Paying tribute to ending slavery

On Wednesday, December 2nd, Yukon NDP Justice Critic Lois Moorcroft made the following statement in the Yukon legislature to pay tribute to the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery:

The International Day for the Abolition of Slavery recalls the adoption of the United Nations Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others, which was made on December 2, 1949. It is not to be confused with another United Nations day, the International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition.

In classrooms, students may review the history of the slave trade and learn about the modern-day slave trade. Legislators take the time to raise awareness of the atrocities of slavery and to urge the public to work together in eradicating any form of slavery in modern society.

The focus of this day is on eradicating contemporary forms of slavery, such as trafficking in persons, sexual exploitation, the worst forms of child labour, forced marriage and the forced recruitment of children for use in armed conflict. These types of slavery are global problems and go against Article 4 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that: “No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.”

According to the International Labour Organization — ILO — there are currently an estimated 21 million forced labour victims worldwide, creating $150 billion USD in illegal profits in the private economy each year. ILO has adopted a new legally binding protocol designed to strengthen global efforts to eliminate forced labour, which is set to enter into force in November 2016.

The United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon commented on the need to stamp out the root causes of slavery and free all enslaved people in our world. I will address two examples of slavery prevalent today: forced labour, using the example of the Thailand seafood industry; and Canadian examples of the global industry in sex trafficking of women.

Thomson Reuters Foundation reported last month that Nestlé, a transnational food and beverage company, has disclosed that slave labour is used to produce its seafood sourced from Thailand, setting an example for other companies who need to join forces to push the Thai government to clean up its supply chain. A year ago, Nestlé commissioned Verité, a charity fighting labour injustices, to carry out an investigation on forced labour in the seafood industry. Verité welcomed Nestlé’s admission and said virtually all companies sourcing seafood in Thailand were exposed to the same risk. Workers are kept in debt bondage and degrading conditions. One Myanmar fisherman said sometimes the net is too heavy and workers get pulled into the water and just disappear.

Steve Trent, executive director of the Environmental Justice Foundation said businesses need to own up to the abuses in their supply chains and then work collectively to eradicate them. He added, “Businesses today have the ability to build the kind of transparency needed to effectively combat these human rights abuses and illegal fishing.” To end human slavery in the form of forced labour, consumers and governments must keep up the pressure for corporations to be transparent about how and where their products are sourced.

Human trafficking is a modern-day form of slavery that involves the illegal trade of human beings for the purpose of forced exploitation. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime defines human trafficking as any form of recruiting, transferring, harbouring, or receiving a person by means of threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, abduction, fraud or deception. According to a 2013 article, “Sex Trafficking of Women and Girls”, the two most common purposes for human trafficking are sexual exploitation and forced labour. Victims of sex trafficking are forced into one or more forms of sexual exploitation. Sex trafficking is an umbrella term that may include: commercial sex work such as prostitution, but also pornography, exotic dancing, stripping, live sex shows, mail-order brides, military prostitution, and what is called “sexual tourism.” Although victims of sex trafficking can be of any age and of either sex, the majority are women and adolescent girls. Although many nations have outlawed the trafficking of females, it is still widely prevalent on a global scale. The global sex trade is the fastest growing form of commerce, estimated to be worth $32 billion annually. Think about that, Mr. Speaker. In 2013, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime reported on human trafficking and migrant smuggling, and estimated the global sex trade industry at $32 billion.

Diane Redsky was in Whitehorse in 2014 to speak about and conduct cross-Canada research with the Canadian Women’s Foundation national taskforce on human trafficking. When the taskforce began, little was known about how human trafficking works, where it exists, and who are the victims. The taskforce held consultations in eight different Canadian cities and met with front-line workers, police, Crown attorneys and sex trafficking survivors.

A 2014 CBC Manitoba news story quoted senior Crown attorney, Jennifer Mann, who said that there is no question that human trafficking is happening, but it’s an underreported crime. Mann said that very few cases have come to their attention in prosecutions. Victims of that crime typically don’t go to police and report what’s happening to them.

Winnipeg Police Service Detective-Sergeant Darryl Ramkissoon said few victims come forward because, “A lot of times the girls don’t want to go through the court process and it ends there.”

Diane Redsky from the Canadian Women’s Foundation said their task force research has found that: “We know that the majority of women and girls that are trafficked in Canada are marginalized, so they come from aboriginal, immigrant and refugee, racialized women, as well as women living in poverty.” She went on to say that 50 percent of all trafficked persons in Canada are aboriginal. Redsky believes that the best way to fight sexual and forced-labour exploitation is to simultaneously work together on public education, law enforcement and services for victims.

Last month, Redsky wrote about Manitoba’s leadership, as the only province in Canada with a formal strategy to address sexual exploitation, sex trafficking and forced prostitution. Tracia’s Trust was named after Winnipeg teen Tracia Owen, who committed suicide after a protracted struggle with drugs and sexual exploitation. Manitoba has invested public funds to support prevention, intervention, enforcement, public education and helping victims rebuild their lives from this extreme form of violence.

I am happy to report that the Yukon Status of Women Council was recently awarded some funds from the Status of Women Canada to look at trafficking of women and girls in Yukon, which is an extremely hidden problem.

Redsky also addressed the all-too-sad and verifiable truth that with the convening of large sporting events comes a related rise in human trafficking and sexual exploitation — a rise that demands the thoughtful cooperation of many and the much-needed raising of public awareness to combat. In November, the Manitoba Sporting Events Safety Working Group launched its Buying Sex is Not a Sport campaign to do just that during the recent Grey Cup game.

Mr. Speaker, as Redsky’s work has demonstrated, we must endeavour to end the crime of human trafficking by challenging and stopping the practice of buying vulnerable people for sex.

The United Nations and human rights defenders have identified the root cause of slavery as poverty, lack of housing and inequality. These are the problems we must resolve to prevent all forms of human slavery in modern society.

While I am on my feet, I would like to ask all members of the House to welcome Charlotte Hrenchuk and Reem Girgrah from the Yukon Status of Women Council to the Assembly today. Thank you for coming.