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Kidnapping in Nigeria a Tragic Reminder that Trafficking and Slavery Persist Worldwide

May 16th, 2014

Constant vigilance and the full participation of all stakeholders is required to guard against hidden human rights abuses.

ICE.gove_trafficing-225x225Over 200 schoolgirls were kidnapped on April 14th by Boko Haram in Nigeria, setting off a firestorm of concern from around the world. In messages to the Nigerian government the extremists have referred to the girls as slaves and threatened to “sell them on the market”. The Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR), a shareholder coalition that has been working to highlight human trafficking and modern slavery in corporate supply chains, adds it voice to the many religious, governmental, non-governmental and international institutions calling for the mobilization of all necessary resources and expertise to help locate and free the missing girls. The Oblates are active participants in ICCR and work through the coalition to abolish human trafficking and modern day slavery.

“This incident is a tragic reminder to us all that forced sexual exploitation and trafficking are ongoing human rights violations that occur every day and across the globe,” said Sister Kathleen Coll SSJ, Administrator, Shareholder Advocacy, CHE Trinity Health and convener of ICCR’s Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery working group. “It is imperative that these school girls be found immediately and returned home safely. But it is also imperative that we remain ever vigilant to the unseen risks of slavery, and that we develop strategies that all stakeholders, including companies, can employ to expose and eliminate them.”

The scope of the problem is difficult to accurately describe since trafficking and slavery are often hidden in the shadows, but below are a few statistics that provide some perspective around these illicit and dehumanizing crimes:

  • Reports estimate that between 27 to 30 million people are enslaved worldwide and that 700,000 people are currently enslaved in Nigeria
  • Forced sexual exploitation accounts for 4.5% of human trafficking worldwide, with women and girls making up 98% of victims, and children, 21%
  • Reports suggesting that the school girls in Nigeria may have been sold as child brides highlight the injustice of forced child marriages
  • 100,000 girls under 18 years old in the United States are trafficked into commercial sex each year.

Since the early 1990s members of ICCR, a coalition of nearly 300 faith-based and values-driven institutional investors representing over $100 billion in assets under management, have continuously pressed companies in their portfolios to scrutinize their operations and supply chains to ensure that they are not inadvertently complicit in human rights violations, particularly human trafficking and modern day slavery which includes child labor, forced labor, sexual servitude, and slave labor.

Said Julie Tanner of Christian Brothers Investment Services, “Countering sex trafficking is a major ICCR programmatic focus. It is heartbreaking that the exploitation of persons for sexual purposes and forced labor has become the third largest illegal ‘business’ after drug and arms trafficking, and is estimated by the ILO to generate $32 billion dollars annually. Part of our ongoing focus has been on educating companies in the travel and tourism sector about the trafficking and slavery risks that may be hidden throughout their supply chains. As a result of our discussions over the past few years, it has been gratifying to see a number of hotel chains and airlines take the lead by adopting protocols that set the industry standard for confronting sex trafficking.”

ICCR members call on companies in all sectors to proactively develop human rights policies that specifically address human trafficking and modern day slavery. Members urge companies to assess their impacts related to sex and labor trafficking, to train their employees and suppliers, to collaborate with appropriate authorities including police, anti-trafficking organizations, child welfare agencies and international institutions, and to issue regular reports on their performance.

Said ICCR’s David Schilling, Senior Program Director for Human Rights and Resources, “Our hearts go out to the captured girls and their families and we pray for their quick and safe return. Meanwhile, we must all remember that abolishing trafficking and slavery is everyone’s responsibility and that we all have a role to play in ending these egregious crimes.”

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