An interview with Gary Haugen, founder of the world’s largest anti-slavery charity

by
08 February 2019

Tim Wyatt speaks to the founder and chief executive of International Justice Mission (IJM) about why he is only just getting started

INTERNATIONAL JUSTICE MISSION

A team from the IJM rescue children trafficked into the Ghanaian fishing industry

A team from the IJM rescue children trafficked into the Ghanaian fishing industry

FOR the chief executive of the world’s largest anti-slavery charity, Gary Haugen is surprisingly circumspect about humanity’s efforts to eradicate this ancient evil.

“I think we’re just getting started in the battle,” he says. “We’re just getting started in the larger war.”

Popular awareness of slavery seems to be at its highest for generations. The topic is regularly in the news, and governments and corporations are vying to be seen to be cracking down on it. Huge multinationals such as Apple and Adidas have received awards for their efforts to eradicate forced labour from their supply chains, and, late last year, Australia became the latest nation to pass its own Modern Slavery Act, modelled on the legislation passed in Britain in 2015 (News, 3 June 2016).

Last year, Mr Haugen, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, the founder and chief executive of International Justice Mission (IJM), joined executives from Hewlett-Packard and Marriott Hotels in a debate on ending modern slavery.

But, although slavery receives increasing global attention, it has not begun to be properly tackled, he says. “We needed to become aware of the problem. We’ve made huge progress on that; but is there actually around the world a substantial reduction taking place in the amount of slavery? Right now, the answer to that is no.”

He likens the situation to the HIV/AIDS crisis in the 1980s and ’90s. Each country had its own HIV problem which it needed to address, but, globally, the virus and disease were concentrated in a few very specific places. Similarly, every country — including both his native United States and the UK — has slaves, but, even if Western nations freed every single one, 99 per cent of the 45 million people currently enslaved around the globe would remain in bondage.

Seven in ten of the world’s slaves are found in just 12 countries, and more than half are just in three large countries in southern Asia: India, Pakistan, and China. And slavery in these places is not just a social evil but big business: it is estimated to be worth $117 billion worldwide.

 

IF THIS larger war on slavery is to be finally won, it seems likely that IJM will play a critical part. Trained as a lawyer, Mr Haugen cut his teeth in the world of international human rights by serving as an intern for Christian leaders, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu in South Africa, in the dying days of the apartheid regime.

“All the political leaders were either in prison or exile; so church leaders were stepping up to lead. That was my early experience with the fundamental human-rights struggle, but also doing that within a context of Christian faith.”

twitterGary Haugen speaks at the 2018 meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos last year

He then moved to the Philippines, and worked with other human-rights lawyers who were trying to combat abuses by the military and police under the Marcos dictatorship, before returning home to work for the Department of Justice, pursuing police misconduct. In 1994, he was seconded to Rwanda, just weeks after the brutal genocide, to lead the UN investigation into the massacres.

Despite his experience, by the late ’90s Mr Haugen became frustrated by the traditional model of human-rights advocacy of the leading NGOs of the time. They were focused on investigating and documenting abuses, writing reports, and then pressurising governments to do something about what they had found.

He felt, however, that something was missing: bringing individual perpetrators to account. So, in 1997, he founded IJM, which had a vision of providing “direct service to victims of violent abuse in very poor communities in the developing world”. Traditional human rights focused on political leaders, but IJM would, instead, prioritise the “common poor person”.

“To be protected from violence, and to not be imprisoned, enslaved, beaten, raped, and robbed — for billions of the poorest people, that’s their pressing concern,” he explains. It is the failure to uphold existing laws that needs to be tackled, he believes. IJM is, therefore, focused on developing police forces and justice systems to the point where they can fairly and efficiently enforce existing laws which prohibit forced labour, sexual exploitation, and other forms of modern slavery.

 

WHAT Mr Haugen and his colleagues found as they began their work some two decades ago, however, was that the Church worldwide was almost entirely disengaged and effectively “on the sidelines” of the human-rights struggle.

So, was it possible to deploy the formidable resources of the global Church in this arena? Put to one side the contentious areas of human rights and focus on the obvious things, he says. “What is the thing every person of good will, regardless of where they were on any religious spectrum, would be against? Surely that would be the business of child sex trafficking, or the stealing of land from widows, or police extorting money from people by falsely accusing them of crimes?”

If the Christian world was disengaged when IJM started, it soon began to blaze a trail. A plethora of like-minded charities developed in the early 2000s, including Stop The Traffik, Hope For Justice, and the international A21 Campaign, launched by a leader of the Hillsong megachurch in Australia.

Both Pope Francis and the Archbishop of Canterbury have made tackling modern slavery a priority, and formed a joint initiative, together with the Grand Imam of al-Azhar, Mohamed Ahmed el-Tayeb, who is considered by many to be the leading cleric in Sunni Islam (News, 21 March 2014).

Britain’s Modern Slavery Act, piloted by Theresa May while she was Home Secretary, forced the issue into greater prominence by making larger companies publish annual statements explaining what they had done to safeguard their supply chains from forced labour. Mr Haugen believes that Mrs May did not get enough credit for her leadership.

“I think it’s a demonstration of the difference that leadership makes,” he suggests. “If she had not personally prioritised this concern, if she had not personally invested political capital in driving forward an issue that most painfully affects people far away — people with very little economic or political power — if she had not taken a personal choice to advance this cause, it would not be where it is today. That’s a fact.”

The part that Britain played in leading the world with corporate-accountability legislation was something that its citizens should be proud of, he said.

 

AWARENESS of modern slavery is now high in the developed world. And, even if IJM and others have only just begun the real battle to eradicate it, their efforts are starting to bear fruit. In some of the countries where they have been working the longest, the results are startling, Mr Haugen reports.

When IJM arrived in Cambodia, almost 20 years ago, the country was “one of the most lawless places in the world”. When he visited in 2003, it was possible to find a pre-pubescent child offered for sexual services within half an hour of landing in the capital. “That’s how prevalent this was. And of course it was being completely protected by local law enforcement.”

Now, 13 years after IJM began working in the country, the child sex-trafficking industry has collapsed. An independent audit of the project concluded there had been an 80-per-cent fall in the prevalence of child sexual exploitation. After similar work in the Philippines, recorded trafficking plummeted between 76 and 86 per cent in cities that had been hotspots.

An IJM team conducts a cybersex trafficking rescue operation in South-East Asia

“Those are the things I am in some ways most proud of,” Mr Haugen reflects. “I’m most proud of the local justice officials who had led that transition. It’s been the local Filipinos and Cambodians, Kenyans and Ugandans, and Bolivians and Guatemalans who are leading these fights now in their own countries.”

The world now knew the “vaccine” for beating slavery, he said: “excellent law enforcement and excellent survivor services. And, if you put those two things together, you can measure how slavery collapses.”

 

BUT the journey to declaring the world slave-free will be a long one, despite recent advances. A key piece of the puzzle will be for ordinary people to demand that the multinational corporations that provide their food, clothes, and other goods refuse to use slave labour.

Put bluntly, the corporate world now realised that they faced serious “reputational exposure” if they were seen to permit slavery in their supply chains, Mr Haugen says. And until governments, primarily in the developing world, start to enforce anti-slavery laws, these firms cannot guarantee that their products are slave-free. A former Bishop of Derby, Dr Alastair Redfern, and MPs, led by Frank Field, have recently argued that the Modern Slavery Act needs to be toughened up (News, 25 January).

“There’s no voice that governments care more about than those corporate voices,” Mr Haugen says. “At the end of the day, what’s going to drive massive change is consumer awareness, that turns into consumer pressure, that turns into corporate pressure on governments to end impunity.”

This mechanism is an echo of early anti-slavery campaigns in the 18th and 19th centuries, when rich Westerners began asking who was farming their sugar, or picking the cotton that was used to make their clothes. Historians estimate that, in Britain, about one in ten people joined a boycott of sugar grown by slaves in Caribbean plantations in the 1790s, as revulsion over slavery began to grow. That movement, led in part by Anglican and Quaker figures, was epitomised in a pamphlet which proclaimed: “If we purchase the commodity we participate in the crime.”

Mr Haugen believes that the same spirit is starting to awaken today, and will eventually win. “It’s that same common person’s conviction that is going to accelerate this struggle to finally sweep slavery into the dustbin of history for good.”

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