Freedom Here & Now: Ending Modern Slavery

Luis CdeBaca
Ambassador-at-Large, Office To Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons
Minneapolis, MN
May 8, 2012

Good afternoon, everyone, and thank you, Marilyn, for that generous introduction. I spend a lot of time working to bring more and more businesses into the anti-trafficking movement. And when I talk about what corporations can do to get involved, I invariably point to Marilyn not just as a leader, but essentially as the pioneer of private-sector involvement in this struggle. So thank you, Marilyn, for bringing this conference together and for all you do for this issue.

You can’t spend time with such a business leader as Marilyn Carlson-Nelson without thinking about amazing women. Amazing women like our co-sponsor Lee Roper-Batker and the folks at the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota, who are launching the “Minnesota Girls Are Not for Sale” campaign. Amazing women like the one who has been so important for me and for our host, Humphrey School Dean Eric Schwartz, who with me shared the honor of working for Secretary Clinton until recently. Just think of it: seventeen years later, our fight against modern slavery continues to be propelled by the core truth (so obvious really that it speaks volumes that it had to be said) that that amazing woman stated from a podium in Beijing – that women’s rights and human rights are indistinguishable and inseparable.

Amazing women. Like my mother, Mary de Baca, who in the 1960s did some of the first studies in Latin America of rural women’s lives and was able to join us here today. Or my sister, Suzanna de Baca, who is now here in the Twin Cities with Ameriprise -- I hope that the Women’s Foundation and others can get her looped in so she can be as active as she was in Iowa.

Amazing women. And the men who support them. Like my brother-in-law who is also here today -- Ronnie Weatherman, who works in a shelter for women who have escaped abuse with their children. Like Dean Schwartz and his leadership on humanitarian issues. I think about what these amazing men and women can teach us, and I have to think about a woman who so many of us prayed for, who inspired so many of us, especially here in Minnesota with such a large Southeast Asian refugee population.

When I sat at the table two months ago with Aun Sun Suu Kyi in the house that she was held prisoner for so many years, I was impressed not just because of her formidable knowledge of and leadership in the fight against the traffickers, but left in awe of her compassion. She told me of her warden – the man from the secret police who was responsible for her in her captivity. He would print out articles on human trafficking from the internet and bring them to her house. They would talk about how they would work together against the traffickers once change came to Burma.

Democracy and the fight against modern slavery, intertwined. Women’s rights and human rights, inseparable. When she saw me, she asked that we work with her jailer – now a General and high up in the government. Her ability to love rather than hate, to be compassionate but not weak, should be a wake-up call for all of us.

But it isn’t just amazing women of today who inspire us and show us that this fight against trafficking is part of a broader human rights agenda. In preparing for this conference, I’ve also been thinking about Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Many have forgotten that the Seneca Falls Convention came about because those amazing women travelled to London – with their husbands, their partners in the abolitionist struggle – for the International Anti-Slavery Congress, and were turned away at the door. The women had to sit outside. We’ve come such along way in this fight.

But it is about interconnectedness. From their work – and their exclusion – in the anti-slavery movement, these amazing women pulled together the conference that is seen as the cradle of the American women’s movement. Their commitment to abolition was paid back – it was Frederick Douglass who stood up on the second day at Seneca Falls (the day the men were allowed into the room) and said, in effect, “if you are fighting so hard so that I can vote, why aren’t we including women’s sufferage in this list of principles?”

Women’s rights. Abolition. Civil Rights. Voting Rights. Inseparable at the beginning, inseparable now.

Conferences like this one tell us something about how far we’ve come since the days that women were relegated to the lobby. And every time I speak at a gathering like this one, I get more and more optimistic. Because, a dozen years ago, the only conferences about this issue were held in classrooms, not concert halls. And the attendees were typically people whose only focus was the work. The few advocates and activists and members of civil society who were engaged already, representing victims or advocating for change as a lone voice in the wilderness.

In those early years of the modern movement, much of what was published about human trafficking was mainly descriptive. We needed to move from a rigor-free zone to applied research, the kind that lets us know what practices are working best to find this crime, investigate cases, prosecute traffickers, and protect victims.

Marilyn Carlson-Nelson tells the story of protesting that a grade was not as high as she thought it should be, telling her professor how much the audience had loved her presentation. “Yes Marilyn,” he said, “but your facts must equal your passion.”

Just as with Marilyn Carlson the student, in this modern abolitionist movement (in which Marilyn Carlson-Nelson as a business leader has played such a role), we must make sure that we have both facts and passion on our side.

We have seen a shift from a small, internal conversation to such interest that gatherings once held in a conference room are now held in bigger venues, such as Attorney General Holder’s recent speech at the Clinton Library in Little Rock, or here today. And now, it’s more often the case now that I’m speaking to groups of lawyers or government contractors, or students or journalists, all of whom are working to incorporate this fight into their work.

Academics and researchers from a range of disciplines have seen the way trafficking in persons intersects a wide range of issues, and are pursuing scholarship that sheds light on those connections and how they might inform the way we fight this crime. This effort has moved beyond the confines of just those who, quote unquote, “work in the movement.” And, honestly, that’s exactly what a movement needs in order to really take hold and start to deliver results. It needs new thinkers – those of you who are joining this fight for the first time – and grizzled veterans. We need that mix of wisdom and passion, experience and enthusiasm. We owe it to those who are still enslaved, wondering if anyone can or will help them.

But as many people as are enlisting in the fight against modern slavery, it’s still helpful, I think, to make perfectly clear what it is we’re talking about.

Because the Palermo Protocol, the U.N. instrument adopted in the year 2000, saddled us with a bit of an unusual term, “trafficking in persons.” Trafficking sounds like movement, when at its core, trafficking in persons is a crime of exploitation. The U.S. government uses it as an umbrella term for all of the conduct involved in obtaining a person for or maintaining that person in a state of compelled service for sex or labor. As Secretary Clinton would say, let’s just call it what it is: modern slavery, plain and simple.

“Trafficking in persons” is just the latest euphemism for a crime we’ve been euphemizing for hundreds of years. In Douglass’s time, it was called “the peculiar institution” and its victims “servants.” All so we didn’t have to confront the horror. Now, we call slavery “trafficking.” Just like we call rape “gender based violence” or assaults and murders by batterers “domestic abuse. Euphemisms can give us space to address an issue, but there are some crimes that we have to confront, no matter how disturbing.

And this is a crime, first and foremost—one that victimizes about 27 million men, women, and children around the world. In the United States, the 13th Amendment guarantees our freedom from slavery and involuntary servitude, whether you’re a citizen or an immigrant, whether you’re a man, woman or child, whether you’re being exploited for sex or labor. In the international context, we look to Article 4 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which mirrors our own Amendment nearly word for word.

When that right, the right to be free from slavery, is violated, governments have a responsibility to punish whoever violated that right, and to restore what was damaged. Only governments can do that. Only governments can arrest suspects, incarcerate traffickers, and provide legal status to their victims. That’s why it’s so important to emphasize that trafficking is a crime, and that governments are primarily responsible for fighting trafficking.

The second thing we need to do is acknowledge the fact that, even though fighting this crime is primarily government’s responsibility, government can’t do it alone. To mount a truly effective response, governments need to forge partnerships. That’s why this gathering, co-hosted by the University, the business community, and the foundation world, is so important.

Partnerships with the civil society groups who are developing new practices for finding and fighting this crime. Partnerships with faith groups and community organizations who can help to raise awareness and spur activism around this crime. With academic and policy leaders. Partnerships, critically, with the private sector. And a good place to launch partnerships between the government and the private sector is looking at the places where we’re already doing business together, and figuring out how that existing relationship may already be tainted by modern slavery.

As is so often the case, it helps to realize that this new struggle is but a chapter in delivering on the American promise of freedom, and the successes and failures of the past can inform our work, even in what appears to be a cutting-edge issue like business involvement and government procurement.

Just the other day I stumbled onto a story from 1906 about another amazing woman -- an attorney in New York named Mary Grace Quackenbos, who the New York Times dubbed, in the style of the era, “The Woman Lawyer of 3 Fifth Avenue.” She had found out about a group of men who had immigrated to this country and had become enslaved on the turpentine farms of Florida.

These 50 or so men were put to work, decimating the pine forests there to extract their sap. Every week, they had to borrow from the company store, so much for a loaf of bread, so much for a glass of water, so much for a bottle of rotgut wine. By the end of the week, their debt overwhelmed whatever they earned. It was the peonage system that plagued the American South in the years after the Civil War. It was slavery.

That turpentine—the pitch, the tar—that was derived from those trees, found its way from Florida to the ports and bases that were home to Theodore Roosevelt’s Great White Fleet. That slave labor helped keep afloat the United States Navy. Hopefully it wasn’t deliberate on the part of the Navy. The procurement officer responsible for maintaining a ship’s store of supplies probably had no idea that those barrels were the product of slave labor. They just needed the supplies.

Fast forward 106 years. Think of the purchasing power of today’s U.S. Government. The largest hirer and buyer in the country. With not only goods and services of incredible scope, but maintaining third country nationals as part of our logistics train and support in countries like Iraq and Afghanistan. Governments, like businesses, need to be aware of our own “slavery footprint.”

Now there are a few ways to look at this problem, and a few realities about modern slavery that can help guide the way governments and businesses work together to meet this challenge.

For the federal government, the imperative for rooting this out of our procurement and contracting practices is clear and simple: if we are going to go around saying that eliminating modern slavery is a priority, we had first better clean our own house. That’s why we now include the United States in the annual Trafficking in Persons Report, why we are harnessing the interagency process to look at our own policies and procedures.

That leaves the question of why the private sector should get involved in this struggle.

First principles (as I learned as Alan Page’s legal intern in Attorney General Skip Humphrey’s office in Saint Paul during law school): there’s the letter of the law to think about. These days, it isn’t enough anymore just to say, “I don’t know where that product came from and I don’t care.” The most recent reauthorization of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, our modern anti-trafficking law here in the United States, anyone who knowingly engages in business dependent upon slave labor, or who does so with reckless disregard, can be held criminally and civilly liable. Not to mention debarment from any future work with the government.

But it’s not just about the law. As Justice Page taught me, it’s also about morality and values. It’s about what kind of company you want to be. Just as the Carlsons know what their family name should stand for when someone walks into their hotels or sits down at one of the restaurants, or books a flight through the travel agency.

And, frankly, it is also good business. Everything we know about private sector anti-trafficking work is that -- as Manpower Group’s David Arkless says -- it isn’t just the right thing to do; it’s also the smart thing to do.

Modern slavery is tainting the corporate supply chain on an alarming range of products. The traffickers are profiting through their exploitation of others. But, for lack of a better term, the cost savings associated with that exploitation isn’t being passed up the supply chain to the retailer or the buyer. But the risk certainly is, whether through the aspects of the law I just described or from the potential public outcry that would follow the revelation that a given company is dependent, even in part, on exploited labor.

Simply put, there is no amount of profits from cheap garments, of bulk seafood, of advertising revenue from a website, that can outweigh the real and lasting damage to a brand once the public associates it with human trafficking.

And that’s just on the supply side. We also know that there’s a movement underway on the demand side. It’s beginning to hit home to a much broader audience that this crime touches us all. It’s in the coffee we drink. It’s the cotton that we wear every day. It’s in the technology that makes our smartphones work. It’s in the “sex industry” that is tolerated as just men blowing off steam. This is all of our problem. We all need to be part of the solution.

People coming to that conclusion in droves, and this isn’t just anecdotal. A year ago, my office provided seed money to an NGO to launch Slavery Footprint. It’s an online tool that allows individuals to see in startling detail the way this crime touches their lives. You take a ten-minute survey about your consumption habits, and the app shows you how many slaves it takes, per week, to sustain your lifestyle.

When we launched this app at the Clinton Global Initiative last fall, we hoped that a year in, 150,000 people would visit Slavery Footprint and take the survey. Within a few months, we had passed the two million user mark.

People are paying attention to this issue. They don’t want their lifestyles tainted by exploitation. They’re the reason a new law in California is going to make such a difference: the California Supply Chain Transparency Act. It went into effect in January. It says that any company that wants to do a lot of business in California—that means $100,000,000 a year—needs to disclose to the public what policies they have in effect to combat modern slavery. The policy could be: “Nothing.” So long as the company reports that and posts it on the Internet, it’s in compliance with the law. But compliance and effect are two different things. Once posted, that information cannot be taken back. Consumers, academics, governments, and yes, even plaintiffs’ lawyers will be looking at these filings.

Two million visitors to Slavery Footprint in just a few months. On the other hand, corporate policies that say “We don’t do anything about human trafficking.” I think you can see where this is going…

So what does a responsible company look like in practice?

Supply chain monitoring. Taking the necessary steps to know exactly where the raw materials for products are grown, gathered, mined, processed, manufactured. Responsible labor recruitment. Ensuring that the manpower fueling an enterprise is sourced fairly, and that workers aren’t charged exorbitant up-front frees that they’ll never be able to repay. Training for employees to recognize this crime and know how to take action if they see it. Codes of conduct that ensure these rules will be followed.

Just as an effective government response to trafficking is a victim-centered approach, corporations can have a victim-centered focus as well. Policies that aim to prevent this crime through supply chains and recruiting are critical, but there are 27 million people already victimized by this crime. The goal of a victim-centered government approach is to help these people restore their lives in the way they choose for themselves. They’re going to need jobs. They’re going to need training and education. They’re going to need an employment market that doesn’t discriminate against them or treat them differently because of their prior experiences or what they had to do to survive – a prostitution arrest on their record or having entered illegally. Government can only go so far.

And this isn’t just about labor trafficking, either. Policies that adopt a zero-tolerance approach to purchasing sex on company time or on the company dime help to curb the demand that fuels sex trafficking. Moral leadership in corporate boardrooms and on company floors will help accelerate the cultural shift that we need that say the days of “boys will be boys” are over. To say, when you’re on travel on our company’s behalf, you represent us, and you won’t be buying commercial sex. Not on our dime.

When we think about how the business community can incorporate survivors into their organizations, it is helpful to think about why victims fall prey to this: they are looking for a better life, good jobs, even the love or glamour that a pimp offers them. These aren’t weak victims, but were the people with enough gumption to try for a better life. TIP survivors can be great leaders, not just on public awareness and anti-trafficking work if they so choose, but as employees that stand out for their drive, their commitment to succeed. Time and again, I hear from employers of people who were victims in cases that I prosecuted, and time and again they tell me that these survivors are their best employees.

And finally, we need to think about why we do this.

150 years ago this September, a promise was made. A promise that slavery would no longer be legal. No longer be approved. The Emancipation Proclamation was not just words on paper. Those who heard it read out loud by the U.S. Cavalrymen who rode from plantation to plantation didn’t wait for the Proclamation to kick in on January 1st, or for the 13th Amendment to be promulgated two years later – they heard the promise, and took their freedom. Much as Frederick Douglass said “I prayed for my freedom for twenty years but received no answer until I prayed with my legs.” Like today’s victims of this crime, they were quick to take their own freedom once they knew it was possible. Once they knew that the promise of freedom had been made.

A generation later, when attorney Mary Grace Quackenbos went from Manhattan down to Florida to represent a group of workers that nobody else cared about, she wasn’t doing it to line her own pockets or make a name for herself. She was doing it because 41 years earlier a promise had been made.

A promise. That neither slavery nor involuntary servitude shall exist. Not in 1865. Not then, in 1906. Not now, not ever.

Those words represent more than a moment in our history. They represent a sacred promise. Written in the blood of all who fought and died so that others may be free. Of all who lived and died in bondage.

We honor them by fighting to ensure the safety of our children. By bringing pimps and cruel bosses to justice. And when the Women’s Foundation brings us together to say that Minnesota girls – and boys and men and women – are not for sale, this is particularly appropriate. Because the promise that we must fulfill only became a reality because of what started here on another beautiful May day in the Twin Cities.

On May 10, 1861, over at Fort Snelling, the First Minnesota Regiment signed up for three years’ service. Two years later, 262 Minnesotans went out on the second day at Gettysburg. By the end of the day, only 47 stood. 83% casualties – the most in any US military unit in our history.

And the next day, the 47 survivors went out again. At the center of the line, they stopped Pickett’s charge. They prevented the breakthrough that would have won the war for the South and made President Lincoln’s promise just a historic footnote. And that day, almost half of the remaining men fell.

We owe a debt of remembrance to the 30 Minnesotans who walked away from that battle, and those who hallowed that ground and never came home. We owe them our commitment to end human trafficking today, in Minnesota, in the US, and around the world. Because, at our best, fighting slavery is who we are as a country.

As we near the 150th anniversary of Emancipation, we must remain as diligent as ever in our work. We must fulfill the promise for which those Minnesotans died. Because we all deserve to live in a world free from slavery.

Join us. Take up that terrible swift sword once again.

Let us live to make men free.

Thank you.