TESTIMONY OF JULIA ORMOND
FOUNDER & PRESIDENT
ALLIANCE TO STOP SLAVERY & END TRAFFICKING?(ASSET)
COMMISSION ON COOPERATION & SECURITY IN EUROPE?THE U.S. HELSINKI COMMISSION
MAY 23, 2011
Mr. Chairman, distinguished Members of the Committee and staff, good morning.
Initially, I engaged around the issue of slavery and human trafficking shocked and spurred into action by reports of sex-trafficking. To me, nothing then seemed more heinous than the repeated rape and violence endured by its victims.
At first, I met in California with survivors representing a wide variety of the faces of slavery. Other travels around the world took me to Russia, Ghana, Thailand, Cambodia, India, and Europe. These trips provided me with a creepy and shocking perspective of how slavery invades not merely the lives of its victims, but my own life as well – how I am unwittingly connected to it; ultimately connected to its systematic violence. People often ask me “where in the world is it worst?” My answer is: “in my own home”
It is simply not possible to sit easily in Los Angeles and forget the enslaved children I have met. Children from whom I have walked away, and left to an uncertain fate.
What keeps me up at night – what haunts me – are the victim’s stories. I will never forget the story of the girl who crawled out of an eight floor window for fear of her life in sex slavery. But I can equally never forget the child enslaved in the fishing industry who jumped ship into the Thai sea to float on a barrel for two days and a night before being rescued because that was his safest option, or the child who was chained, whipped and scarred for life while maybe working on our carpets. Or the child soldier forced to burn his village, kill his mother and rape his sister for someone else’s war. Or the stories of the artisanal miners of gold who begin a two-year life expectancies, just to provide me with a trinket. Or the enslaved garment worker who make my clothing. Or footage of Mayan agricultural slaves in Florida picking my tomatoes.
Just as those forced into sex slavery, they all deserve our compassion. They all deserve our attention. And they all deserve our commitment to end all forms of slavery and human trafficking.
In 2007 I founded the Alliance to Stop Slavery and End Trafficking, otherwise known as ASSET. ASSET is an advocacy organization, dedicated to combating slavery and trafficking by amplifying the voice of the victim, and supporting systemic solutions.
I have come to define “enslavement” as:
“When one person completely controls another person, uses violence or violent threat to maintain that control, exploits them economically and pays them effectively nothing. Trafficking is a process of enslaving someone.”
Under the tenure of Ambassador C. deBaca, the 2010 Annual Report of the U.S. State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons notes that more people are trafficked into forced labor than commercial sex. Yet ask any member of the public what proportion of this issue is sex-trafficking, and the usual response is about 80%. To the contrary, the International Labor Organization has recently stated that for every one person forced into the sex trade, nine people around the world are forced to work.
And among labor trafficking victims, the practice is most prevalent in the agriculture and mining industries. The forced labor of these victims taints many of the products that we purchase and rely on every day, such as coffee, chocolate, clothing, micro-chips, electronics, even the brake pads in our cars. To quote the TIP Report, “it is impossible to get dressed, drive to work, talk on the phone, or eat a meal without touching products tainted by forced labor.”
The United Nations has documented the shift from trafficking in weapons and drugs, to trafficking in people. And now specifically, the trafficking of children. The U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime has cited that in Europe, the profits from human trafficking has overtaken the profits in the trafficking of drugs. Yet the United States government spends more in ONE DAY fighting the war on drugs, than it spends in an entire year fighting the trafficking of people.
We all have a role to play in supporting solutions – and there are many solutions. Every single place I travelled, solutions await the resources to scale and meet a drastic need.
In order to resource these solutions, however, it is vital to get the story straight, and media can play a crucial role. Sex will always sell, whether the story is good or bad. But we need the media to cover the issue fairly, proportionately. Media outlets must set aside deliberate resistance of losing advertising revenue, and instead articulate how businesses can use their influence over supply chains to recreate the map, to illuminate the worst areas of poverty in the world, where slavery and trafficking take hold.
As advocates, we need to do a better job articulating to the public the enormous challenges that today’s complex supply chains present to business. We need to articulate that the CEO is most often not the criminal. This is criminal activity tainting their supply chains, most often around raw materials, just as shoplifting is criminal activity occurring at the other end of the supply chain, at the point of purchase.
Only by rediscovering the supply chain, and influencing each step of it by encouraging best practices, can we implement real solutions; can the NGO work with the CEO. A supply chain without a policy of best practices is like a computer without virus protection – you will most likely become infected with a virus or tainted by labor violations.
We need companies to come to the table and collaborate in finding better solutions, to work with governments and the NGO community, who can offer victims safety and rehabilitation, and can assist vulnerable communities. We cannot accurately and efficiently access victims without the assistance of the companies that influence infected supply chains.
I think one of the most crucial pieces that I have learnt is that this is a verification of process – whether you are growing, picking, selling tomatoes out of Florida, or implementing Fair Trade’s exemplary standards in the developing worlds small farms – you will find slavery. The point is that the better your practices, the less you will find. And the better your practices, the better your response.
ASSET’s solution was to be primary sponsor of the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act of 2010, authored by Senator Darrell Steinberg and signed into law by Governor Schwarzenegger in September 2010.
This law came into effect in January 2011, and it requires retailers and manufacturers operating in California with over $100 million in worldwide gross receipts to publicly disclose their efforts to eradicate slavery and human trafficking from their supply chains. The law will apply to just over 3,000 companies – around 4% of California’s companies, who represent approximately 87% of economic activity in the state.
This new law is one small step in a long journey forged by others that ASSET has joined. I hope if it is applied well, that it will represent a watershed in the sharing of knowledge, and will enable active consumer, investor and other stake-holder engagement, will encourage a pooling of resources and will get us closer to concrete, measurable results.
The California Transparency in Supply Chains Act will for the first time enable consumers to chose to support businesses that are creating best practices, using their purchasing power to encourage them to bring their expertise and knowledge of supply chains into the equation. Investors can influence corporate governance and social responsibility practices, providing incentives to companies to elevate human rights and place them at the heart of their strategy.
In one sweep it will educate companies unaware of a possible problem not just of their own potential vulnerability, but also the devastating impact of using company influence to drive profit up by forcing the prices of raw materials down, to a level where labor violations and criminal activity and suicide are the outcome for the raw material work-force. For today’s enslaved.
It will create an environment where those companies already doing the right thing, can more robustly and publically turn it into part of their brand identity. And for the next step in the process to occur; Congress should enact federal legislation that will empower consumers with information disclosing the presence of slavery and trafficking in the corporate supply chain.
Thank you for listening, and I look forward to your questions.