Monique Villa's ICRW Champions for Change Awards acceptance remarks

20 March, 2015

ICRW Champions for Change Awards acceptance remarks

By Monique Villa

Good evening. I am humbled and truly grateful to receive such an Award tonight. And want to sincerely thank Sarah Kambou for having the courage to look at an issue many shy away from: slavery.

When you think about global women’s empowerment, you think of better education, access to health, reproductive rights, stop the violence against women - all kind of crucial issues that need to be addressed.

 But you probably don’t think of the women who are enslaved, sold for 80 dollars, trafficked and abused in all kind of manners. You probably don’t think of those forced to work with no pay at the bottom of the supply chain, the ones in fast fashion, in domestic servitude or in sexual exploitation who have the name of their owner tattooed on their neck.

 And you know what, I didn’t think of them either. And this is precisely why modern-day slavery is so dangerous. It’s a silent crime, well hidden and very complex.

There are more slaves in the world today than at any other point in history: more than 30 million, 5.5 million of whom are children.

 Slavery didn’t end in the late 1800’s. That’s a myth. The truth is that slavery is a global, thriving and very profitable business worth 150 billion dollars per year. That’s more than three times Apple’s profit.

 Human trafficking, forced labour, debt bondage and slavery are all intertwined. The common denominator is vulnerability. The victims don’t know their rights and may think they have nothing to lose when they are lured by intermediaries to change country for a fantastic job. Little they know that their own freedom is the ultimate price they will pay.

I really discovered the scope of the problem six or seven years ago but it was not before 2012 that I really began to dedicate time and efforts to fight this horror.

 And it happened by chance: I decided to create Trust Women because tired of women’s conference where we heard of dramatic cases but left the room with no answer. My conference would aim at putting the rule of law behind women’s rights and this through effective solutions and actions. One of the most pressing issues in my view was to shed light on the drama  of trafficking. Most of my friends journalists ignored the dimension of the problem. Something had to be done.

Very quickly, Trust Women, launched only in December 2012 has become the most authoritative forum on slavery and has contributed to meaningful change.

Through Trust Women, in partnership with Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr, we set up a financial working group to explore effective ways to identify and use financial data to dismantle human trafficking networks.

Top US financial institutions, including Bank of America, Citigroup, JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Barclays, TD Bank, American Express, Western Union took part in the initiative, accepting to incorporate in their software the red flags designed by leading anti-trafficking NGOs to detect patterns of human trafficking activity. They also, crucially accepted to share suspicious information with law enforcement agencies.

Since the implementation of these measures, the number of suspicious activity reports filed though the office of the New York County District Attorney has substantially increased. I am now putting up a working group to do that in Europe. And after in Asia.

Many women are enslaved. We know that 25% of the slaves in the world are in the sex trafficking, 75% are in forced labour, including 5,5 millions children. Some survive and are brave enough to fight the crime after, but many are too destroyed by the years of abuse to be able to fight.

A study published recently by the Lancet found that people trafficked for forced labour, including factory and domestic work suffer worse mental abuse than those trafficked into sex work.

But I am not here to speak only of despair. Tonight is about change, and as some of you might now already, I am all about action.

Because slavery is a global problem, it means that everyone has a role to play. Journalists can expose it. Activists can lobby to get slavery on the political agenda. Lawyers can work to change laws to better prosecute traffickers. Business leaders can implement changes to prevent slavery from flourishing in their supply chains. Consumers can ask questions before buying their goods.

The good news is that the movement is gaining momentum. World leaders such as Pope Francis have publicly taken a strong stand, and heroes such as Kailash Satyarthi, who rescued more than 80,000 children from slavery, have received the Nobel Peace Prize. The issue is certainly in the public domain.

The next step is to push the envelope further. It is essential that new connections are forged between business and anti-trafficking NGOs. It is crucial that funding goes to those organizations that drive real change. It is paramount that awareness is also followed by action.

30 million people are not 30 billion. This is a number that we CAN tackle. We can confine slavery to the history books. Let’s make it happen.

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