Today the Tronie Foundation — a Washington-based non-profit organization founded by trafficking survivor Rani Hong, dedicated to driving awareness of human trafficking and slavery — announced the availability of a new “Freedom Seal” that companies can earn for taking steps to eradicate slavery from their supply chains. Marking the launch of the Seal is a corresponding social media campaign, through which concerned consumers can encourage companies to #AdoptTheSeal.
“The use of human slavery is still prevalent today. The International Labor Organization estimates that almost 29 million people are victims of forced labor and nearly 19 million victims are exploited by private individuals or enterprises,” Hong, who, at the age of seven, was sold into the service of a man who kept her locked in a cage, said in a statement. “I created the Freedom Seal to raise awareness of this problem, help consumers make informed decisions about where to spend their money, and to celebrate companies that are helping to change the marketplace of victimization.”
As a keynote speaker at the Sedex Global Responsible Sourcing Conference in London today, Hong shared details of her harrowing story as a 7-year-old victim of human trafficking in India, along with the story of the Tronie Foundation, which she founded with her husband, Trong — a childhood trauma survivor himself, having become a refugee to escape recruitment as a soldier in Communist Vietnam at age 9. Now, the Tronie Foundation is dedicated to helping victims rebuild their lives and ending modern-day slavery around the world by educating the marketplace.
Hong used her podium to call upon the business community to take action to identify and eliminate human trafficking. While she acknowledged earning the Freedom Seal is not an overnight process, she called on companies to begin taking steps — the first three to five companies to successfully apply for the Freedom Seal will be highlighted at the next meeting of the UN General Assembly in September.
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As Sedex’s Jo Webb pointed out in a panel discussion on the subject this afternoon, changes in regulatory environment and increased media scrutiny have brought human trafficking to the fore as an issue of global concern, and Western governments are working to pass legislation that would eradicate it — this week, the UK Parliament is pondering a modern slavery bill that would hold large businesses accountable for maintaining slave-free supply chains (while a similar effort in the US got mired and squashed in the Senate).
Tom Smith, acting general manager at Sedex Exchange, said in a statement: “Modern-day slavery poses multiple risks to businesses and their supply chains. We need more transparency — and greater collaboration amongst businesses — in order to tackle the issue. Good practice on tackling modern-day slavery does exist and we encourage others to follow this.”
“This is becoming a huge issue for companies — they can no longer say ‘that’s not our problem’ or ‘we don’t have the time or resources to address the issue,’” Hong said during the panel. “We need to figure out a way to do that — otherwise, it’s a very costly mistake; the cost of forced labor might not appear in our books, but it will affect the company sooner or later.” Hong then pointed to the Freedom Seal as a way for companies to take proactive steps toward solving the problem.
More companies are taking proactive action on this issue — Marks & Spencer and Waitrose are part of a coalition of UK retailers that began working together in 2013 to eliminate forced labor from their supply chains, and last fall HP set a new standard for the IT industry with its zero-tolerance policy on forced migrant labor. But Hong said she hopes to incentivize further and faster action in this area by rewarding proactive companies with the Freedom Seal; her immediate goal is just getting the word out to the business world.
In the meantime, the Tronie Foundation is calling on consumers to take a stand against human slavery by joining the global conversation and driving awareness for the Freedom Seal by following @TroniFoundation and @RanisVoice, using the hashtags #AdoptTheSeal and #FreedomSeal, and supporting companies that earn and display the Freedom Seal.