A historic vote was taken at the February 22nd-23rd, 2022 quarterly meeting of the Rotary International (RI) Board of Directors. The vote not only recognized the growing global humanitarian problem of Human Trafficking/Modern Slavery (HT/MS), but more importantly called on Rotary Clubs worldwide to become involved in projects to end this heinous crime against humanity.
Once RI approved resolution 21R-28, it became only the second time that the RI Board of Directors has taken a written policy stand in support of Rotary’s engagement in the fight to end HT/MS. The first such anti-slavery statement took place in 2013 when Mark Little of the Rotary Club Norwich St. Edmund, United Kingdom, founded the Rotary Action Group Against Slavery (RAGAS) upon the approval of the RI Board of Directors.
Since then, RAGAS and its many Rotary club allies have attempted to obtain anti HT/MS wording in the RI manual of procedures and the RI Code of Policies. Past resistance by RI was primarily because some members of the board directors believed that modern slavery is a political or a cultural/social issue and not a humanitarian one. Thus, RI was reluctant to encourage clubs around the world to engage in projects which protect victims from all forms of exploitation and modern slavery. RI’s recent approval of 21R-28 has now sent a strong message to all naysayers that such a political viewpoint on the issue of modern slavery is mistaken.
What became 21R-28 began its long journey to the RI Board of Directors in the summer of 2020. Dr. George Belitsos, vice-chair of Rotary Action Group Against Slavery (RAGAS) wrote the original resolution and submitted it to the Iowa, USA District 6000 Board of Directors. The district asked all of its 67 clubs to vote on the resolution which was followed by a vote and approval in January 2021 by the District 6000 Board. It was then submitted by District Governor, Alka Khanolkar to the RI Council on Resolutions (COR).
On November 1st, 2021, after much study and deliberation, the RI Council on Resolutions voted in favor of resolution 21R-28. Tap here to read the full resolution.
\While RAGAS was pleased that the COR approved the resolution (318 in favor), RAGAS was disturbed that one-third of the COR district delegates, (151 in opposition) voted against the resolution.
It is believed that some of those who decided to vote no did so because they believe that modern slavery is a political issue, not a humanitarian one. While other no votes came from countries that look the other way when it comes to forced child marriage and child labor.
Resolution 21R-28 recognized that 74 years ago the United Nations (UN) unanimously declared that no one shall be held in slavery or servitude. Long before the UN vote, slavery was outlawed and made illegal in every country in the world. Therefore, one could conclude that 74 years ago, it was no longer a political issue. Forced child marriage and labor are both considered HT/MS by the UN.
In December 2021, the COR 21R-28 was finally sent to the RI Board of Directors and placed on its agenda for an up or down at their February 22nd-23rd, 2022 quarterly meeting. In January RAGAS and District 6000 called on individual Rotary clubs worldwide to register their support for the Council on Resolutions 21R-28 resolution by sending a club petition to the RI Board of Directors. Only individual Rotary clubs are permitted to petition the RI Board of Directors.
This effort was led by Dave McCleary, chair of the RAGAS Board of Directors. The petition was translated into several languages. An unprecedented number of individual club submitted signed petitions to the RI Board of Directors in support of the 21R-28 resolution. Thes petitions called the RI Board of Directors attention to the COR 21R-28 and the subsequent approval of the resolution on February 22nd-23rd, 2022.
RAGAS has long believed that Rotary is uniquely positioned to end human trafficking through its ability to pull communities together for a common humanitarian purpose. The historic February 22nd-23rd 2022 vote by RI will make a huge positive difference, not only to Rotary International, but to fighting HT/MS worldwide.