FROM MOTIVATION TO VOCATION: BRIAN ISELIN’S JOURNEY AGAINST SLAVERY
FROM MOTIVATION TO VOCATION: BRIAN ISELIN’S JOURNEY AGAINST SLAVERY
14 MARCH 2023
VIMEO: https://vimeo.com/808720410, with subtitles in English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Russian, Chinese.
MICHEL VEUTHEY: Good evening! On behalf of the Order of Malta, I would like to welcome you to our webinar “From motivation to vocation Brian Iselin’s journey against slavery.” They will come to see Brian Iselin online now. First, allow me to say in introduction that human trafficking, a form of contemporary slavery, affects all countries and it cannot leave us indifferent. According to a British expert, Kevin Hyland, the first independent Commissioner in charge of the fight against slavery in the United Kingdom, “Human trafficking is a crime that is ignored because it affects marginalized people and we all benefit from it.” We’re here to reflect and act together. Contemporary slavery affects millions of people in different ways. First, forced labor in agriculture, construction, domestic work. Second, sexual slavery. Third, the sale and abduction of children. Fourth, child pornography. Fifth, organ theft. Sixth, crimes committed under coercion, such as begging or terrorism. These criminal activities, generate illegal annual profits of $150 billion. If slavery were a European country, it would have the population of Spain and the economic production a little less than that of Portugal. Contemporary slavery is a third producer of CO2, after China and the US. 50 million people are today victims of contemporary slavery, 71% are girls and women, 12 million children. The causes are first, the search for unlimited profit by both producers and by consumers. Second, a culture of waste where we throw away people as well as objects after having used them. Training is essential for governments and civil society to become aware of it and use effectively tools to fight this plague of human trafficking, to identify victims, to help survivors. It is what we are doing here at the international level in Geneva, at the College University. Tonight, we are very fortunate to welcome Brian Iselin, who is a former Australian soldier and federal agent and today a human rights activist against modern slavery. He is a founder of “Slavefreetrade” and “Iselin Human Rights”. He has more than 30 years of international experience on all the various fronts of combating human trafficking. I would like now Brian to ask you a few questions. Dear Brian, you have a Swiss name. You were born in Australia?
BRIAN ISELIN: Yes.
MICHEL VEUTHEY: Can we start introducing you by asking you to summarize the major milestones that have punctuated your 30 plus years of experience in the fight against human trafficking?
BRIAN ISELIN: Sure. Maybe I could just clarify that I’ve had more than 36 years in criminal justice, but only 22 on modern slavery. So less experience than three decades, but more than two. So maybe that’s useful. What have been the things that have punctuated? Well, I guess the first one was why did I switch from organized crime? More generally, I was working principally counternarcotics and counterintelligence. Why did I switch to, at the time, counter human trafficking? Modern slavery as a term wasn’t being used at the turn of the millennium. I turned to human trafficking because while I was doing counternarcotics work in China, I came across human trafficking cases when I was working with the Chinese police. The very first of those was the trafficking of babies for adoptions in China. The boys were adopted in China, the girls were adopted in Vietnam into the international system. And so that was life changing! Narcotics suddenly seemed to be less interesting and actually far less important. I decided that this was really something that definitely transcended borders and jurisdictions and I decided, well, we needed to do something about this. However, I was working for the Australian government at the time as a federal agent. When I reported the trafficking cases I was told to leave it alone. It was none of our business and well, that didn’t sit well with me. This was something we all should have been concerned about and we shouldn’t have had narrow organizational interests at heart. After a number of rather expletive-laden conversations with people in headquarters I resigned! And went to start working on human trafficking cases. So I first went to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime in Bangkok and launched their regional program for Southeast Asia and the Pacific. And since then doing freelance work. So combination of support to police and intelligence services, support to NGOs, training and rescues and that’s about it. Thank you. What are the events that motivated you in this mission to fight and to help the victims? How did this choice become a vocation? Well, as I said, the first human trafficking case, the babies, was really compelling. That was something that I just couldn’t look away from. Then my first child labor case was also really life changing. So I’d worked on human trafficking, worked on babies, and then a child labor case came along. This is a twelve-year-old boy who’d been shot in the head, thrown overboard from a Prawn boat. The subsequent investigation we found the prawns ended up in supermarkets across Europe. And it was just mind-boggling to me that nobody knew, nobody could tell. The shopper in car four walking into the freezer section looking for prawns had absolutely no way of knowing that this boy’s blood was behind those prawns. The companies in the supply chain both don’t know and two, don’t try to find out. There’s a kind of a willful ignorance there in supply chains. Better not to see it because we know there’s a lot of crap down there. Pardon my French. So that was a life-changing thing. In my case, that was an extra commitment and every single case since then has been some extra commitment! Certainly on an emotional level. Every case builds an emotional commitment. Every case is not positive. The vast majority of cases have ended ultimately in failure. So even a mission that is successful ends in failure. So an Albanian girl in Italy, we rescued: the Italian police sent her back to Albania instead of looking after her as a victim of trafficking. On return to Albania, she was stigmatized by her town and she committed suicide. So you see, this is the insidious nature of human trafficking that even a successful rescue, a so-called successful rescue, actually ends up being problematic: it ends up being a disaster for somebody almost always the victim, of course. So it’s been emotionally really difficult. A successful mission that ends ultimately, at some point in failure is very hard to take. Even harder to take is a mission that fails, right? A rescue that fails, you don’t get there in time, for example, has happened to me in West Africa, and that is emotionally very difficult to accept that we are so slow, we are so poor at what we’re doing. Our responses like rescues, what I’ve been doing, are completely futile. On an individual level, they make sense to a point, but on a systemic level, they make absolutely no sense. They’re futile. Putting all the money into rescues is begging to be ineffectual. I don’t know if I answered your question…
MICHEL VEUTHEY: Then how did your previous experiences in the Australian intelligence, military and police help you?
BRIAN ISELIN: Well, the first thing was that it brought some rigor to an area that wasn’t really being dealt with with any rigor. So human trafficking wasn’t being dealt with as so much of an organized crime problem. So nobody was using management of organized crime, serious organized crime methodology. So that’s the first thing. The second thing was that almost nobody was approaching it with any kind of an intelligence perspective. That is, gathering the intelligence, looking at the indicators, setting out indicators even, trying to find data against those indicators, making valid assessments, including questioning impact. None of these things were being done at the time. We’re talking about the year 2001 here. So nothing was being done at the time. The word itself was a kind of newly coined, as you probably recall. It really only came into the common parlance the year before and the year that I raised it, the year that we had the baby-trafficking cases. I was raising it with Australia. The senior officers in my agency had almost no knowledge of the word and what was behind it. So it was easy for them to dismiss because they didn’t know what the hell I was talking about. That was very useful. And of course, on missions, the army training came in very useful. As a freelance, you don’t have the support of a lot of other people. So you have to put together a team for the specific exercise every time. So you need a good network, and then you need to be very adaptive and very self contained, let’s say, because you’ve got to support yourself right the way into the country and out of the country. Without the army experience, there’s no way I could have done that. Absolutely no way. So that was really useful. And of course, just being federal agent minded, right? You’ve got an attitude that you can solve this problem, even though I’ve learned since that you can’t with law enforcement. But I came in with the right attitude that we should try and change this, and we had to lift our game to do so. But the last 20 years have shown me that a lot of these experiences have just been put to waste because we’re spending money on solutions to slavery and trafficking without really considering the impact we’re having and not looking at causes… As you know, it’s a big issue for me. But we’re not looking at causes and addressing causes.
MICHEL VEUTHEY: And what were the major difficulties you encountered during involvement and what difficulties did you underestimate?
BRIAN ISELIN: The first difficulty was the reason I quit the job, and that was bureaucratic ignorance to begin with, and then later bureaucratic intransigence. So even the agencies that I was, my agency, for example, a year or two after I resigned, I started a campaign in Australia to try to bring attention to the issue. At that time, the attorney general had said there was no trafficking in Australia. So I got together with a bunch of folks in Australia, and we did a number of different things, including a speaking tour, a postcard campaign, and some investigations. Within a very short period of time, the team doing the investigations, which was out of an NGO in Melbourne called Project Respect, they put together documentary evidence of more than 300 cases. And they did that in a very short period of time. This is not a law enforcement group, this is NGO workers putting together, investigating this and finding cases. Why were they able to when the attorney general said zero? So, anyway, within a very short period of time, we went public with this. I went public with this during the speaking tour and completely embarrassed the attorney general and completely embarrassed my former agency. He changed. The attorney general very quickly said, oh, well, he went from zero in one year to the next year saying: “Oh, well, even one is too many cases of trafficking.” He announced the first tranche of funding for some counter human trafficking activities work in Australia, 97% of which went to my old agency. But I was blackballed because I’d whistle blown in a way. So even that agency wasn’t going to come back to me and get my assistance on how they’re going to spend that money. So they have continued and continued to resist really new thinking. They resisted innovation, unfortunately, and this is even to today, I don’t know whether you saw, I posted just earlier today about the new measures that Australia wants to bring in on the Modern Slavery Act. These three measures are extremely old measures. They are 20-year-old thinking, and they haven’t taken account of any of the evidence in the last 20 years that these three things are really either difficult or pointless. And I think it’s this bureaucratic intransigence, right? These bureaucrats seem to think that all they have to do is put together a little package. And I don’t know whether they’ve just Googled responses and said, this will do, or they’ve looked at the US trafficking in Persons report and said, this is what Colombia did. Let’s do that. They’re all doing the same things and repeating the same mistakes and not learning anything from them. A great example is awareness-raising measures, right? Gazillions of dollars have been spent on awareness raising programs, and every single evaluation has discovered that awareness raising programs only raise the awareness of those people who are already aware! So this is gazillions of dollars wasted on these measures. Then let’s not talk about law enforcement impact, which is negligible. So the departmental or governmental intrajudgeance is another thing. Another thing which is a feature of the community on human trafficking and modern slavery. A feature of this community is it doesn’t learn. And that’s really frustrating. I have the same questions whenever I go to a new country today, or whether I’m talking to someone about this subject. I have the same questions I was facing 20 years ago. The agencies have got the same issues from 20 years ago. And every new country I go to, they say, but things are different here. We’ve got our own context, it’s our own cultural context. And actually, to be frank, that’s rubbish. It’s never different! … There are some similarities and there are some dissimilarities, but these are like facial features. The human is the same. And so when you go to a new country, you go to Nigeria and they talk about Juju, for example, which is this black magic which is used to hold over trafficking victims. Well, that’s okay. That happens elsewhere too. It’s not specific to Nigeria, and it’s also not different substantively from what goes on in human trafficking. It’s just another, let’s say another tool that’s used by traffickers to get somebody involved. So love is used in some places. The honey trap for a girl who’s a boy, meets them, falls in love, sends them to Sweden, and sells them into prostitution. So every one of these trafficking cases has exactly the same framework. What is different is some facial features is all. There is this resistance to believe that the problem is a universal one, and there’s this intention or wish somehow that their experience, the experience in Armenia or the experience in Nigeria is somehow different to everybody else’s. It’s just rubbish, actually. As you probably notice, I’m a bit of an iconoclast. I really can’t stand these crazy attributions of these crazy things that they’re just wrong and wrong-headed, but nothing changes. That’s really frustrating for me. We’re not making progress!
MICHEL VEUTHEY : I understand. What advice would you give to a young person who would like to engage in the struggle against contemporary slavery today?
BRIAN ISELIN: It’s a difficult one because I have to say, if you really want to work on this, you’re not going to make a living, so you probably should have a day job. Then the modern slavery, unfortunately, should almost probably not be. If you want to work on it in concrete ways, in impactful ways, then you’re not going to get there by taking any of the desk jobs that some of the modern slavery people have. You’re not going to have as much impact as you might like. You could do it. You could take a degree in political administration or public administration and get a job in government working on the subject. But to be frank, I would say get yourself well rounded. I think international relations help. Public administration helps. These sorts of educational qualifications help. But have a day job, have something to fall back on even if you need to, because it’s very difficult to make a living in this subject area. It’s still something that nobody funds unfortunately enough! There are, of course, job opportunities in this field, in the big international organizations, ILO, IOM, UNODC and so on. Largely my experience of these has been largely that the people involved in those processes inside those agencies, which is where the jobs are. They’re more administrators than they are experts, and they contract or subcontract the expertise. So if you want to be an expert on modern slavery, working in one of those agencies won’t necessarily equip you with that. It might actually be quite distracting and ultimately bone crushing or soul crushing. But yeah, my advice would be you probably can’t make a living on it. So get a day job and then do some modern slavery work on the side. Volunteer as much as you can, learn as much as you can through that process, and eventually you’ll find your way into a community of like-minded people, and then maybe you’ll make a living out of it. It’s not something I think you can do straight out of school or university. Get some volunteering under your belt first.
MICHEL VEUTHEY : Thank you very much indeed. As you know, in international organizations, be it OSCE with Valiant Richey (Special Representative and Coordinator for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings · OSCE) or with the Council of Europe with Greta, we have very committed people, and they also make a living with this. But still I must say…
BRIAN ISELIN: We’re talking less than a handful of people.
MICHEL VEUTHEY: Yes.
BRIAN ISELIN: Globally, there’s a very small number of people who make a living out of this. And not so many of them even come from an expert background. Many of them come up through either as diplomats and in the UN system. They get put into positions that relate to human trafficking or they’re lawyers, for example.
MICHEL VEUTHEY : Okay, and then what types of trafficking have you been in contact with? Can you list them?
BRIAN ISELIN: I would say 70% of my work has been human trafficking for sexual exploitation of girls. That’s 70%, that’s the vast majority. Of course, that’s actually a huge number of cases. If you discount the forced labour and child labour, then you’ll find that trafficking for sexual exploitation is, of course, huge. It’s also compelling the harms to be free. If you tried to list all the different forms by harm prioritize them, then the trafficking for sexual exploitation, the harms of that are significantly greater than most others. From a harm perspective, you would put that at the highest. And of course, this is also where spending goes quite a lot because it’s quite attention-seeking. UNODC, OSCE, European Commission, the United States, they fund and they prioritize things that have dealt, they have prioritized things that have dealt with sexual exploitation primarily. I think only since the term of human trafficking has been expanded to modern slavery have we seen investigations and caseloads and so on spread out away from sexual exploitation within human trafficking, it’s principally that. In the Middle East, I worked on trafficking for domestic labour. Then I’ve worked on child labour in plantations and fishing boats and the leather industry. What else? Well, forced labour, a number of different cases of forced labour in various countries, but mostly sexual exploitation.
MICHEL VEUTHEY : Okay. Can you give examples of cases of trafficking that had had the greatest impact on you and why? You mentioned children, of course, to be in here.
BRIAN ISELIN: The child labour case with the boy shot in the head, that had the biggest impact, a big impact, because it was really early. The trafficking of the babies had really impact because I was there on the ground looking at the babies in the sports bag in the bottom of the bus. It was a surreal moment! Head spinning! What the hell can’t figure this out? It didn’t make sense, right? It didn’t compute what I was seeing in the bag. That was a major emotional shock. That was a significant one. I mentioned the girl in Albania, and that one has stuck with me as the Albanian girl in Italy, I should say that has stuck with me. Because when so backing up a step with that law enforcement background, that federal agent mindedness. You think when you go into a situation like a traffic victim in a brothel, she was in Abruzzo in Italy, and you’re going into this brothel expecting that you’re the rescuer. I wouldn’t say it’s a white horse kind of situation, but you go in with a rescuer mentality, you’re there to do a job that involves the rescue of that person. You’re prepared for what they will look like. You’re prepared for how they will act. But it’s still a shock every single time. This girl was emaciated and beaten. Her teeth had been pulled out because she’d bitten someone’s penis, a client’s penis, and so thereafter… She was not allowed to… Her teeth were pulled out, so she couldn’t bite anybody. She was beaten, she was like she was a terrified beaten cat sitting in the corner of a cage, basically… She was terrified of being rescued. She was terrified of any male. That was immediately a problem for me. There were no women in the rescue team. None. The police and immigration people were not women either! It was a very unhappy experience, and it was a mortifying, turbulent, traumatic exercise, and then having to hand her over into custody where the police were obviously going to treat her not so differently to how she’d been treated up until then. She was not treated well. She was blackmailed by the administration, basically, as happens everywhere with victims of trafficking, they’re blackmailed into giving evidence. Give evidence or we’ll send you back home to where you came from, which, of course, is life-threatening for almost all of them. That was really traumatizing. I think they’re the worst. There was a failed one in West Africa that I don’t want to talk about.
MICHEL VEUTHEY : Okay. I understand. You tried to launch the fight against forced labour through the control of supply chains. It’s an organization, Slavefreetrade, that you founded. And you are committed to the fight against prostitution and for the protection of women. Can you explain your position and your commitment on behalf of women, please?
BRIAN ISELIN: Okay, well, I mean, two different pieces there. The working on the supply chains and the working on the prostitution of women, and the trafficking of women. I take a demand-side approach. I use concepts of macroeconomics and behavioral economics, arguably to put together an idea of where trafficking and prostitution fit. Because one of the very first things I learned, or I heard when I joined the UNODC in Bangkok was from a community of people who were ensconced in a kind of liberal feminist school. They were telling me, and they were telling everybody, actually quite constantly, don’t conflate trafficking and prostitution. That always triggered me because all of the trafficking cases that I was working on, the vast majority of trafficking cases I was working on, were sexual exploitation. They were women in prostitution. Conflating the two, they’re already conflated, they’re already the same phenomenon or different parts of the same phenomenon. What is the phenomenon? Look underneath the layers and find the phenomenon. The phenomenon, actually, when you work it out, is that trafficking is a kind of an overflow pool for prostitution. When demand increases for prostitution, there are only, let’s say in the Netherlands or Germany. Germany is a great example. When demand for prostitution increases, demand for sex with women increases: paid sex with women! When that increases, there are only so many local women willing to do this. In an improving economy, arguably a more gender-equal economy, there are far fewer local women ready to do that. But the demand by men is increasing… Because they’re being told by legislators, for example, that it’s okay to buy women! They take that message, they internalize that message, and go out and try and find to by women… Demand is not met, which means there’s an over-demand undersupply, and that’s where traffickers step in, and they’re able to bring women from almost anywhere to fill that gap. This is why you see quite a preponderance of foreign women in any particular country being used for that overflow work from prostitution. If you see it as an overflow of prostitution, then the two are conflated by nature. The idea that we’re artificially conflating them is false, and it’s a false narrative that’s being perpetuated by this community of liberal feminists. One of the reasons we need to tackle it from the demand side, one of the reasons we need to protect women who are trafficked by eradicating the institution of prostitution. It is quite simply that if we treat one, if we treat trafficking, we are not fixing what’s underneath it. We are not fixing… Let’s say you have a bathroom basin, and it’s overflowing, and the water is flowing into a tank underneath. Emptying the tank underneath is not going to solve the basin overflowing. You need to solve the basin. You need to change the capacity of the basin, somehow, arguably reduce the level of the water. That’s what we’re talking about. That’s why we have to conflate the two, or we have to recognize that they are conflated and deal with them together. The way to deal with them is to reduce the demand! Because until we reduce the demand for paid sexual services, then we are going to see a rise in prostitution, we’re going to see an undersupply for this increasing demand, and we’re going to see more trafficking as a result. It’s super simple stuff, but it doesn’t happen if you don’t make that connection that they are conflated from the beginning. That’s a really important thing to do, to think about. The other thing I wanted to say was, as this overflow becomes larger, it becomes more professional, it becomes more industrialized. It relates to something that we did talk about in the 1970s, which was there was this rise in individualism. And there was a very, very well-known at the time, a radical feminist, Kathleen Barry. The way she was writing about the sexual exploitation of women, she was on the individualist side, I would say. She was actually arguing what liberal feminists have been arguing the last 20 years: “That women have the right to choose! Women should be able to sell their bodies if they want to”. That was the perspective that she took. Within ten years, she’d completely shifted. One of the reasons she shifted is because she completely underestimated that if you allow for that, if you go completely towards the individualist side, you are promoting the industrialization of the selling of women! It was this industrialization that she hadn’t realized and that she decided, well, actually that’s more important. Because globally, totally in a macro sense, we need to reduce the total number. Individual choice is important, but if it’s at the expense of many more women, then clearly it’s not the right thing to do. While we need to be able to respect women who are in prostitution and choose, for example, to rationalize it by calling themselves a sex worker: that whole concept of prostitution can be worked. If they rationalize it that way, that’s fine. Let them rationalize it, however, they like, but understand that they’re a function of this industrialization…! And that’s in fact what we need to be combating this industrialization of paid sex! That’s the only way to reduce the volume of water in the basin and therefore stop the filling of the tank underneath. I have to work on the metaphor.
MICHEL VEUTHEY : Thank you. Also in the fight against forced labour and your project “Slavefreetrade.” Can you summarize the main steps of this project and experience you acquired through the “Slavefreetrade” Project, please?
BRIAN ISELIN: It was also an exercise to… There are a couple of different reasons for having created “Slavefreetrade”. I started it originally six years ago and that was hot on the heels of the failed mission that I mentioned in West Africa. That was devastating for me. I reached really an emotional low point because of that it was a terrible period in my life and I didn’t want to be on this planet anymore. I was hating people… I really decided it came to such a low point that I needed to dig my way out. One way of doing that was to come up with something that was 100% a positive response to trafficking and modern slavery. It actually came to me in my sleep: two o’clock in the morning, November 25, 2016, I woke up “Slavefreetrade” and we’re going to put a label on those prawns in the freezer that tells people that these are slave-free prawns and let’s see if that makes an impact. And in so doing, the whole idea was the prawn supplier who could prove slave free would be rewarded by the consumer and that reward would mean that they would bring more to the market and they would improve their supply chain as a result. All the way down the chain, the good behaviour, the purchase of the good-minded person is rewarding, all the way down the supply chain, each of the companies that have something to do with it. It was important to come up with something positive and it was important to try to create a solution around that. That was difficult because there is no was no obvious solution. Nobody else was working on this. When I came to it, I thought, there’s going to be a lot of collaborators… There’s not! There’s going to be a lot of organizations that would like to help me with this and fund this. There’s not! There’s not none of the people who are funding trafficking and modern slavery initiatives wanted anything to do with a demand-side project! Not one…! They’re all so, and this is what I mentioned before about the intransigence of the community. These funders… They’re fundind to perpetuate the status quo. They’re not fundind to create new thinking, they’re not funding to try new things. They don’t work on the demand side, the demand side is nowhere. Order of Malta and the OSCE are the only two other organizations that talk the demand side. Three organizations in the world talking the demand side…! It’s disgusting…! Anyway, I wanted somehow to build something that would create this loop between a consumer, right the way through a supply chain down to the original source! The way it worked is, right up until last year, we finished the first pilot project, which is in a cocoa supply chain: the way it works is this. This is a live project with products on the shelves in the UK. The chocolates here in the UK, the retailer, the companies come to us for the solution because they want a solution, right? In this case, it was an activist CEO, but it could be anything, it could be shareholders, stockholders, could be legal demands, could be anything, different requirements. Anyway, they come to us and they want to be clean, they want to have a good supply chain and they want to be part of this circle of good… That we want to create between a consumer and all the suppliers. They joined Slavefreetrade, the chocolatier in the UK. Then in this system, they invite their suppliers. Obviously, not all their suppliers are going to join. One of their suppliers, their milk powder provider in France, for example, said, no, get stuck. They weren’t interested at all. Human rights, they even wrote human rights were not on their agenda… Which is quite disgusting, but I got that email from so many companies, you wouldn’t believe it! Anyway, so not all their suppliers joined, but the cocoa supplier did. The cocoa, they get their cocoa from Colombia. So the cocoa producer joined. Then the cocoa producer in turn invited plantations. We’ve started to focus just on one. Company A, invite company B, invites company C. Suddenly we have a supply chain in the system. Then what we do is we run our processes. We’ve developed B to B processes, we call them. This is where we check conditions in workplaces in real time on a continuing basis from the eyes of the people in the workplace. Because the very first thing I learned about that child labour case where the twelve-year-old boy was shot was that actually one of the things we’d failed to do was understand what his workplace was like through his eyes. Nobody asked him and nobody asks the vast majority of staff in workplaces what their conditions are like..? And especially not human rights-informed questions? In a personnel pulse, for example, these surveys that companies send around from HR, they ask about whether there’s enough Nespresso capsules or if the toilets are close enough or toilets are clean enough. They don’t ask fundamental human right questions, whereas in fact if they’d asked about salary secrecy and gender pay gap and sexual harassment and abuse and bullying, they would get very different answers. If they asked them in a way that encouraged honesty, they would get very different answers and so they would get a very different perspective on the workplace. This system is designed to be an anonymous survey, but with data where you can check the integrity and see if there’s coercion or falsity or fraud or collusion. You gather this data and in this system we ask 120 questions a year for every single person in the workplace: anonymously, remotely. It’s a remote diagnostic tool and if issues come up then we can solve them. In this case, what happened in the cocoa supply chain, we identified there was a small cluster of bullying in the production facility. We reported that to the member and then we worked with them to remediate that bullying. That’s the whole idea of it, identify. We ended up with I think how many was it? About 1500 people in that three-tier supply chain. That’s just three workplaces. We didn’t try to do too much. Three workplaces, 1500 people. We identified a couple of issues that we worked on, but in general what we got was good responses in all the workplaces. They were all slave free, they met the standard where the bar was set. Once those places were all slave free and we remediated the bullying, the chocolate bar could come out on the shelves in the UK with our label on it and declaring themselves guaranteed slave free! Consumers are buying it like crazy. Supermarkets bought the first three productions runs before they even started selling. It’s very successful and very popular and I think that that vindicates the work that has gone into trying to create this system. Unfortunately, because of a lack of funding we’re not going to be able to continue this project. We’ve got proof on the shelves and that’s a very good thing. It’s possible to be done. It’s not impossible, like everybody said when I started. It can be done, we just need… Some good people with some big money to get it going and get it working. But it absolutely works, the demand-side works. Those are 1500 people who are definitely not in modern slavery who have got good human rights conditions and we continuously monitor those conditions. When human rights issues come up, we address them with the member. That’s the model! … Consumers reward the chocolatier. The chocolatier’s volume increases. Their volume of cocoa increases. Therefore the cocoa production facility makes more money, the plantation makes more money. This is an important behavioral loop that we’re creating in dependence. The important thing is the profit making in that supply chain depends on their human rights performance. So instead of the bottom line, instead of the human rights performance being a cost it actually needs to be put in the column where the bottom line is because you can’t achieve profit, you can’t maintain your profit without the human rights performance. It’s collocating the two instead of them being very, very separate in the way companies think about human rights activities.
MICHEL VEUTHEY : Thank you very much indeed. You already answered my next question. Which was, what are the decisive arguments for governments, business and consumers to win the eradication of forced labour in supply chains and the biggest obstacles to overcome?
BRIAN ISELIN: Well, the single biggest obstacle is companies not caring. We can blame consumers all we like but consumers are a powerful tool to convince businesses if you can mobilize them… But they’re also an incredibly difficult community to mobilize. When you talk about mobilizing any part of the consumer world for good causes. It’s always going to be a very small percentage. And there’s this big difference as you’ll probably recognize from people you know as well, there’s a very big difference between what people say they will buy and what they end up buying! It’s a values and action mismatch. 67% of consumers say they want to buy slave-free but can’t find it. But a much smaller percentage, even if they can find it, actually go and buy it. There’s this difference between… So mobilizing consumers is one thing but it can’t operate on its own. Businesses need to want to as well and the vast majority of businesses quite simply don’t want to! Big businesses definitely don’t want to…! It’s very, very clear that they don’t choose to. There are a number of reasons for that: one of them is that they think it’s a cost. The other is that they don’t want cases discovered if there are any. So they’d rather the willful blindness. And so the things go on in the background that the better they don’t know. The deniability is a very important driving factor for big business. These are actually the two biggest problems. The third one is the vast majority of governments can push business to the table by using legislation: all governments so far with the possible exception of Brazil have chosen to implement such weak measures that no businesses are brought to the table in any kind of a serious way, right? Businesses are made to produce a glossy brochure about their commitment, and that’s the extent of it. That’s where modern slavery reporting is at the moment. A company basically writes a CSR statement and it’s unverifiable, no data, doesn’t matter, it’s published, right? This is where we are. We’re still at that stage since 2011 with the UN guiding principles on business and human rights. We’re still at the stage where companies are required by governments to do nothing: they are asked voluntarily to do things, but they’re not required to do anything, and where they are asked to do something, or if there’s some kind of a demand to do something… In Germany, for example, they’ve asked them to take active measures, and so that’s always couched in such weak terms that the vast majority of companies either don’t know what to do or they’ll be able to fudge their way through it. There’s this essential transition we need from voluntary measures, from the old UNGPs, which were arguably on modern slavery, they were a failure. The UNGPs is voluntary measures. Every piece of modern slavery legislation since has basically been voluntary measures. You would actually call them soft law because they are not just guiding principles, they’re law. But they’re very weak. No penalties, low reporting thresholds, things like this. Then the transition to hard law hasn’t happened yet. Brazil is the only one that’s done anything like it, because they’ve actually got some outcomes that are bad for companies that have modern slavery. Whereas none of the others, the Australian, the British, the Californian, the French, now the Dutch, the new German, human rights, due diligence, none of these laws have anything that is seriously damaging to a company if they don’t do it. They just don’t do it. And that’s it. There’s nothing. Even where public procurement is linked to it. There is a real flaw in the argument, flaw in the logic, in the application of the law. So public procurement clauses are being added to modern slavery acts in different places. Now, what that means is that if a company is not compliant or found to be not compliant in their tender, then they can’t win the contract. That’s the first piece. The second piece is that they can be barred from future public procurement if they’re found to have child labour or they’ve got a scandal or something. That’s a nice tool, but unfortunately it’s being implemented so badly: evaluators or the category managers and purchasers and so on at the public procurement agencies have no expertise in modern slavery and human rights. None whatsoever. They also have no time if you speak to any of them. None of them have time to even make a cut lunch for themselves, right? They’re so busy with contract after contract and all the paperwork that’s required, they’re very, very busy already. If you add modern slavery to the evaluation grid for a tender, but you have no time and you have no expertise and you have no data, you’re just relying on the tenderer who submits a glossy report, what are you doing? What substantively are you doing with your public procurement lever? You’ve got power there, but you’ve got no way to wield that power. And companies will just be cynical enough to submit their CSR statement (Socially Responsible Companies), their modern slavery statement, and be done with it. And then the box gets ticked, and then public procurement is no longer a valuable tool. And yet this is a lever that we should all be pulling, because in the OECD alone, it’s $9 trillion. It’s a $9 trillion lever, right? Who doesn’t want to pull on that once in a while? Let’s get that $9 trillion working with genuine public procurement clauses, in laws that are backed up by staff in the public procurement agency, know what they’re doing, make it a serious percentage of the evaluation, and require proof, require hard data, not just rhetoric. I’ve completely forgotten what your question was?
MICHEL VEUTHEY : Okay. I would like to ask the same question on prostitution. What are the decisive arguments to win the cause of reducing and eradicating prostitution and the greatest obstacles to overcome?
BRIAN ISELIN: The solution is what Sweden originally did with what’s now called the equality model, previously the Nordic model. And before that, it was just Sweden. So legislatively, that’s the solution, and that is to criminalize the act of the buyer, decriminalize the act of the seller. The woman in prostitution is not criminally liable. The man who buys her is criminally liable. Now, even Sweden, unfortunately, didn’t implement it very well. And so there are a number of caveats. There are a number of factors that need to be taken into account. But legislative, that’s the process. That’s what you have to do. You have to put the blame for the structure on the people who created the structure. Prostitution is an institution created by men, for men. The solution is to put the blame and the culpability back on the people who created it for themselves. Men need to be culpable, criminally culpable, and the women not. That’s the first thing. But the second thing is that this needs to be done with a raft of measures, which include sufficient law enforcement cracking down on those male buyers to make it a serious thing. This wasn’t done well in Sweden. There were some, but not anywhere near enough. It needs to be much more than token enforcement. Men need to be scared of being arrested for that sexual offense, right! Added to a sex offender’s list or increase the cost of detection for the men. That’s really important. The second thing that needs to happen is education. Sweden did this okay. But it needs to be done better and introduced into schools at younger age. That the respect for women, lower objectification of women. These sorts of educational programs are really important. In Sweden they did it quite well. I get a sense it’s drifting from where it was, but it was going quite well. The vast majority of men in Sweden don’t even or would not even think of buying a woman for sex. I don’t think I’ve ever been, and I’m Swedish now, so maybe I’m sounding a bit pandering, but I haven’t been to a society where there is less objectification of women, public objectification, the wolf whistling and the what’s the word? Ogling and things like this. It’s genuinely tangibly, less in the street. And violence against women, likewise, is at a very low level in Sweden. I think all of these come together. And when they do come together, they create an environment where women are more respected. Gentrification is lower. Men don’t even think about buying a woman for sex. The impact that has had has been a dramatic reduction in prostitution in Sweden and a dramatic reduction in human trafficking. Police investigation into a human-trafficking group in Sweden early after the legislation was brought in, they decided to move on. They said, we’re going to Denmark and the Netherlands because our market has dried up here. That’s very telling. That’s what needs to be done. This raft of measures around a legislative response, educative and law enforcement responses as well. This is really important. And then the fourth piece of that package is building exit strategies for women in prostitution. It is not that decriminalizing the act of the woman in prostitution solves everything. The woman is still stuck in obviously a very economically and personally constrained circumstance. There needs to be a great deal more spent on assistance to find ways out of that. In many ways, in a very similar way to what Finland has done with solving homelessness. That is, they provide housing, they provide some income, they provide jobs, they provide skills, they provide education. This is all building a comfort package, let’s say, around women in prostitution to help them get out. These four things need to be all done together. If they’re not all done together and not all done equally, then it’s going to be partial failure. That’s what needs to be done. Biggest obstacles: the lipstick feminists, the feminists in universities who are still claiming that individualism is everything, that the individual choice means everything and the society has no say. And I think that position which permeates not just universities, but also into governments and let’s say larger society. It’s a school of feminism. Anyway, sorry, apologies for that, but this school is really quite damaging to the idea that we can solve this through allowing individual choice to be everything. Individualism has costs. It can’t be individualism at any cost. There’s got to be some bargain, let’s say. And unfortunately, it means that some women in prostitution are going to lose in that their individual choice, if such a choice can be considered to be a free thing, which is arguably never. Right? I would say that’s one of the biggest obstacles. Second biggest obstacle? No, actually, I mean the first biggest obstacle is men, right? The first biggest obstacle is white, middle-aged men making policy and law on this subject. And they are very slow to move if they move at all. I have known personally of investigations of politicians, for example, who were being blackmailed by pro-prostitution and pro-pornography groups so that they would block laws like the Swedish law, like the equality model, because compromise photographs taken of them in a brothel, things like this. That’s a real thing. It’s happening. Of course the men are the biggest problem. Men not changing is a big problem. Men assuming women can be sold and bought is a problem..! Men believing they have a right to women’s bodies, they have a right to consume women. That’s obviously the biggest obstacle. Then there are these lipstick feminists and then there is also the money. The money is so phenomenal that can be made from recruiting very cheaply a woman whom you buy an airline ticket for and put her in an apartment that you’re paying nothing for. And then selling her 20, 30 times a day. That’s an enormous profit model. Right. So that money is really compelling for a lot of people in constrained economic times. It’s even more compelling for young men to get more involved in that. I don’t know how you tackle the money. It’s not so easy to provide alternatives to people who want to get into the market as sellers.
MICHEL VEUTHEY : Brian, I understand and I have an interesting question also by a friend from Nigeria, Sister Francesca. Sister Francesca, who is just coming now back from Nigeria. She is in Geneva and she’s asking, “I’m curious with your statement. At some time we spend time creating awareness with those who are already aware. What would you say about poor mothers in a rural village in Nigeria or elsewhere in the world who innocently give their daughters out to rich madams against women, under the pretence that they will get a job and be able to earn a living, support the family in the long run, however, end up being trafficked for sexual exploitation?”
BRIAN ISELIN: Well. Yes, please. It’s a great question. The important thing to think about with awareness raising is that the success or failure of it really depends on how closely you target the audience and whether you communicate to them where they will understand the message and where they can best act on the information. An example of good awareness raising would be having a working group with the women in each of those villages, telling them what’s going on and what the risks are. Personally, human contact with them, working groups and so on, that’s awareness raising that can be effective at a local level. What’s not effective is putting up a poster at an airport in the departures area with a photo of a young girl and saying “Beware you might be human trafficked”, that’s a waste of money! That’s a poster campaign that has just wasted scarce resources. That should have been put into working groups, going out to communities to make them aware of what’s going on around them, right? These poster campaigns, even though some of these hotline numbers that you see, that actually eventually end up in some places, they end up at significant expense. These are also a waste of time in general, right? Hotlines can work, but mostly they’re implemented in such a way that they can’t. And the perfect example is a girl I knew of who was killed by her trafficker because she had a phone number written on a piece of paper in her pocket that she’d seen and what was it? I’m trying to remember now. She’d seen the number somewhere, but it wasn’t on a poster at an airport. But there was somehow she got a hold of this number might have been for another girl actually. Anyway, the trafficker found her with this number in the pocket because the number was so complicated there was no way she could remember it. It wasn’t like one one one, it was a complicated number. She’d written it on a piece of paper, trafficker found it, realized that that was the hotline number and killed her. Hotlines are very, very difficult to implement and I would say that they’re a piece of this whole awareness raising thing because they usually come with ads at airports and so on and so forth. I think public service announcements are also a huge waste of money. Videos, Australia announced one of its new measures is a video about the risk of modern slavery in the cleaning industry for the cleaning industry in Australia. Now, I don’t know about you, but I happen to know the cleaning industry in Australia is well aware of the risk of human trafficking within the cleaning industry in Australia. They don’t need a video to tell them that it’s a high risk issue and if anybody in the industry doesn’t know that there is a risk of modern slavery in the cleaning business, they’re a knucklehead and they’re not going to care about that video anyway. This is what I’m saying with the awareness raising is it’s got to be really well thought out, it’s got to be really well targeted, it’s got to be directed at an audience that is very well identified. We talk in awareness-raising campaigns about the persona. We don’t need a persona. We need a group of people. An actual concrete group of people, not marketing personas, targeted information to people who can act on that information at the time that they receive the information. This timeliness is really key, right? If you put somebody up a public service announcement, for example, about watching out for modern slavery, but there’s nothing they can do right there and then they see it on an airplane, for example, a public service announcement it’s beautiful, very well-directed, nice lighting, but there’s nothing they can do about it. Right there, sitting on the plane, by the time they’ve landed, it’s gone. It’s dead. Awareness raising, massive amounts of money wasted on it. The case that you’re talking about in Nigeria is a perfect example of where awareness-raising money can and should be spent because there is a specific, absolute, direct audience who can take that information and act on it. Go do it!
MICHEL VEUTHEY : Thank you very much. Actually taking due note, because I think we should work on this together. I’m pretty sure that Sister Francesca will have very concrete ideas, concrete answers to follow up on your proposals, because that’s precisely what we were discussing before she traveled to Nigeria. Now, I have another question.
BRIAN ISELIN: Can I just say, Michel, one of the best ways to think about awareness raising is thinking about oral histories. The way we can pass down and pass around communities. An oral history about what can happen, what the risks are, what the chances are, what it looks like. We use the oral history form and pass it on. It’s a word-of-mouth method. It doesn’t get huge numbers, but it becomes really quite ingrained.
MICHEL VEUTHEY: Thank you very much. Then there’s another question by Mary Patricia Mulhall. Brian, how do you finance your work and your own livelihood?
BRIAN ISELIN: That’s a great question. In the beginning, I financed it from missions that I was doing for counternarcotics work. That is still a thing. People are still paying for missions for counternarcotics work. I was doing that up until my last trafficking mission, the failed one. I paid for my living and the start of Slavefreetrade. The first couple of years of Slavefreetrade out of my own savings, they’ve all gone. Since then, to be frank, I’ve just been living on credit and my pension, which I don’t have, I’m taking it out in advance, right? So it doesn’t pay. There is no way to make a good living on this. Certainly, I’m just getting myself more and more into debt, unfortunately, if I can be honest. Then I would like not very positive.
MICHEL VEUTHEY: my last question? Which personalities have had the greatest impact on you when you met in your struggle and explained the new challenge you are undertaking with the launch of your consulting company Iselin Human Rights?
BRIAN ISELIN: Sorry, what was the first part of the question again?
MICHEL VEUTHEY: The first part. Which personalities had the greatest impact on you met in your combat against human trafficking?
BRIAN ISELIN: I would say it’s the teams that I’ve been able to put together for the rescues have been the biggest impact, personally on me, in personality terms, because these are people who, like me, were doing it for nothing, right. NGOs or families, lots of different possible contractors were needing help, but they weren’t paying anything. Sometimes they would pay our airline ticket, but that’s about all. Then we had all our expenses and weapons and everything else. They were amazing people who put their lives on the line for a greater good. Even though we all knew, we’re all experienced with this, we all knew that every time we rescued someone, it probably wasn’t going to be necessarily good for that person. Once we got them out, there would be significant hardships ahead of them. We all knew that. It was always this bittersweet feeling at the end, okay, we got her out, but now she’s going. Now look where she’s going. She’s just going to be retrafficked or killed. You can’t think about that. You’ve got a job to do. The job is to rescue them and give them a chance, at least, because they would have even less of a chance if we left them where they were. Those teams that have put together with individuals have been lasting friendships. Unfortunately, they’re not all here. They’ve done lots of similar work and some not here. I remember them deeply but these personalities, these people would go into hopeless situations and help these people, is so enriching. That’s why I went back mission after mission. Right? It’s not just about the rescue, it’s also about the people you get to bring in to do the work.
MICHEL VEUTHEY: Brian, could you tell us now you’re launching this consulting company Iselin Human Rights?
BRIAN ISELIN: I need to make a living. I need to pay off my credit cards. I’ve just set up a consultancy, which is to provide human rights, compliance and services, like human rights audits and so on. A bit like the B to B piece of slave-free trade, right? A bit like if a company wants to be human rights compliant, then we provide those services to companies that want it. There are some companies that are starting to look at it because legislation is starting to push them in that direction. This is something that’s happening. A lot of big companies, for example, are now starting to think about human rights strategies which they never had before. This is great. Change is coming. It’s tangible, it’s just incredibly slow. It’s glacial movement. Iselin Human Rights, it’s a small company designed to provide that service to a larger group of companies that otherwise can’t afford to be able to buy human rights compliance services and don’t know what to do. They don’t have the expertise. Big companies, Siemens, Volkswagen, Danone whatever? They can buy services from PWC, KPMG, Deloitte, and those companies, of course, have leapt on the bandwagon to sell human rights services. They have no expertise. They’ve got MBA program graduates, but they’ve got a great sales machine and they can produce great papers and slide decks. These companies are making a mint already out of large companies requiring human rights services. I guess what I’m saying is that I’m trying to help companies that are less than the multinationals, but want to do something with meaning. If it’s a success, I don’t know. It’s only been open a month, so let’s see if it lasts a year.
MICHEL VEUTHEY: Brian, we wish you every success indeed in this new human experiment in human rights and definitely, you have a beautiful website. I think everyone could visit this website with great profit.
BRIAN ISELIN: Please do. There’s a blog on there with lots and lots of articles for you to read if you’re interested in these subjects. I write something every day for that.
MCHEL VEUTHEY: Excellent. We should all look at this.
BRIAN ISELIN: Please do. www.Iselinhumanrights.com,
MICHEL VEUTHEY: that’s easy enough to get. All together.
BRIAN ISELIN: all one word Iselinhumanrights.com And then blog if you want to go to the articles and you can subscribe, you can sign up to get a notification when I publish a new one, which actually is every day.
MICHEL VEUTHEY: Certainly, we shall…
BRIAN ISELIN: can I just say, if anybody wants a blog article written on a particular subject, if you want to ask me about something and for me to write about it, drop me a note. Michel can circulate my email and I will very happily write an article addressing your issue.
MICHEL VEUTHEY: No, definitely. If anyone now, today, live or watching the video recording of this webinar, definitely I will provide them with your email address Brian because actually, as you say, it’s good to have general statements, blanket statements, but it’s better to focus and have a practical approach and then to involve people who indeed have, like you, an experience and who, like you, have a commitment and indeed, that might be very interesting. Actually, I see someone saying, Brian, you are simply amazing. Thank you for your experience and I think it’s well deserved.
BRIAN ISELIN: That’s really kind. Thank you.
MICHEL VEUTHEY: Brian let’s stay in touch. Our best wishes. I’m pretty sure that everyone who did follow this great interview will be happy to express their wishes for success of your continuing struggle, and actually, I would just like to thank you for your example and indeed your frank explanations. We also like to thank all participants and to say that our next webinar will be on April 25. It will present the needs and stories of male survivors of child sexual abuse, exploitation and human trafficking. It will be with Ena Lucia Mariaca Pacheco. Ena Pacheco just wrote a dissertation on the difficult journey of male survivors, uncovering and identifying the social interactions that harm and aid male survivor recovery and healing, as well as further exploring the barriers that hinder disclosure. Now I would like to say that indeed you see the email address of Brian—is brian_iselin () iselinhumanrights.com.
MICHEL VEUTHEY: Exactly, brian_iselin () iselinhumanrights.com That works.
BRIAN ISELIN: Can you connect with me on LinkedIn? See, then you have everything.
MICHEL VEUTHEY: LinkedIn/in/in/Brianislin.
BRIAN ISELIN: Your business human rights guy.
MICHEL VEUTHEY: That’s very good. No, I see that you’re everywhere posting very interesting blogs and messages well worth following. Yes, that’s very good.
BRIAN ISELIN: Mostly iconoclastic, as you’re probably well aware.
MICHEL VEUTHEY: No. Brian, thanks a million.
BRIAN ISELIN: Thank you. Thanks for your time and thanks to everybody for taking the time to listen.
MICHEL VEUTHEY: Yes, and also my gratitude to Y. R., our webmaster, and to my assistant in Geneva Clara Breguet Iseppi, and Emanuele, Giorgio Piluso, and also Lindsay Boudreau, who joined us for one month. Brian, again, many thanks, best wishes—and—thank you. Let’s stay in touch because we shall also record this webinar and video recording shall be available in a few days on our website adlaudatosi.org with subtitles in English, French, German, Italian, Russian, Spanish and Chinese. Feel free to share the link and our English online course on human trafficking for helpers is now translated and available for free in French, English, German and Italian on the www.cuhd.org website. I wish you all the best, I invite you to the upcoming webinar on Tuesday, April 25 at 6 p.m. Central European time. Thanks. —Best wishes to all. —Thank you. Goodbye, Brian. Thanks a million. Thanks.