Information and stories about human rights.

Germany's Supply Chain Law
On March 3, 2021, the German cabinet proposed a supply chain law (Lieferkettengesetz) obliging companies active in Germany to ensure that their entire supply chain meets human rights standards. Under the National Action Plan (Nationaler Aktionsplan), Germany has promoted human rights among companies since 2016, but a study in 2020 found that only 22% of responding firms had undertaken the recommended measures. Under this plan, modeled on the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, the German government agreed to consider imposing a mandatory due diligence law if fewer than half of German firms satisfied the human rights monitoring criteria.

Although the cabinet had planned to present a draft of the law in March 2020, Peter Altmeier, the Minister of Economic Affairs and Energy, held up the proceedings. On February 2021, the two ministers driving the law announced that they reached a consensus with Altmeier. Hubertus Heil, Minister for Development Co-Operation, and Gerd Müller, Minister for Labor and Social Affairs, both pushed for more impactful human rights protection, while Altmeier was adamant about safeguarding German economic competitiveness.

What Germany’s Supply Chain Law Imposes

Germany’s supply chain law requires firms active in Germany to perform various due diligence procedures in order to monitor, prevent and ameliorate potential human rights abuses in their supply chains. In its current form, the law would come into effect in 2023 and in its first year only apply to the 600 largest companies, all with more than 3,000 employees. After the first year, it would apply to a further 2,900 companies, all with more than 1,000 employees. By 2026, the government or a contracted body will carry out an evaluation of the law’s effectiveness and, if necessary, provide ideas for improvement.

For suppliers with whom they have a contractual relationship, companies have to set up a risk management system, conduct regular risk analyses and take action against known human rights breaches. They also have to establish a procedure through which to hear complaints. For example, people working in unsafe conditions can theoretically voice their situation through this channel. That being said, many of these people are often not aware of their right to do so, nor are many of them able to navigate the German legal system. To overcome this problem, Germany’s supply chain law grants civil society organizations the power to file lawsuits on behalf of these mistreated workers.

Remaining Problems of the Draft

For suppliers they do not have direct contact with, companies only have to perform risk analyses if they are aware of a potential human rights breach. If, for example, Amnesty International publishes information about human rights abuses in Congolese mines that supply electric car batteries for Volkswagen, then the law requires Volkswagen to conduct a risk analysis.

However, as this demonstrates, companies have less monitoring responsibility for more removed suppliers. Many non-governmental organizations argue that this provides too little protection for the mining industry. Moreover, many direct suppliers of the largest German companies are already located in Germany, potentially limiting the law’s impact abroad.

How Germany’s Supply Chain Law Monitors and Enforces Compliance

The German Federal Bureau for the Economy and Export Control (Bundesamt für Wirtschaft und Ausfuhrkontrolle) will monitor whether companies are complying with Germany’s supply chain law. Companies judged to fall short of what the law demands will face fines and sanctions. Fines will not exceed 8 million euros or 2% of annual revenue for companies with annual revenue of over 400 million euros. If a company receives a fine of more than 175,000 euros, it also cannot compete for public procurement contracts for three years.

Aside from these punitive measures, the law also requires companies to hire or designate an employee who is responsible for evaluating whether the company is abiding by the law or not. The company’s leadership, whatever form it may take, must regularly meet with this employee.

Next Steps

In April 2021, Germany’s supply chain law will enter into discussion in the Bundestag, Germany’s lower chamber of parliament. Non-governmental organizations are trying to galvanize public support in order to convince or pressure parliament into making the law more comprehensive and stringent. In addition to arguing that the restriction to direct suppliers makes the law too small in scope, they have criticized that companies face neither civil nor criminal liability.

Whether they will successfully strengthen Germany’s supply chain law is too early to say. However, the government aims to approve the law before Germany’s elections in September 2021. By then, the extent and potential impact of Germany’s supply chain law on global human rights will be clearer. For now, it is a promising and hopeful, yet somewhat restrained, step in the right direction.

– Alex Vanezis
Photo: Flickr

Las Damas de BlancoLas Damas de Blanco (The Ladies in White) is a peaceful civic movement of wives and female relatives advocating for the release of jailed political protestors in Cuba. The group has been active since 2003 and is internationally acclaimed for its dedication to human rights advocacy, having won the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in 2005. Currently, the movement is the subject of a resolution on the Senate calendar.

History of Las Damas de Blanco

Las Damas de Blanco formed in 2003 following an event known as the Black Spring. The Black Spring was a mass arrest of 75 journalists and political protestors in Cuba. Each of the arrested had either spoken out against the Castro regime or advocated for democracy in some way. The people arrested ranged from librarians to human rights activists who were all peaceful in the dissent and yet were arrested for threatening Cuban national security. In response to the arrests, the wives and sisters of the protestors decided to band together and form a countermovement. Every Sunday, the women gather and attend mass wearing white, and then, march silently through the streets. The white clothing symbolizes peace and the message is centered on family and freedom.

Overcoming Barriers

As a women-led movement, Las Damas de Blanco faces many challenges in its advocacy efforts. The movement is agitated by other citizens and particularly by Cuban authorities. The Cato Institute reports that the women “are routinely harassed, threatened, beaten and arrested” for the peaceful protest. Despite this, the movement has never weakened. The Ladies in White continue to march every Sunday and the members have brought global awareness to the issue. All 75 of the protestors arrested in the Black Spring were freed by 2011, in large part due to the efforts of the Ladies in White. The women-led movement still protests consistently and will not cease until all Cuban political prisoners are freed.

US Recognition

In March 2021, Sen. Mark Rubio introduced a resolution honoring Las Damas de Blanco and adding the Senate’s voice to the call for the release of all political prisoners in Cuba. The resolution acknowledges the efforts of the women-led movement and the Cuban regime’s consistent attacks on the movement. It particularly honors the legacy of the movement’s founder, Laura Ines Pollán Toledo, on human rights advocacy.

A more recent event highlighted in the resolution is the second arrest of Las Damas de Blanco member, Xiomara de las Mercedes Cruz Miranda, which took place in 2018 and resulted in Miranda developing a rare skin disease in prison. Miranda’s health deteriorated and she was hospitalized in Cuba for more than six months. In 2020, the U.S. government granted Miranda a humanitarian visa and transferred her to a hospital in Miami.

The resolution’s direct calls for the Cuban government to release all political prisoners and allow Las Damas de Blanco to attend mass in peace are vital actions of solidarity. If it is agreed to in the Senate, the resolution will further amplify the voices of Las Damas de Blanco and all peaceful Cuban dissidents hoping for liberty.

Samantha Silveira
Photo: Flickr

APHRThe Rohingya are an ethnic Muslim minority group who have lived in Myanmar for centuries. The Rohingya follow Islam and have their own language and culture. In 2017, there were one million of the Rohingya population living in Myanmar. However, the government considered them illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and refused to recognize the Rohingya as citizens. The government targeted the Rohingya, leaving thousands fleeing as a result of discriminatory violence and abuse. However, ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) works to help the Rohingya.

The Targeting of the Rohingya

The government officially forced the Rohingya out of Myanmar on August 25, 2017, by burning Rohingya villages and attacking and killing the population. Hundreds of thousands had to flee by sea or foot. A minimum of 6,700 Rohingya, including at least 730 children under 5, died in the month after the conflict occurred. Furthermore, at least 288 villages burned down in northern Rakhine State.

In January 2020, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ordered Myanmar to protect the Rohingya from genocidal attacks. The country’s leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, denied all allegations of genocide or ethnic cleansing.

The ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights

The ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) is a network of parliamentarians promoting democracy and advocating for human rights in Southeast Asia. Founded in June 2013, the APHR’s mission is to create a safe place where all people can live without fear of violence and discrimination. Specifically, the APHR focuses on preventing democratic and human rights violations.

The APHR is an organization consisting of public figures in positions of power working with government officials and upholding political freedom. The APHR targets public figures and organizations based on specific strengths and the ability to persuade. The organization emphasizes the importance of international relations and environmental sustainability. Founding members include Charles Chong from Singapore, Son Chhay from Cambodia and Walden Bello from the Philippines.

The APHR works to implement democracy and fundamental freedoms, including freedom of religion or belief programs. The organization brings officials together through workshops, forums and conferences while working with the United Nations, parliaments, international governments, communities, shareholders and grassroots actors.

The APHR in Myanmar

The APHR is currently focused on assessing regional response to the Rohingya crisis in the Rakhine State in Myanmar and holding the Myanmar military, known as the Tatmadaw, accountable for the recent attack on Armed Forces Day. Tens of thousands of people protested in support of democracy in Myanmar and security forces responded by killing 114 people, including children, on March 27, 2021. The APHR called upon the international community to take action against these atrocities.

The APHR members spoke to refugees to gather information on the human rights violations being experienced by the Rohingya in Myanmar as well as the situation in Bangladesh that led them to flock to Myanmar. The APHR requests that Myanmar’s government allow U.N. agencies and others looking to provide humanitarian assistance access to the northern Rakhine State. Journalists should be allowed to investigate and report accurately on the abuses happening, and “impartial and independent” investigations leading to fair trials seeking reparations ought to take place.

ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights has worked effortlessly to help many other people and causes in addition to the Rohingya people. Overall, the APHR shows its dedication and commitment to protecting the most vulnerable populations.

– Lauren Peacock
Photo: Flickr

Nepal’s Refugee Resettlement Program
Much of the world struggles to assist refugees and other forcibly displaced people. However, Nepal stands out as a rare success story. The nation accepted more than 100,000 Bhutanese refugees since the 1990s. Nepal’s refugee resettlement program has proven to be effective. The program has relocated about 113,500 refugees to third countries. Additionally, many of the camps that emerged have shut down because they were no longer necessary. However, it is still challenging to provide refugees with their basic needs.

Origins of the Bhutanese Refugee Crisis

Ethnic Nepalis people whose origins lie in Bhutan primarily partake in Nepal’s refugee resettlement program. The Lhotshampas are Nepali people who reside in the southern portion of Bhutan and maintain a distinct culture.

The Bhutanese government initiated the One Nation, One People policy to promote the dominant Bhutanese culture. Many perceived this policy as an attempt to suppress Nepali culture in Bhutan. Additionally, this policy replaced the Nepali language with Dzongkha as the primary mode of instruction in schools. Furthermore, it forbade Nepalis from wearing their traditional clothing, forcing them to dress like the Bhutanese majority.

Bhutanese officials became wary of the substantial Lhotshampa population in the south after the 1988 census. Additionally, accusations emerged of them being illegal aliens along with instances of violence and discrimination. As a result, large numbers of ethnic Nepalis left Bhutan for refugee camps in Nepal.

Nepal’s Refugee Resettlement Program

The population of Lhotshampa refugees in Nepal has increased to more than 100,000 people. Unfortunately, talks with Bhutan failed to produce any solution. Thus, the government of Nepal developed a plan to resettle the refugees in other countries.

Nepal’s refugee resettlement program started in 2007. In addition, Nepal and eight other countries collaborated with each other. These countries are the United States, New Zealand, Norway, Canada, the Netherlands, Denmark, Australia and the United Kingdom. These nations agreed to accept Lhotshampa refugees, allowing them to lead new lives outside of refugee camps.

Organizations such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the government of Nepal have aided in the program’s success. UNHCR and the Nepalese government underwent efforts to provide documentation for each refugee. Photos and listings of details of each person provided an accurate number of refugees. This made monitoring the program much easier. In addition, IOM oversaw the practical side of the program. This included arranging flights and teaching refugees how to navigate through an airport.

Challenges That Those in the Camps Face

As a result of Nepal’s refugee resettlement program, the number of Lhotshampas in the country has decreased to about 6,000. Furthermore, out of the seven camps that began in the 1990s, only two remain in the Jhapa and Morang districts of eastern Nepal. While this constitutes a success, the Lhotshampas who remain in the camps still face challenges.

Many people feel isolated because they are unable to join their families abroad. Additionally, they suffer a lack of emotional support and income. As a result, many suffer from depression, substance abuse and suicide in these camps. Furthermore, the camp’s dwindling population has led to a shortage of teachers. UNHCR established a suicide prevention program and youth centers to combat these issues.

Nepal’s refugee resettlement program is effective in relocating most of the Lhotshampas refugees since the 1990s. UNHCR, IOM and the government of Nepal have allowed refugees to have the opportunity to lead new lives in other countries. Many challenges remain for those in the camps. However, the government has made significant efforts to address them.

– Nikhil Khanal
Photo: Flickr

Human Rights in BrazilHuman rights in Brazil are under attack by the country’s own presidential administration. Having campaigned on his famous “anti-human-rights rhetoric,” President Jair Bolsonaro is now turning his words into concrete actions that affect millions of Brazilians. Activists in Brazil are not backing down, relentlessly fighting for the human rights of the Brazilian people.

Human Rights Concerns in Brazil

  • Bolstering of police impunity for use of illegal force
  • Government complicity with torture in detention facilities and the systematic disassembly of government monitoring programs tasked with preventing torture
  • Funding cuts to environmental protection programs, approval of new pesticides for use without proper monitoring of toxicity levels in rural communities, minimization of consequences for illegal logging and ignoring reports of increased deaths of forest defenders
  • Civil and property rights of indigenous people, quilombolas, women and LGBTQI communities
  • Limiting the independence of nongovernmental agencies and restricting access to government information and public records

Despite the wave of policy change threatening human rights in Brazil, there is an equally powerful movement rising to meet it; real people and organizations dedicated to the fight for all humans and their right to exist freely in a peaceful, healthy and safe country.

Damião Braga

At 54 years old, Damião Braga is an experienced activist. He is the leader of Pedra do Sal, a community of African slave descendants in Rio de Janeiro called quilombolas. For 30 years, Braga has been in a judicial struggle over land in a historical part of Rio because he believes it should belong to his people whose ancestors arrived there as slaves.

This land is currently owned by the state and claimed by the Catholic Church, two formidable opponents. Braga says granting quilombolas the property rights is an essential step in making reparations for these descendants of slaves. Because slaves freed in Rio were never given property to live on in the first place, forcing them to settle in the margins of the city that became known as favelas, many believe it is time the government makes amends.

It is not only important for the quilombolas to fight against racism and systematic marginalization but it is also important for them to fight for the right to have a place of their own. Here they can build a future in a land they did not arrive at willingly but now call home.

The Guardians of the Forest

This group, formally established in 2013, is made up of around 120 indigenous activists in the Araribóia Indigenous Reserve. Located in the Brazilian state of Maranhão, this reserve is one of the regions most at risk of illegal logging. Emboldened by the relaxing of consequences for illegal loggers by the Bolsonaro administration, violence is increasing and the local people are taking matters into their own hands.

At first, most of the group’s work entailed destroying the camps of illegal loggers, using guerilla tactics to make them feel unwelcome. The Guardians are now working to set up an NGO and website in order to raise awareness and donations to help fund a more organized resistance.

It is indeed dangerous work. In 2019, the Indigenous Missionary Council released a report saying that violence against the indigenous peoples of the Amazon went up 23% from 2017 to 2018, making for a total of 135 people murdered in 2018 alone. Thus, the Guardians take this work very seriously. Most of them are Guajajara, the indigenous people of the area, therefore, they see it as a sacred duty to protect the land they have lived on for centuries. “We will continue to confront the wrongs committed by the Brazilian system of justice against the lives of Brazilians.”

Marielle Franco

Born to a very poor family who immigrated to Rio, Franco grew up in the favela Maré. Because she was exposed to the injustice of police brutality at a young age, Franco’s experiences fuelled her political career.

In 2016, she became a councilwoman for the Socialism and Liberty Party, officially enlisting in the fight for human rights in Brazil. She worked hard in this position to improve the situations of women and people living in favelas.

The councilwoman proposed 16 bills but only two were approved while she was alive. Another five would pass after her death, a small comfort to those who saw her as a leader.

In March of 2018, a now-charged man shot the 38-year-old Rio councilwoman in an alleged assassination. Now, after her death, her life is celebrated by supporters wearing shirts that read, “Fight like Marielle” and her name is the inspiration and strength people need to keep fighting for their rights.

Inspiring Activism in Brazil

The danger of these and thousands of other activists fighting for human rights in Brazil is tangible and constant. Thus, the courage to continue this work even in the face of such great risk shows the world their commitment to stand up against an authoritarian government.

Kari Millstein
Photo: Flickr

human trafficking in the NetherlandsHuman trafficking in the Netherlands is a serious issue and one that the Dutch government is attempting to alleviate. According to the Human Traffic Victims Monitor, there were 958 registered trafficking victims from 2013 to 2017. Hopefully, with aid from the government and help from organizations, the Netherlands can see a decrease in human trafficking.

10 Facts About Human Trafficking in the Netherlands

    1. Tier 1 Category: Local government officials are not ignorant of the prevalence of human trafficking in the Netherlands. The U.S. Department of State designated the Netherlands as Tier 1, meaning the Dutch government fully complies with the minimum requirements for eliminating trafficking as set forth by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, passed by the U.S. government in 2000.
    2. Legalizing Prostitution: The prostitution industry has been legal in the Netherlands since 2000. Once it was legalized, the demand for services increased but the supply did not. Human traffickers bring in international women to meet the demand.
    3. Labor Exploitation: In addition to sexual exploitation, human trafficking also takes place in economic fields where victims are subject to employment under deplorable conditions. It is not uncommon for these jobs to involve human rights violations.
    4. Criminality: Another form of human trafficking involves forcing individuals to commit crimes. Criminal exploitation is when an individual is forced to steal, beg or otherwise illegally acquire goods or monies and hand them over to the individual doing the exploiting. Perpetrators are often members of highly organized criminal organizations.
    5. Underreporting: The number of victims of human trafficking in the Netherlands is nearly five times the reported estimate. More than 6,000 individuals fall victim to human trafficking each year in the Netherlands, with roughly two-thirds of cases involving coerced sexual exploitation.
    6. Police Officer Training: It is standard practice in the Netherlands to complete training on how to handle human trafficking before passing the police academy. There are also officers who specialize in the handling of human trafficking. These officers must pass an examination before completing the academy.
    7. Sheltering Victims: The Dutch government has funded shelters for victims of human trafficking. It offers victims of human trafficking a stay of up to three months in a shelter. During this time, victims are provided with a safe space to begin the healing process. Here, victims also think about pursuing legal action against their trafficker. After three months, victims who agree to work with police to pursue their traffickers are permitted to stay longer in the shelter.
    8. Human Trafficking Task Force: In 2018, the Dutch government implemented its new anti-trafficking plan. It focuses on identifying victims, strengthening communication between shareholders, encouraging governments to take anti-trafficking action at a local level and amping up the work done to prevent labor trafficking. Since then, the task force has moved into inspecting brothels, training community leaders to identify human trafficking in order to safely intervene and has increased efforts against child trafficking.
    9. Not For Sale Campaign: Born in the early 2000s, the Not For Sale campaign is based in the heart of Amsterdam. The organization works with victims of human trafficking. It works especially with those victimized by sexual exploitation. The organization helps victims gain job experience and life skills needed to support themselves financially. Not For Sale also works to provide food, housing, healthcare and education for victims.
    10. GRETA: The Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings is an organization responsible for monitoring the implementation of anti-trafficking legislation. In 2018, GRETA published a report making note that even though the trafficking situation in the Netherlands requires much focus, the Netherlands is making significant improvements in the battle against trafficking.

By working at a local level to examine economies and conditions that perpetuate the cycle of human trafficking, the government and organizations can successfully alleviate human trafficking in the Netherlands.

Jessica Raskauskas
Photo: Unsplash

Human Trafficking in Hong KongHuman trafficking is a persistent problem all around the world, including in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region located in the People’s Republic of China. The Justice Centre Hong Kong produced a study in 2016 on human trafficking in Hong Kong and it was found that one in six of the 370,000 migrant workers in the city were forced labor victims. While Hong Kong does take steps to eradicate human trafficking, it is important to study human trafficking in every region of the world so that it can be prevented in the future.

Recent Changes and Legislation

Lawmakers in Hong Kong proposed that the government pass an anti-slavery bill based on Great Britain’s “Modern Slavery Act.” However, two of those lawmakers, Dennis Kwok and Kenneth Leung, were removed from Parliament, leaving many questioning whether the bill would ever get passed. A member of The Mekong Club, a group in Hong Kong dedicated to fighting modern slavery said, “There is little chance that this important bill will move forward.” This, in conjunction with the current protests in Hong Kong likely means that lawmakers have had little time to focus on anti-human trafficking legislation.

Another recent development on human trafficking in the nation is that in mid-2020 the U.S. demoted Hong Kong from Tier 2 on the Trafficking in Persons Report to Tier 2 Watch List, suggesting that Hong Kong “does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking.” The government of Hong Kong disputed the U.S. human trafficking report’s claims, arguing that the report was not based on evidence and looks at minor flaws rather than the big picture.

Hong Kong’s Approach to Resolving Human Trafficking

One problem with the nation’s current anti-human trafficking legislation is that the city only defines human trafficking as “involving cross-border sex trafficking for prostitution,” which means the legislation does not cover “labor exploitation, debt bondage, domestic servitude or similar practices.” Unfortunately, the legal system can make it difficult for those who are trafficked in Hong Kong to get the help they need or support from legal authorities.

While anti-human trafficking laws could be amended, lawmakers and academics have shown there are creative solutions to the problem. Reed Smooth Richards Butler, a law firm, worked with Liberty Asia, an anti-slavery charity, to create the Legal Gap Analysis report, which explains how other laws can be used to persecute human traffickers. For example, individuals responsible could be arrested for false imprisonment rather than human trafficking directly. Creative efforts like these are important to find solutions to salient issues, including the trafficking of people.

Protecting Human Rights

While the government can certainly improve its response to human trafficking in Hong Kong, the country has implemented many measures to help reduce human trafficking and protect human rights. Human trafficking needs addressing and analyzing the nuances in human trafficking policy can help incapacitate the industry globally.

Madelynn Einhorn
Photo: Flickr

Forced Uyghur LaborForced labor stemming from human rights violations in the Xinjiang province of China has been linked to at least 83 major corporations. In a report released by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) in February 2020, companies such as Nike, Gap, H&M, Apple, BMW, Gap, Huawei, Samsung, Sony and Volkswagen all have connections to the use of forced Uyghur labor in China. The report identified 27 factories in China that employ the use of labor transferred from Xinjiang.

Human Rights Violations of the Uyghur Population

Between 2017 and 2019, it is estimated that over 80,000 Uyghurs were moved out of Xinjiang to work in factories across China through labor transfer programs known as “Xinjiang Aid.”  The Chinese government refers to these job assignments as “vocational training” while maintaining that they are part of the “re-education” process assigned to the Uyghur population. These programs have all been identified in connection to the human rights abuses of the Uyghur population as a whole.

It is reported that surveillance tools are being used to monitor the Uyghur population in these programs and to restrict their freedom of movement. Additionally, it has been reported that they are subject to threats, arbitrary detainment and abusive working conditions.

Factories Identified and Company Responses

The companies identified in connection to this forced labor use include international brands that span across the technology, clothing and automotive sectors.

In the technology sector, Apple, Amazon, Samsung, Sony and Microsoft, among others, have been connected to factories that utilize forced labor in China. Amazon has issued a statement saying they do not tolerate the use of forced labor and will be investigating these findings further.

The Qingdao Taekwang Shoes Co. Ltd has been specifically connected to forced labor of the Uyghur population. Workers at this factory also attend a night school that seems to closely resemble the “re-education camps” in the Xinjiang province. Nike is this factory’s primary customer and released a statement saying that the factory has not recruited new workers from Xinjiang since last year and that it is seeking advice on the most responsible path toward handling the employment of the remaining workers from this region.

The Haoyuanpeng Clothing Manufacturing Co. Ltd is also identified as using forced labor. This factory’s corporate website cites partnerships with the companies Fila, Adidas, Puma and Nike. Adidas specifically stated that it does not have a current relationship with the company and is investigating this claim. Nike has also released a statement that it has no current relationship with the factory.

Since the release of ASPI’s report, H&M has ended a relationship with a Chinese yarn supplier due to its ties to forced labor.

The Global Supply Chain

The complexity of the global supply chain has undoubtedly made it more difficult for global corporations to monitor the connections of their suppliers to forced labor in China, but ASPI reached out to all 83 brands included in the report to confirm details of their suppliers as listed in the report.

Unfortunately, companies and consumers are now put at risk by purchasing goods that connect to forced labor. Investors in these 83 companies are potentially at risk as well. U.S. Congress has recently introduced legislation to protect investors through the requirement of disclosure of goods sourced from Xinjiang.

The End Uyghur Forced Labor Coalition

There are several advocacy groups dedicated to spreading awareness and furthering tangible steps to end the persecution and exploitation of the Uyghur population. The End Uyghur Forced Labor Coalition has written to 17 companies regarding the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (S. 3471), which is intended to end the use of forced labor from this region in supply chains. The coalition has also issued a call to action that aims for brands to remove all connections with suppliers that have used forced labor. This has been endorsed by investor organizations from more than 35 countries as well as more than 300 Uyghur groups, trade unions and civil society groups.

Ending Forced Uyghur Labor

Though most companies were not aware of the use of forced labor of Uyghurs, along with the awareness that was brought to light, action is also being taken by these companies to show that they do not support forced labor by any means. The End Uyghur Forced Labor Coalition is doing important work to continue bringing awareness to the issue and to protect the rights of this vulnerable minority population.

– Katherine Musgrave
Photo: Flickr

International Women of Courage AwardThe United States Secretary of State presents the International Women of Courage Award to women who have “demonstrated exceptional courage and leadership in advocating for peace, justice, human rights, gender equality and women’s empowerment, often at great personal risk and sacrifice.” Now running for its 15th year, since its beginning in 2007, more than 155 women have received this award in more than 75 countries.

The International Women of Courage Award

The Secretary of State and First Lady of the United States host a gala ceremony on or around International Women’s Day (March 8), to present the award. The recipients then travel across the U.S. to participate in specially designed International Visitor Leadership Programs (IVLP) experiences. American Women for International Understanding (AWIU) hosts a celebratory dinner for the awardees. AWIU also awards grants so the women can continue their work in their home countries. The 2021 events were virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fatima Natasha Khalil

Born an Afghan refugee in Pakistan, Fatima Natasha Khalil lived her whole life bravely. In an interview with the New York Times, her sister Lima describes how the midwife walked out halfway through Khalil’s birth. The midwife was furious that the family of refugees could not pay her full fee and so Khalil’s mother had to cut the umbilical cord herself.

Khalil was an excellent student growing up and graduated from the American University of Central Asia with a double major in human rights studies and anthropology in 2019. After graduating she applied for a job at the Afghan Independent Commission of Human Rights (AIHRC) in Kabul, Afghanistan. Khalil’s boss, Shaharzad Akbar explained the difficulty of the line of work. Akbar was reforming the entire organization to rid it of corruption and thus recenter its focus. Additionally, Akbar told Khalil that she might not receive a salary for many months. Khalil gladly accepted the job as donor coordinator for the AIHRC.

The 2020 Explosion

On June 27, 2020, an improvised explosive device (IED) exploded under the car that Khalil and AIHRC driver, Jawid Folad, were traveling in.

“You took one of my sisters,” reads Lima’s Twitter profile. “I have one more and four brothers. You can’t cultivate hate in my heart if you even take all of us.”

While no person or group has come forward to claim responsibility for the explosion, similar incidents claim dozens of lives every day in Kabul and other parts of Afghanistan.

Assassinated Afghan Women Honored

The Department of State awarded the International Women of Courage Award to a group of phenomenal women from around the globe. It also included an honorary award for seven women leaders and activists from Afghanistan who were assassinated for their commitment to bettering the lives of their communities. Khalil was one of the women honored because of her courage, bravery and dedication.

The International Women of Courage Award recipients have performed extraordinary work in their fields. From police officers to lawyers and nurses, these women are changing the world, starting with their communities.

Holly Dorman
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in Malaysia
As of 2019, the Global Slavery Index indicates that Malaysia has more than 212,000 people trapped in situations of slavery, a facet of human trafficking. The government has vowed to take action to address this, but as of 2020, efforts to control trafficking have not seen tremendous success. According to Reuters, Malaysia has made only 140 convictions concerning human trafficking out of 1,600 investigations between 2014 to 2018. People come to Malaysia from Indonesia and Bangladesh in hopes of a promising future but end up experiencing exploitation in unpaid labor or sex trafficking. Often, traffickers lure victims with the promise of a decent-paying job such as domestic work and then the traffickers force them into sex trafficking.

Prosecution of Traffickers

Malaysia launched its separate trafficking court in 2018 to help reduce the prevalence of this crime. However, as of March 2018, it cleared only 26 cases within the first 15 months. Yet, in 2017, a court addressing sex trafficking cases among children saw more than 300 cases in one year.

In 2020, a significant increase in efforts to stop human trafficking in Malaysia occurred. These efforts involved numerous changes, including summoning the help of two volunteer victim assistance specialists to work with more than 100 victims. Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin even hosted the first-ever national conference on anti-trafficking in 2019. The nation made stronger efforts to identify more victims than in previous years while increasing the level of traffic specialist prosecutors and creating a victim processing standard. Overall, in 2020, Malaysia saw an increase in identifying victims — 2,229 potential victims and 82 confirmed victims, with adult women accounting for 55 of these confirmed victims.

Malaysia and TVPA Recommendations

Even with this significant improvement, the government’s efforts are still lacking, resulting in the conviction of fewer traffickers in 2020. The number of investigations that authorities in Malaysia pursue is significantly low in comparison to the scale of the problem. The government has failed to prosecute those complicit with human trafficking and instead, chose to allow for release due to corruption in the government. Malaysia did not make it public that it was investigating this problem. Additionally, inadequate victim services resulted in victims not staying in Malaysia for court proceedings, causing authorities to drop their cases.

Through the Trafficking in Persons Report, Malaysia received a ranking as a Tier 2 Watchlist country. This means that while the nation has not successfully eliminated human trafficking, it is taking significant steps to do so. If a country shows that it is making significant efforts to meet the minimum requirements of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act (TVPA) of 2000, it will remain at its current tier. These tiers indicate how much effort a country puts toward stopping human trafficking.

Tier 1 ranked countries consist of nations whose governments fully comply with the TVPA’s minimum standards. Tier 1 countries make a continuous effort to prevent human trafficking. Meanwhile, for Tier 2 countries, governments do not fully comply with the minimum standards but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance. Finally, Tier 3 countries do not comply with TVPA’s standards and are not making an effort to do so.

Tiers can negatively affect countries. For example, Tier 3 countries often do not receive aid and other support that can better the country, which motivates many countries to improve their rankings.

Malaysia’s Standing

Malaysia is currently on the Tier 2 Watchlist on TVPA’s scale because it is continuing to prove that it is willing to work on the issue. According to TVPA standards and the U.S. State Department, the Malaysian government should take various steps to help reduce human trafficking in Malaysia.

The Malaysian government needs to provide the funding and training necessary to have more government-sanctioned officials available. If Malaysia has more government officials, it should be able to lower victim counts. More work is necessary regarding victim identification and Malaysia should place more emphasis on locating potential traffickers.

It is also important for victims to be able to promptly leave special housing. Malaysia implemented the Anti-Trafficking in Persons and Anti-Smuggling of Migrants (ATISOM) Act in 2007, which allows victims court-ordered protection where they end up receiving a placement for 21 to 90 days depending on their situation. Malaysia is working on allowing victims to leave shelters unchaperoned and enabling victims to contact others outside shelters through telephone. This should allow victims the opportunity to slowly integrate back into their normal lives.

Several changes are occurring to stop human trafficking in Malaysia. Crackdowns on corrupt officials will allow Malaysia to help protect victims. Hopefully, these efforts will also help track down more potential victims and bring them to safety.

– Claire Olmstead
Photo: Flickr