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

Friday, June 29, 2012

The Code: Up to Par?

Earlier this month, End Child Prostitution and Trafficking (ECPAT) revealed that Real Hospitality Group (RHG) became the first hotel management company in the US to sign the Tourism Child-Protection Code of Conduct, otherwise known as "The Code."  The Code, the result of years of international cooperation to comba t child sexual exploitation in the tourism industry, is a set of regulations that supports responsible tourism and efforts to eradicate commercial sexual exploitation of children. All participating companies must keep the following six criteria

1. To establish an ethical policy regarding commercial sexual exploitation of children.
2. To train the personnel in the country of origin and travel destinations.
3. To introduce a clause in contracts with suppliers, stating a common repudiation of commercial sexual exploitation of children.
4. To provide information to travelers by means of catalogues, brochures, in-flight films, ticket-slips, home pages, etc.
5. To provide information to local "key persons" at the destinations.
6. To report annually.

Well known companies such as Hilton, Delta and Carson are already on the list that comply with these regulations.  In 2004, Carlson became the first North American tourism company to provide a training kit for all staff with visual real-life scenario tools that could help them identify a victim if they encounter a situation of sexual exploitation.  The Code has been implemented in similar fashions in 960 tourism companies and in more than 40 countries

Although ECPAT considers it a "win" that certain industries, mainly hotels and tour operators, recognize the demand for the sexual exploitation of children does in fact undermine sustainable tourism, the organization also recognizes that the Code has a long way to go in putting an end to this issue within the tourism sector.  In 2006, it was estimated that there were 846 million international arrival and 4 billion domestic trips taken.  The Code has been effective in implementing some training and providing public awareness materials, but the issue of demand has still not been confronted and the switch to electronic booking has made traveling completely anonymous.  The battle over this issue must not only be embraced by the tourism community, but also by local, national and international governing bodies.  The Code is the largest voluntary step that can be taken to eradicate commercial sexual exploitation of children, but this standard needs to move from being a voluntary action to one of corporate responsibility.  To learn more about how you can be a part of that change and help create a sustainable, responsible tourism industry please click here.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Modern Slavery News Round-Up

27 million live in slavery 
In her unveiling of the annual human trafficking report, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton revealed that up to 27 million people are living in slavery around the world.  Fortunately, the report also showed that governments are becoming more aware and beginning to instigate tough new laws and programs to help victims.  Only 33 countries complied fully with laws in place to end human trafficking, but five countries moved up from the bottom blacklist including Venezuela and Myanmar.  According to the report, the countries "took a number of unprecedented steps to address forced labor and the conscription of child soldiers..."  A total of 29 countries have been upgraded to a higher ranking, which means, according to Ms Clinton, "governments are taking the right steps."

Wal-Mart supplier accused of forced labor
A group of immigrant workers has recently gone on strike in an effort to get Wal-Mart to drop its contract with Louisiana-based seafood company, CJ's Seafood.  Headed by Ana Rosa Diaz, one of the workers from Mexico on a H-2B work visa, the group claims that CJ's Seafood forced them to work 24 hours without overtime pay, locked them in the facility and threatened physical violence to prevent people from taking breaks.  "Our boss threatened us and our families...," says Diaz.  The Worker Rights Consortium (WRC) has verified the claims and the company is now under investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor.

Government rescues 106 would-be trafficking victims 
The Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT) in the Philippines has rescued some 106 persons who were being smuggled overseas this month.  85 of the rescuees were saved on board the ML Kadrina between the boundaries of islands.  "We intercepted 150 persons who were on board.  But only 65 were officially declared on the ship's manifest," says Vice President Jejomar Binay.  10 other persons were saved after they caused a scene to catch IACAT agents' attention in an airport terminal.  As of right now the Philippines is in the Tier 2 status in this year's Global Trafficking in Person's Report.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Forced Labor in Chinese Laogai Prisons in Tibet

In 1959, when China's Communist Party Liberation Army invaded Tibet, no family was left untouched.  Other than the very old and the very young, the majority of the Tibetan population was arrested at one moment or another.  Either for owning a picture of the Dalai Lama, or participating in peaceful protests, Tibetans have been, and continue to be, arrested, subject to hard labor and torture and even death.  Out of the 6 million people living in Tibet, 1.2 million have died as a result of their time within the Chinese Laogai prison system.  On Friday, June 8th, BTFF had the privilege to attend the Laogai Foundation's Conference on the sufferings of the Tibetan people in Chinese prisons.  We heard passionate speeches by Representatives Chris Smith and Frank Wolf, both of who have visited these prisons and their appalling practices, and the representative of the Dalai Lama.  However, perhaps the most moving part of the three-day event were the testimonies by seven survivors who were eventually released from the Laogai prisons and finally escaped from China's authoritative rule.  Here are excerpts from just a couple stories heard:

Thupten Khetsun is now 70 years old, but in 1959 at least five of his family members, including himself, were arrested.  While his mother was subject to political "reeducation" outside of confinment, Khetsun was placed into Drapchi prison for two years.  He and other political prisoners were required to either break open large stones or make bricks while only sustaining on barley soup.  "While I was at Drapchi prison, huge loads of clothes of dead prisoners from Chang Tsa-la-Kha were delivered.  There were enough winter jackets in there for half the prisoners of Drapchi.  I believe that the tortures and sufferings Tibetan political prisoners faced under China are comparable to those of Jews under Nazi Germany."

Ghan Lhamo gave her testimony on specific female political prisoners who suffered in the Laogai prisons.  One woman is called Phuntsok Zomkyi and was formally a Buddhist nun.  Between 30 and 40 nuns were arrested, including Lhamo, and received sentences between 4 and 8 years.  They were not allowed to go out, except for the occasional grave digging assignment and when she was finally released, Zomkyi fled to India.  "These female prisoners faced an extreme bout of torture and physical abuse in prisons and forced labor camps.  They were often tied up, handcuffed and thrown into seclusion cells.  A great number of female political prisoners were Buddhist nuns and were often sexually assaulted by the military police."

Since 2001, there have been 38 self-immolation by Tibetans as a direct protest to the authoritarian rule of the People's Republic of China.  The Laogai Foundation is an organization dedicated to gaining justice for these prisoners and spreading human rights around this part of the world.  They work through research and documentation to gain evidence against not only the Laogai prison system, but China's one-child policy and unauthorized organ harvesting as well.  Visit their website or the Laogai Museum in Washington, D.C. to learn more about this issue and what you can do to support these survivors and how to join their fight in eradicating human rights violations in China.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Clinton Releases 2012 Trafficking in Persons Report Despite the Failure to Reauthorize the TVPA

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton unveils the 2012 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report during a ceremony at the U.S. Department of State.
Photo: State Dept Image / Jun 19, 2012
I am pleased to announce that this week in Washington, D.C., Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton officially released the 12th annual Trafficking in Person’s (TIP) report.  The report was openly released on June 19th in the Benjamin Franklin Room at the Department of State.  The event was open by invite to key government officials, leading anti-trafficking leaders and NGOs, and to credentialed member of the media. The gilded room gave grandeur and prestige to the report, which was first released 12 years ago in a small, simple room, highlighting the strength the anti-trafficking movement has gained.  The events surrounding the briefing and release were lead by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, and Ambassador-at-Large to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons Luis CdeBaca delivered remarks.  Meanwhile, the Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs, Maria Otero, opened and closed the briefing.
At the State Department’s release of the report, Secretary Clinton spoke directly regarding the shift in viewing human trafficking in a deeper light so as to see it for what it truly is: slavery.
In the United States today, we are celebrating what’s called Juneteenth. That’s freedom day, the date in 1865 when a Union officer stood on a balcony in Galveston, Texas and read General Order Number 3, which declared, “All slaves are free.” It was one of many moments in history when a courageous leader tipped the balance and made the world more free and more just. But the end of legal slavery in the United States and in other countries around the world has not, unfortunately, meant the end of slavery.
Today, it is estimated as many as 27 million people around the world are victims of modern slavery, what we sometimes call trafficking in persons. As Lou said, I’ve worked on this issue now for more than a dozen years. And when we started, we called it trafficking. And we were particularly concerned about what we saw as an explosion of the exploitation of people, most especially women, who were being quote, ‘trafficked’ into the sex trade and other forms of servitude. But I think labeling this for what it is, slavery, has brought it to another dimension.
The 2012 TIP report is highly comprehensive in its examination and ranking of 184 countries and their efforts to combat human trafficking in all forms. This year’s most significant change is the upgraded rankings of 29 countries on the list, including Bangladesh and the Dominican Republic, who were previously some of the lowest ranked countries.  These countries were recognized for their improvement in observing the Four P’s–prevention, protection, prosecution, and partnership–and implementing new anti-trafficking laws.
To read the full post on the Foreign Policy Association site please click here.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

"Let's End Child Labor"

Every year on June 12th we draw attention to the tragedy of child labor through the World Day Against Child Labor. According to a recent survey, there are some 215 million children who are being exploited and therefore being denied an education and a childhood. Check out an excerpt of what BTFF's Executive Director, Cassandra Clifford, has to say about it:

"According to the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) most recent estimate, some 215 million children, 127 million boys and 88 million girls, are in situations of child labor exploitation. UNICEF places 16 percent of children between the ages of 5 and 14 years old living in developing countries in forms of child labor, and in the least developed countries the number almost doubles to 29 percent overall, while Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest rates of child labor at 33 percent."

"These children are often forced to work long hours, which is often in harsh and dangerous conditions. Child labor has a direct link to poverty, and provides a substantial barrier to a child’s education…thus enabling a barrier to a child’s education and increasing the literacy gap. Education is often taken for granted in developing nations, however many poor and impoverished families are forced to face the choose to send their child to school or work to help the family…it is that choice that has sent millions of children out of the classroom, often disparagingly girls, to toil in fields, factories, homes and the streets."

To read the full post by Cassandra on the Foreign Policy Association's Children's Rights Blog please go here.

Modern Slavery News Round-Up

Ottawa plan to combat human trafficking in booming Alberta
Canada's federal government's new plan to combat human trafficking recognizes Alberta's particular vulnerability to forced labor.  A Calgary-based researcher said that cases in this province have frequently involved adults of both genders being coerced into types of work outside of the sex trade.  The plan, called The National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking, includes the formation of an investigative squad dedicated to fighting this issue.  "...the forced labor issue is alive in that area, mainly because of the demand of workers in Alberta," says Sgt. Marie-Claude Arsenault.  The unit will receive $2 million to combat this problem.

Wisconsin officials strengthen fight against human trafficking
This past week 300 officials received training on how to identify cases of human trafficking after law enforcement leaders acknowledged that they could do a better attacking these criminals.  "...it's an issue that we frequently categorize wrong," says Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen.  The officials included law enforcement officers, prosecutors and victim-assistant specialists.  Survivors also attended to share their stories.    Tritt-Feleshchuk testified that she was lured not by drugs, but the "promise of love' and called for a law that would allow victims to have their records expunged if they were forced to commit this crime.  "While most prostitution stories end in jail, that's where my journey began."

Forced marriage: an ancient practice in modern Britain
Already illegal in Scotland, the British government is expected to pass a law under which parents in England and Wales who force their children to marry could be jailed.  The courts have had the power to issue civil orders, but now those who violate the "Forced Marriage Act" could be sent to jail for up to two years.  Forced marriage, distinct from an arranged marriage, is a phenomenon in Britain's large Asian community, particularly among Pakistanis and Bangladeshis.  Theresa May, the Home Secretary, also revealed a three-year, $772,000 fund to assist schools in recognizing signs of forced marriage among their students.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Modern Slavery News Round-Up

Australia proposes changing slavery laws
Australian Attorney General Nicola Roxon proposed new legislation to Parliament Wednesday that would broaden the definition of slavery. Existing slavery laws mostly protect Asian women who are brought to Australia to work as sex slaves, but this amendment would also include organ trafficking and forced marriage. This would protect the growing number of men and women being exploited in other industries. "A common factor of contemporary slavery...is the misuse and abuse of power," Roxon told Parliament. There are already penalties for these crimes, but these new laws would increase police powers to investigate.

Trafficking victims allowed to find work
In a change of policy, five Indian nationals who were victims of human trafficking have been allowed to remain in Malaysia as part of the Home Ministry's policy on exploited workers.  Where the previous policy used to be deportation, workers placed in shelter homes can now take up employment once they are released.  "Victims protection and rehabilitation is one of the crucial elements in the global efforts to combat human trafficking," proclaims Deputy Home Minister Datuk Lee Chee Leong.

Oklahomans work to stop human trafficking
Oklahomans are discovering that human trafficking, which is often viewed as a Third World problem, is in their own state.  Oklahoma is a crossroads for traffickers because of the intersecting interstates it contains. Victims are usually identified after being caught on an offense such as curfew or loitering and then they will eventually confess to being involved in trafficking.  According to Ben Lacaze, a member of the Oklahoma City Police Department vice unit, "there are really no signs that someone is involved in trafficking," he says. "It's all through interviews and contact that police find out if someone is involved."