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Trafficking Survivor Launches 'Freedom Seal' to Help Businesses Fight Modern-Day Slavery

Image credit: The Tronie Foundation

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.”


Tronie Foundation
president

Rani Hong,
speaker at
Sustainable Brands 2015
San Diego

The Freedom Seal was designed as a visual marker businesses can use to clearly communicate to consumers that they have due diligence mechanisms in place and are actively taking steps to prevent forced labor and human trafficking throughout their operations. Companies can apply for the seal by demonstrating that they have taken certain steps toward educating their workforce and suppliers on the issue and have implemented a zero-tolerance policy on forced labor throughout their supply chains (more detailed criteria here). International law firm Perkins Coie has volunteered its services in verifying applying companies are meeting the Freedom Seal standards and following through on their commitments.

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.

Rani Hong
Rani Hong at the Sedex Responsible Sourcing Conference in London | Image credit: Anna Durrant Photography

Through insights and expertise from thought leaders and supply chain experts including Sedex, the UN Global Compact and approximately 30 major companies across Europe and North America, the Tronie Foundation refined the policies and procedures aimed at helping companies identify the use of slave labor in their supply chain. Though Hong told me later that as more companies engage and apply for the Seal, the criteria can continue to be refined as the Foundation learns more about whether certain requirements may be more difficult to implement and why.

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. 


Jennifer Elks is Managing Editor at Sustainable Brands. She is a writer, editor and foodie who is passionate about improving food systems, closing loops and creating more livable cities. She loves cooking, wine, cooking with wine, correcting spelling errors in… [Read more about Jennifer Elks]