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Statement of the Board of Trustees of the United Nations Voluntary Trust Fund on Contemporary Forms of Slavery, on the United Nations’ International Day for the Abolition of Slavery, 2 December 2011

The United Nations marks 2 December each year as the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery, to remind the international community that slavery is not a practice that has been banished, but one which continues to blight lives and to demand action to prevent contemporary forms of slavery and to protect and assist more than twelve million adults and children who are currently victims.

These practices include but are not limited to debt bondage, serfdom, forced labour, trafficking in persons and trafficking for the purpose of organ removal, sexual slavery, various forms of child labour, the forced or compulsory recruitment of children for use in armed conflict, forced marriage, sale of wives, widow inheritance.  These and other forms violate the most fundamental of human rights and fundamental dignity of the human being.

The past 12 months have seen exciting initiatives to encourage the world’s business enterprises to respect human rights (the UN Human Rights Council endorsed the Guiding Principles for the Implementation of the United Nations ‘Protect, Respect and Remedy’ Framework in June 2011) and the trustees of the Fund welcome the news that businesses around the world have made new commitments to stopping contemporary forms of slavery from occurring in their workplaces or supply chains. While Governments bear the primary responsibility for the implementation of human rights, the private sector also has an integral role to play in eradicating contemporary forms of slavery.

The time is ripe for concerted action by business to ensure their activities do not cause or contribute to contemporary forms of slavery (or other adverse human rights impacts) and to refuse to do business with any companies which are shown to use or profit from forced labour. Businesses should include human rights principles, in compliance with international agreements ratified by the country in which they operate and when they operate internationally, including provisions on the prevention of and protection against forced labour, in their contracts with joint venture partners, suppliers and subcontractors.

This year marks the twentieth anniversary of the establishment of the UN Voluntary Trust Fund on Contemporary Forms of Slavery, a Fund that was created to support efforts by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to help victims of contemporary forms of slavery to regain their independence, lives and dignity. The Fund has provided support to more than 400 projects which have directly assisted thousands of victims and potential victims in more than 90 countries in all regions of the world. Projects undertaken with the support of the Fund include medical, psychological, legal, education, vocational training and income generating activities to victims of contemporary forms of slavery while fighting the social factors that create circumstances fostering slavery.

On this day, the five trustees of the Fund pay tribute to all governments, civil society organizations and individuals who have made contributions to the Fund or otherwise engaged in activities aimed at eradicating contemporary forms of slavery and ensuring that all those subjected to such exploitation are assisted in recovering so they can live decent lives.

On this occasion, we recall that the Fund needs a minimum of $1.5 million per year to fulfil its mandate, but less than a third of this amount has been secured so far. We  join in on the appeal made today by the U.N. Secretary-General, to all governments, business enterprises, NGOs and other partners to demonstrate their commitment to fighting slavery by making a financial contribution to the Fund, and by working closely together to end this scourge.

We express our profound commitment to the on-going struggle against slavery and particularly to the victims.