Welcome to the Bridge to Freedom Foundation Blog

Thank you for visiting the Bridge to Freedom Foundation (BTFF) blog, where we look forward to bringing you inside information on the inner-workings of BTFF, inside information on our volunteer team and leadership, in-depth coverage of BTFF and partner events, news and happenings from across the globe and so much more.

Learn more about Bridge to Freedom Foundation and how you can help on the BTFF website. We do hope you will subscribe to and follow our blog and please e-mail us at blog@btff.org if you have any feedback, ideas or contributions.

Thank you for your support!
Cassandra Clifford
Executive Director and Founder of BTFF

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Happy National Coffee Day: Have a fair trade cup of joe today

In the morning as that alarm clock blares I shoot out of bed like bullet with a sudden, mysteriously founded burst of energy, as I quite literally whack my alarm off and scramble to my morning routine.  But that sudden burst of energy goes as quickly as it came and I know the only thing to get my now heavy feet moving again is a strong cup of coffee, which like magic turns me human again.  So if your anything like me you cannot live without one of the worlds most traded commodities, but for me each sip comes with a secondary level of comfort in knowing that my 'life's water' is slave and child labor free, as I drink nothing-less than fair trade coffee.

Child labor and slavery continues to plague the coffee industry, forcing children to often work to harvest what will soon become your cheap cup of joe you sip as you trudge through the day.  Child labor in the agricultural industry consists of children being bought and sold as slaves or bonded laborers, as migrant or estate workers usually with their family. Many children work for commercial farms and plantations that produce our commodities and are estimated to be 7-12% of the work force. Besides coffee children are often found as labors in the harvest of cocoa, coconuts, cotton, fruit and vegetables, jasmine, palm oil, rubber, sisal, sugar cane, tea, tobacco, and vanilla.

A child picks coffee beans on the Kirimiri Coffee Farm in Kenya, Africa. (Photo: Robin Romano)
According to the ILO, over 132 million children, aged 5-14 years old, work in agriculture around the world, they are just a segment of an the estimated 246 million child laborers around the globe.  UNICEF estimates that some 200,000 children are victims of trafficking each year in West and Central Africa alone, for the purpose of working in the supply chain for products such as; cocoa and coffee.  Global March Against Child Labor estimates that one in every eight children from 5 to 17 years old, some 179 million, work in the worst forms of child labor.  These children are placed in hazardous working conditions in order to ensure that we have our sweet treats, it is truly a bittersweet story.
Continue reading on Examiner.com http://www.examiner.com/human-rights-in-washington-dc/happy-national-coffee-day-have-a-fair-trade-cup-of-joe-today

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Ask the Founder & Executive Director

How did you get interested in the area of trafficking?  

I often try to pinpoint the exact moment, but it was more of a gradual evolution from my general interest and work in human rights.  However about 11 years ago when I began to travel a great deal in the Former Soviet Union and see more things up close, I began to meet people who had stories that seemed only plausible in a movie.  I soon saw that this was the issue for which no one was really paying attention to at the time, and that my voice could really make an impact in breaking the long standing silence.  Once I began my journey down that road with my eyes wide open there was no way I could ever close them to the horrors of modern slavery.  No longer is the cause a cause for me, nor is it a passion or a job, it’s my life!

Do you have a question for Cassandra? Send your questions to blog@btff.or

Monday, September 26, 2011

Modern Slavery News Round-Up

SlaveryFootprint.org, an anti-slavery resource site for consumers, launched last Thursday.  The site was developed by the California-based Fair Trade Fund, best known for its "Call + Response" film and ChainStoreReaction.com site.  The new project was funded by a State Department grant and is designed to give consumers personalized information about the products they consume that are most likely to involve slave labor.

Global Anti-Slavery Action Map Advances Fight Against Human Trafficking
Anti-trafficking advocates now have an interactive system available to map field activity, dubbed the "Action on the Ground" project map.  The mapping system was created by Washington, DC-based group End Slavery Now (ESN).  Many prominent anti-slavery groups have already used the system to share information about their projects, including Free the Slaves, Polaris Project, Shared Hope International and International Justice Mission.  The goal of the project is to help movement leaders identify where effective work is being done and where there are gaps that need to be filled.

House Bill Proposed to Upgrade Human Trafficking to Violent Crime Status
U.S. Representatives Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and John Carter (R-TX) proposed new legislation that would require state and local governments to report statistics about human trafficking in order to be eligible for certain federal assistance.  The existing reporting requirements cover murder, non-negligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery and aggravated assault.  The proposal comes after the U.S. State Department 2011 Trafficking in Persons Report found a need for improved data collection.
The Clinton Global Initiative held an annual meeting Tuesday-Thursday of last week, featuring a panel discussion on human trafficking. The panel included MTV, the Body Shop and a student activist.  The discussion including a range of projects focused on countering human trafficking, including mtvU's Against Our Will Campaign, a petition organized by The Body shop that now includes over 7 million signatures, and work of the Alliance To Stop Slavery And End Trafficking to involve business leaders in the movement.

On Monday U.N. General Assembly President Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser called for increased efforts to combat human trafficking.  Al-Nasser addressed a meeting of Group of Friends United Against Human Trafficking.  This group had made prior international progress on the issue last year by negotiating and passing by consensus a comprehensive UN Global Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons, and by advancing the creation of the UN Voluntary Trust Fund for Victims of Human Trafficking.  The group reported it has expanded its international efforts with the opening of new offices in Vienna and Geneva.  The meeting resulted in a Ministerial Declaration focusing on implementation of existing policy. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

September: DC Human Trafficking Awareness Month

No city, state or country is immune to the plague of modern slavery, not even our nation’s capital.
DC Trafficking Facts:
  • The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) considers Washington, DC one of the top 14 sites in the country for sex trafficking of American children. (FBI, 2005)
  • The Department of Justice (DOJ) Task Force members maintain that hundreds of sex and labor trafficking cases in the Washington, DC area remain undiscovered each year.
September is Washington D.C.’s Human Trafficking Awareness Month, the event that was established thanks to the efforts of the D.C. Task Force on Human Trafficking. The Task Force was established in 2004 with the D.C. police department and the U.S. Attorney’s office, membership is now open to open to any D.C. metropolitan area law enforcement agency or non-governmental organization involved in anti-trafficking activities.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Ask the Founder & Executive Director

What is your future forecast over all for the modern slavery movement?

Increased awareness to the plight of modern day slaves across the globe and in the United States.  The development of a more conscious consumer; increased fair trade and slavery-free products.  Increased services and funding for survivors which truly seeks to break the cycle of modern slavery by providing sustainable programs, resources and training that lead survivors to move past the point of merely surviving to that of thriving lives that they truly want to live.  An end to slavery once and for all in my lifetime. 

Do you have a question for Cassandra? Send your questions to blog@btff.org

Monday, September 19, 2011

Modern Slavery News Round-Up

A report by the UN children’s agency encourages greater school enrollment for girls, as well as vocational training for girls who drop out of school, in order to reduce the staggering 53.9% rate of child marriage across the Indian state of West Bengal. “Evidence shows that educated girls grow into agents of change for their families, communities and societies as a whole,” said Lori Calvo, head of the UNICEF field office there.

Indian circuses have emerged as a major trafficking destination for Nepalese children. Aid groups are working to recover hundreds of children as young as five from the physical and sexual abuse that often characterizes the youngsters’ time in India.
Many people in the U.S. believe that the problem of domestic violence and broken family structures only affect the immediate family. They also believe that pimping is the responsibility of the individual and fail to understand the factors that contribute to the choice. However, sexual exploitation and trade are no longer the problem of a pimp and his family alone. It is becoming a serious problem for the U.S. society as a whole.

British authorities recently rescued 24 men that they said were kept as slaves – some for as long as 15 years. The men, from England and parts of Eastern Europe, are "all believed to be victims of slavery," police said. So, how big a problem is slavery in Europe? CNN's Max Foster talks to Anti-Slavery International's Aidan McQuade about the fight against modern-day slavery there and around the world.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Ask the Founder & Executive Director

Why did you chose this profession?

Two reasons: one, it was a cause I felt strongly about and knew too little was being done about.  Two. it was a cause where I felt that I could truly make a difference as an individual.  I would like to add that now I have chosen this profession I know I made the right choice and that while all my impacts may not be great, I know wholeheartedly that I make a difference. 

Do you have a question for Cassandra? Send your questions to blog@btff.org

Monday, September 12, 2011

Modern Slavery News Round-Up

Indian circuses have emerged as a major trafficking destination for Nepalese children. Aid groups are working to recover hundreds of children as young as five from the physical and sexual abuse that often characterizes the youngsters' time in India. 

A string of sex scandals from Bosnia to the Democratic Republic of Congo to Haiti involving peacekeeping missions has forced the United Nations to change the way it handles accusations of trafficking, rape and related crimes. But the issue still bedevils the institution. Human rights experts and some member states fault the United Nations for leaving too much of the job of enforcing its “zero tolerance” policy announced in 2003 to the countries contributing troops. Individual cases and any disciplinary action are rarely made public.

Twenty-four modern day slaves were released from bondage on Sunday after a pre-dawn police raid found them emaciated, hungry and living in "filthy and cramped" conditions on a caravan site in Leighton Buzzard. The men -- Poles, Romanians and Russians as well as British -- had been forced to survive in a "state of virtual slavery,” according to Bedfordshire police.  The vulnerable men had been recruited from homeless shelters and dole queues. Some are believed to have been in virtual captivity for up to 15 years. Five people -- four men and a woman -- were arrested in the swoop on the mainly Traveler site. Since the Coroners and Justice Act became law in 2010, holding a person in servitude has become a criminal offense punishable by up to 14 years in prison.
Chinese police have raided brick factories scattered through a rural swath of Henan province and rescued 30 mentally disabled men who authorities say had been held as slave laborers. The unusually public raids were prompted by a provincial television report by a journalist who went undercover posing as a disabled man at a train station, where he was grabbed by a recruiter and says he was sold to a brick factory. The case is an embarrassment for Chinese authorities, who have promised to stamp out slavery and the abuse of the disabled.

A new report by Human Rights Watch asserts that cashew nuts and other Vietnamese exports are produced by drug addicts detained in forced-labor camps across the country. Those who refuse to work are beaten with truncheons, given electric shocks, locked in isolation, deprived of food and water, and obliged to work even longer hours, the report states. The report could potentially embarrass foreign companies doing business in Vietnam. The country is the world's largest exporter of processed cashews and the U.S.'s top supplier of the nut. China and the European Union are also major buyers.

A national anti-trafficking organization is giving Kansas low marks on state efforts to police human trafficking. Even though Kansas’ governor and attorney general have been strong voices against trafficking, an analysis by the Polaris Project found that the state still lacks the full arsenal of laws considered “critical to a comprehensive anti-trafficking effort.” The Polaris study noted that Kansas still needs to adopt legislation that would require training of local police, establishing an anti-trafficking task force, making victims aware of a national anti-trafficking hotline, offering more assistance to victims, allowing victims to file civil lawsuits against their traffickers, and vacating convictions for sex trafficking victims.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Ask the Founder & Executive Director

 What are your career words to live by?

Follow your heart and gut.  Don't listen to naysayers.  You know what makes you happy and what you're capable of.  If you put your mind to it you can do anything and be anything you want to be; so be willing to work hard, climb hurdles and be patient.  Most of all never be afraid to start over.

Do you have a question for Cassandra? Send your questions to blog@btff.org

Monday, September 5, 2011

Modern Slavery News Round-Up

D.C.-based anti-trafficking group Polaris Project released a report on Thursday rating all 50 states and the District of Columbia on their human trafficking legislation.  The report highlighted the 9 states that were identified Massachusetts, West Virginia and Wyoming as the lowest ranked due to having no laws specifically focused on human trafficking.  The report also noted lacking in Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Montana, South Carolina and South Dakota, which each fulfilled two or fewer of the 10 categories reviewed. 

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley is among advocates for new anti-trafficking laws in the Commonwealth.  The topic gained higher public attention in the state in May after a man was charged with kidnapping a 15-year-old girl at an MBTA stop and forcing her into sexual slavery.  New momentum has been sparked by a report from the Polaris Project, which ranked Massachusetts as among the worst in the country for anti-trafficking legislation.  The House approved human trafficking legislation unanimously in June and it is currently under review in the state Senate.  
Two cousin were told they would be gardeners in Thailand, but instead they were forced to work on Thai fishing boats. Six months later, they escaped their captors while the boat was offloading on Benjina island in northern Indonesia.  Thousands of Cambodian men are now believed to be working against their will in exploitative working conditions on long-haul trawlers, with reports of 20-hour work days, food deprivation, regular beatings and threats at the hands of the crew.  It is reported that people deemed expendable are tossed overboard. 
Trafficked to Baghdad’s Green Zone  

Over 200 foreign laborers began work on the Arab League Summit housing site in Iraq, working from January to April with unmet promises of payment.   The workers were initially promised salaries of $2,500/month before being brought into the country, then were presented with contracts for a lower amount.  Even the lower amount was never paid.  A 2010 report on trafficking in Iraq notes that "[f]raudulent employment agencies in the migrant workers’ countries of origin, unscrupulous employers in Iraq, overwhelmed or unresponsive Iraqi state institutions, and a lack of diplomatic representations of the workers’ home countries in Iraq all contribute to an environment where abuse and exploitation of migrant workers can take place."

After an 18-month undercover investigation dubbed “Operation Little Girl Lost," Illinois authorities announced the arrest of nine people last Wednesday.  The suspects were charged with involuntary sexual servitude of a minor and human trafficking.  The victims, some as young as 12 years old. were forced into sexual slavery.  The human sex trafficking operation was run by Vice Lords and other gang members known on the South and West Sides of Chicago.