Thomson Reuters Foundation CEO Monique Villa was recognised for her vision and effort in the fight against human trafficking and modern-day slavery at a star-studded gala awards event in London on March 12.
Monique was one of three global leaders to receive the prestigious 2015 Champions for Change Award, alongside The Rt Hon William Hague MP, Leader of the House of Commons and Former UK Foreign Secretary, who was recognised for his global leadership to end sexual violence in conflict; and Mabel van Oranje, Chair of Girls Not Brides, who received an award for her innovative and far-reaching work on the prevention of child marriage.
Monique accepted the Champion for Change Award from Baroness Hayman and Crown Princess Mary of Denmark. In her acceptance speech, Monique described how slavery is a crucial roadblock for women’s rights:
“When you think about global women’s empowerment, you think of better education, access to health, reproductive rights, and ending violence against women. But you probably don’t think of the women who are enslaved, sold for 80 dollars, trafficked and abused in all kind of manners. And you know what," said Monique, "I didn’t think of them either. And this is precisely why modern-day slavery is so dangerous. It’s a silent crime, well hidden and very complex.”
Monique’s efforts to halt trafficking and slavery took off at the inaugural Trust Women in 2012, which she founded, and has now become the leading forum to find innovative solutions to fight slavery. Through Trust Women, Monique and Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. set up a financial working group to explore effective ways to identify and use financial data to dismantle human trafficking networks.
Top US financial institutions, including Bank of America, Citigroup, JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Barclays, TD Bank, American Express, Western Union took part in the initiative, and incorporated into their software the red flags designed by leading anti-trafficking NGOs to detect patterns of human trafficking activity. They also accepted to share suspicious information with law enforcement agencies. Since the implementation of these measures, the number of suspicious activity reports filed though the office of the New York County District Attorney has substantially increased. She is now working toward setting up a similar working group in Europe, and then Asia.
Monique ended her speech with optimism, pointing out that slavery is a global problem, which means that everyone has a role to play.
“Journalists can expose it. Activists can lobby to get slavery on the political agenda. Lawyers can work to change laws to better prosecute traffickers. Business leaders can implement changes to prevent slavery from flourishing in their supply chains. Consumers can ask questions before buying their goods.”
The Champions for Change Award, presented by the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW), recognises leaders and visionaries who work to make a gender equitable world a reality. Past winners have included Ambassador Melanne Verveer, Institute for Women, Peace and Security, Georgetown University, in 2013; and Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton, US State Department in 2012.
The gala event featured high-level remarks by Mary, Crown Princess of Denmark, who is an advocate on gender equality, health and rights and Founder and Chair of the Mary Foundation; Former House of Lords Speaker, Baroness Hayman, GBE; and ICRW President Sarah Kambou.