Towards a Global Coalition to Fight Human Trafficking, Exploitation and Modern-Slavery, House of Lords, London, 26 March 2007

Baroness Goudie, thank you for hosting us in this magnificent building. And my thanks to the UK government for their support in organizing this event.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Two hundred years ago, here in Westminster, the Parliament passed legislation bringing an end to British involvement in the slave trade across the Atlantic.

The rest is history. Or is it? While the open trading of slaves has ended, human trafficking, exploitation and modern slavery persist as multi-billion dollar activities, at the expense of millions of victims.

Where are the victims who are deprived of liberty, duped or coerced into forced labour, locked up, abused and forced into servitude? All around us: in sweatshops, in mines or on farms, doing dirty, dodgy or dangerous work, or in the sex trade - enslaved and indebted to their masters, afraid or unable to escape.

How can we free them? Let's be inspired by the abolitionists from two hundred years ago.

First, prevention and protection. Two hundred years ago, the Royal Navy started to patrol the high seas, to enforce the 1807 Act.  Today, law enforcement agencies need to work more effectively within states and across borders, exchanging information on trafficking routes, on those involved, rescuing victims and putting more traffickers behind bars.   

The UK's Pentameter operation of 2006 was a good success:  my compliments, Minister Coaker.  Equally important was the establishment of a Human Trafficking Centre in Sheffield. Others should follow these examples.

Second, make trafficking a serious crime so as to comply with international agreements. In 2003, the UN Protocol against human trafficking entered into force. But almost half of Member States have not ratified it yet. Around the world governments and parliaments should be inspired by anti-slavery campaigners of the early 19 th century and implement this powerful international instrument.

Another tool is public awareness, fighting ignorance about the extent and nature of human trafficking.  Two centuries ago, Thomas Clarkson travelled up and down the country, gathering testimonies from sailors involved in the slave trade. Olaudah Equiano's autobiography as a slave, pictures of slave ships and graphic evidence of slavery woke up the public to this evil trade.

Today, we have much more powerful information tools - too often exploited by traffickers. We need to use the entertainment industry, the media and the internet to our advantage in order to increase public awareness about this crime, to warn potential victims and prevent them from falling prey to traffickers.

A fourth tool is economic leverage. Moral outrage won't stop the traffickers. They are driven by profit, not public opinion. Therefore we need to make their business more risky and less profitable. This tactic worked two hundred years ago. In the 1790s, a major campaign boycotted sugar produced by slaves: sales dropped by one third. 

Similarly, today we need to hit slavery's profiteers where it hurts them the most - their bank accounts. Consumers can boycott goods and services of modern slaves:  cheap products made by children in sweatshops; conflict diamonds; agricultural produce picked by forced labour; women exploited for sex. Businesses guilty of illegal practices should be blacklisted and publicly shamed. Honest businesses should be motivated to exercise social responsibility and become part of the solution.

A fifth tool is more and better evidence. Two centuries ago, abolitionists documented conditions on board slave ships, compiled statistics and showed to a complacent public the dimensions of this tragedy.  

Likewise, today only the tip of the human trafficking iceberg is in front of our eyes:  we need to bring the rest of this massive problem to the surface. A clearer view of global trends will ensure that policy is based on facts. I urge countries to collect and share information on human trafficking. We hope to produce soon technical guidelines and definitions to do so in a consistent manner.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Today's event here in the House of Lords is not just about looking back at a human tragedy that involved tens of millions of people, mostly Africans. It is an occasion to look forward, prodded by the moral and legal obligation to free millions of people caught in its modern day equivalents. 

I have listed five tools that can help. These tools can move heavy objects if we use the leverage of working together. 

I announce here today the official launch of a Global Coalition to fight Human Trafficking. Promoted by the United Nations through events and projects around the world, this framework for action is designed to stamp out a crime that has no place in the modern world. It is a global movement designed to motivate governments, inspire international institutions, empower civil society, strengthen corporate responsibility, build regional alliances, galvanize international media support and mobilize resources.

It is team effort - and I would like to pay tribute to members of the Global Initiative steering committee who are with us here today (from UNICEF, the IOM, ILO and OSCE). That is just the core group. We want to build a global movement involving all sectors of society.

In the course of the year, we envisage a vast array of events to examine the many conditions that make people vulnerable to human trafficking: girls sold by their families;  child soldiers drugged and forced into combat; men bonded in mines and farms; women enslaved in quarries or domestic labour;  boys coerced to fish under dangerous conditions;  humans chained to do what others would never freely do - all for practically no pay.

These events complement powerful historic retrospectives which are taking place around the world to commemorate the abolition of the slave trade, particularly here in the United Kingdom. My compliments to all museums, NGOs, media, and institutions that are shedding light on an uncomfortable truth of history. 

In the months ahead, as part of the Global Initiative, it will become clearer what modern society can do to tackle its own uncomfortable truth - in order to turn occasional benign neglect into remedial action. What can the media, the entertainment industry, the tourism industry, or information technology do to fight human trafficking? Specialized dialogues with faith based communities, parliaments and civil society will help raise awareness among potential victims. We will also be raising funds to help the most vulnerable.

The year will be crowned by a global conference in Vienna, at the end of November, on the model of Live Aid and other major events that have changed the world.  The Vienna conference will not be the end of the process: rather it will raise global consciousness, be a call to action, and channel resources to projects that can have a real impact on ending human trafficking, exploitation and modern slavery.

We are looking for freedom fighters.  Do you want to sign up and volunteer?  Inspired by the abolitionists of two hundred years ago, get involved, join this Initiative, help prepare an extraordinary series of events prior to the Conference in Vienna  -- and plan attending yourself.  The pre-conditions for success are here. Let's make slavery part of history.


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