couple, Varsha Mahender Sabhnani and Mahender Murlidhar Sabhnani traveled to Indonesia and offered a woman named “Samirah” a job for $300 per month. According to Samirah’s statements to Nassau County police while at Nassau University Medical Center, she was only paid $100, all of which she sent home to her daughter in Indonesia. She told them that she and another woman (called “Nona”) were made to sleep on mats on the floor, were kept hidden from visiting guests, and were forced to work long hours with little food. Samirah told police they were also beaten frequently, most often by Mrs. Sabhnani. She also recalled an instance where she was forced to eat 25 hot chili peppers at one time.
On May 14, 2007, authorities searched the Sabhnani home and discovered Nona hiding in a closet located under the stairs. With the help of a translator, she was able to corroborate Samirah’s story. Other horrors they endured included having hot water thrown on them. They also detailed how they were made to take 30 showers in the course of three hours as punishment for “misdeeds.” Both women arrived in the U.S. legally with work visas. But the couple, who operated a multi-million dollar fragrance company from their home, confiscated their passports and prevented them from leaving the home. Theywere arrested on federal human trafficking charges and subsequently convicted.
Just this past January, the Supreme Court refused to hear appeals to overturn the convictions. Varsha Sabhnani is serving an 11-year prison sentence and her husband is serving a three-year sentence, the Long Island Press reported.
Correspondent Eric Leiberman contributed to this report.
Karen Rubin, Long Island Populist Examiner
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