The Role of the United States in Combating Human Trafficking

Thank you Ken. Good morning everyone. I’m delighted to be here at the Center for American Progress. I do have to put in a quick rebuttal on behalf of Holly, which is that both of us went to Iowa State for undergrad as well. This is definitely old-home week. I’m wondering if Neha and I went to high school together.

It’s great to be here at CAP. This institution is truly an academic hub whose top-rate thinkers provide cutting-edge ideas. We’re going to be hearing from some top-rate thinkers today: David, Holly, Neha, and John. I think that for me it’s not just being able to be on a panel with them. It’s also to be able to be here in the room and also online with so many of the folks who are making things work in the movement to fight slavery in the modern era.

We’re talking about human trafficking today. It is, as Ken said, a human rights abuse. It’s a byproduct of conflict. A threat to national security, public health and democracy. It’s a labor; a migration issue.

We’re told that it is a fast-growing phenomenon. While it certainly is a modern phenomenon that affects communities across the globe, this is rooted in a very antiquated practice — involuntary servitude.

The United States’ mandate in combating trafficking is a long one but it is a simple one: we must deploy every tool at our disposal in a strategic and coordinated fashion. We must tackle every form of this crime – whether it has been labeled peonage, involuntary servitude, sex trafficking, or debt bondage.

We cannot focus on one form of trafficking over another if we truly want to end this crime. And, we ought to broaden our efforts to ensure that every man, woman, and child is able to pursue, and achieve, his or her God-given potential.

Translating the fight against modern slavery into 21st Century foreign policy is essential. It cross-cuts and impacts so many policy concerns; it is a fluid phenomenon that responds to market demands, vulnerabilities in laws, weak penalties, natural disasters, economic and environmental instability.

What we’re really talking about are the shadows: traffickers operate in the shadows and they take advantage of zones of impunity no matter why those zones exist. So, our global response must has to not just be to catch and punish those that we can find; we have to destroy their safe havens by fighting for rule of law, security, and economic empowerment.

It has been a decade since the world embraced the global standards of the UN Trafficking in Persons Protocol and Congress passed the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. We have seen innovative approaches: innovative approaches from the Clinton Administration, the Bush Administration, and the Obama Administration alike. This is clearly an issue that cuts across partisan lines. So I’m proud to build on the work of my predecessors, Nancy Ely-LaRafael, John Miller, and Mark Lagon, and I see that Mark is able to join us today.

There has been a lot of progress made, but there is a lot to do – 10 years is really just a blip in any movement much less in our modern abolitionist effort.

One of the key tools that the United States uses is the annual Trafficking in Persons Report, which Secretary of State Clinton will release in June. The report is a diagnostic tool. It’s based on the minimum standards to combat trafficking that Congress articulated in the Trafficking Victims Protection Act – the TVPA. Countries are assessed, and sorted into clusters or Tiers as we call them.

Based on in-country reporting from our embassies, NGOs, and other partners, we strive for a fair and transparent glimpse into the on-the-ground efforts against trafficking in persons through the “three P” paradigm of Prosecution, Protection, and Prevention.

The Report is not a rebuke or reprimand to our fellow countries; it’s a real assessment on how countries are doing – or frankly, sometimes not doing – in the fight against modern slavery. It’s a smart power tool that leads to greater bilateral and multilateral partnerships. The Report might lead to tough discussions, but it has driven action worldwide.

Because of the Report, countries have implemented legislation, trained law enforcement, raised public awareness, implemented protective mechanisms for victims, and in the end, what’s important: freed people from slavery.

As the Secretary said last summer, we are encouraging countries to be full partners in tackling our shared global agenda; countries such as Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Russia, Turkey. We need such emerging leaders to be stronger partners in this effort, the effort against global trafficking.

So the report is not a rebuke; but a roadmap – a roadmap for engagement and cooperation. For it to be that, the United States has return to the role we have always carried throughout history: to lead by example.

So this year, in addition to the 175 other countries that are going to be assessed in the Report, we will rank and analyze the United States based on the same minimum standards that we do other countries. This is an essential move to implement smart-power diplomacy. IT’s a vehicle for cooperation, a tool for principled engagement with our skeptics, a guidepost for shared development projects. It will not only help us at home, but leverage what we do, what we feel is a key source of American power – the power of example.

Because we know that human trafficking exists in the United States and it has from the beginning. Women and children being held by pimps; people being forced to harvest crops; immigrants held in domestic servitude. This is happening today, and it has happened for a very long time. For decades, we called our efforts against this the “Peonage Program.” Then, to lessen confusion over whether a debt needed to be proven in court, the effort was renamed as the “Involuntary Servitude and Slavery Program.” And, in the late 1990s, it was again recast, as “Human Trafficking.” But whatever we may it, we have to take a “whole of government” approach to enforce this constitutional guarantee.

Human trafficking is not an issue in which we can implement policies of American “exceptionalism.” We must not only enforce the 13th Amendment and meet our international obligations — we also have to assess our efforts as we would assess others.

Now, another important tool of self-assessment is the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review – the QDDR – which the State Department is undertaking for the first time. This review, which is slated to be released this September, will provide the short-, medium-, and long-term blueprints for our diplomatic and development efforts on all issues, not just trafficking.
Our goal is to use this process to guide us; to guide us to agile, responsive, and effective institutions of diplomacy and development, including the difficult one: how to transition from an approach no longer commensurate with current challenges. It will offer guidance on how we develop policies; how we allocate resources; how we deploy staff; and how we exercise our authorities.

As traffickers continue to use even more modern technology and methods, the U.S. Government has to be equipped and able to deal with the fluid nature of this shadowy crime. In the Palermo Protocol and the TVPA, we have the tools that we need.

In the coming weeks, we’ll be working with partners such as the OSCE, the UN Human Rights Council, the OAS, and of course, the Office of Drugs and Crime at the UN to ensure that the Palermo Protocol is used to its fullest against all forms of trafficking.

While continuing to stress the need to liberate and compassionately restore victims of sex trafficking, we will work to ensure an intensified global effort to punish forced labor offenders with criminal penalties, not just administrative remedies, as is called for in the international protocol.

And to do that, we have to address debt bondage. Debt has long been identified as part of traffickers’ coercive power to enslave. In late 2009, the United Nations’ Development Programme, the UNDP, gave a special focus in their report on the high costs of labor migration and how this often leads to instances of forced labor.

When migrants are coerced or deceived into assuming debts that are several times the per capita GDP in their country, they easily become modern slaves once abroad. They travel with the slavery already attached.

Just this weekend, we saw media reports that the suicide rate among guestworkers in the Gulf States is off-the-charts. Just yesterday, an article came out about a Thai guestworker in the United States who ran away from his abuser but continues to be afraid. He risks losing everything at home from the recruiters who helped to traffic him and are still free.

Research around the world, including some funded by my office, shows that workers are often trapped in a web of deceit and debt bondage by unscrupulous recruiters, labor brokers, and employers. And too often, these debts are legal, or are dealt with only as administrative violations.

A better system for ensuring that guestworkers are not enslaved is clearly needed in labor markets around the world – in the Gulf region, in Africa, in Southeast Asia – and here in the United States as well.

Perhaps most vulnerable among that group are the domestic workers. From Indonesian girls and women exploited in the Gulf to Malagasy women in Lebanon, to African children here in the United States, domestic workers are uniquely vulnerable.

Usually working outside the protections of prevailing labor laws – and sadly, that’s the case in the United States today – and socially isolated in their workplace, domestic workers too easily fall into modern slavery.

So too, we have seen reports of cases where women who traveled to work as a maid or a waitress have been enslaved as prostitutes, not simply forced to work behind closed doors. We need to break that zone of impunity, to get behind those closed doors, to confront and eliminate the conditions in which domestic servants are so often abused.

While we use the Trafficking in Persons Report to highlight these trends and jumpstart multilateral and bilateral action, our office also supports anti-slavery programs around the world, and I’m going to tell you a little bit about those.

In essence, our work after the Report release does not end; it just starts. Based on the Report rankings, we fund about 20 million dollars in programs around the world, strategically placed, largely in countries that are largely on Tier Two Watch List and Tier Three – the lowest rankings in our Report. We fund law enforcement training efforts, prevention – things such as public awareness campaigns, and shelters to protect the victims from their captors.

This year, we received more than 400 applicants for anti-trafficking efforts; almost a half of billion dollars worth of requests and sadly, we are only going to fund about $20 million worth. Budget constraints are leaving many worthy programs unfunded around the world. We look forward to strengthening our partnerships through these programs, and responding to the needs of victims in real time.
Speaking of responding in real time. I would be remiss if I didn’t address Haiti. Our work on relief and redevelopment in Haiti necessarily includes human trafficking and slavery issues. When instability shakes governments, communities, and societies as a whole, there is an increased likelihood of exploitation.

Especially in Haiti. Haiti was ranked as a special case in past Reports. This means that the government efforts could not be ranked because of the on-the-ground circumstances. And things have gotten worse since the earthquake. Before the earthquake, we were working with local partners; and in its wake, we continued to work, especially with regards to the enslavement of children or the restaveks.

Under the restavek system, poor, mostly rural families send their children to cities to live with wealthier families whom they think will provide the children with food, shelter and an education, in exchange for a little bit of domestic help.

While some restaveks are cared for and sent to school, most of them are subjected to involuntary domestic servitude. Sixty-five percent of the victims are girls between the ages of six and fourteen. They work excessive hours, receive no schooling or payment and are often physically and sexually abused. Haitian labor laws require employers to pay domestic workers over the age of 15, so not surprisingly, many host families dismiss the restaveks just before that kicks in.

As a result, dismissed and runaway restaveks make up a significant proportion of the large population of street children in Haiti. They are easy prey for gangs who trap them in prostitution or petty crime.

As the world looks to help Haiti build back better, we’re undertaking strategic efforts to ensure that future generations of Haitians are allowed to live freely. Just a few weeks ago, one of our NGO partners who we rushed money to in the wake of the earthquake reported this, and I’ll quote an email that they sent:

“At the Ouanaminthe border crossing in the countryside of Northeast Haiti, our teams have worked hard with very limited support and infrastructure to identify children at risk of being trafficked.

“On March 10, our team of Child Protection Officers found a five year-old girl walking alone on the street. Despite efforts by our team to softly ask her questions, she was too nervous to speak. She only responded that her name was Bébé. Concerned for the young girl’s safety, our Child Protection Officers got her to the closest interim care facility provided by Catholic Relief Services, and announced a description of her on the local radio. Fortunately, not long after the call, her mother and father found her at the center. Our teams were ecstatic that they were able to reunify Bébé with her family, and are very motivated to continue their work.”

This is truly a success story: an unaccompanied child, reunited with her family, not taken by traffickers. But there are still so many Haitians, of all ages throughout the countryside and within the temporary camps who continue to be at risk of trafficking and exploitation.

There are more success stories yet to be realized and we stand ready to support our NGO partners, to work with the Government of Haiti as it puts forth legal safeguards in place through a new anti-trafficking law in Parliament, and enacting new structures that are needed to guarantee its citizens’ rights. We stand with them because partnerships are how we can achieve this goal. We cannot do this alone.

The promise of freedom that we seek to fulfill will be bolstered by what has been termed now as the Fourth “P” in our paradigm – of partnerships. We have to strive toward better coordination. Coordination through “whole of government” approach, but also with partners from unlikely or untapped sources. We are fortunate that non-governmental organizations have historically been strong partners in the anti-trafficking movement. Today, we are also working to build on our historic relationships by cultivating new partnerships with the private sector.

We’ll work with private business and corporations to leverage their resources, expertise, and talents against trafficking. Partnering with the private sector is essential to reduce the demand for commercial sex and cheap labor that traffickers rush to meet through violence. It means scrubbing modern slavery out of the supply chains that create our every-day products–food, clothes, and cell phones to name a few.

It’s also an opportunity to go back to the victim-centered approach in a new way. Why not partner with businesses across the United States and around the world to provide victims the best kind of rehabilitation: jobs.

As you know, much of international human rights work of the past decades has been largely about identifying a problem, naming, and shaming.” But as Secretary Clinton recently said:

“Calling for accountability doesn’t start or stop, however, at naming offenders. Our goal is to encourage – even demand – that governments must also take responsibility by putting human rights into law and embedding them in the government institutions; by building strong independent courts; competent and disciplined law enforcement. And once rights are established, governments should be expected to resist the temptation to restrict freedom.”

Freedom. It’s the greatest human right; slavery is its antithesis. In speeches and proclamations, President Obama has called for us to fight for democracy, freedom, and opportunity by taking on modern slavery.
Because freedom alone does not deliver itself. Freedom cannot be guaranteed by naming and shaming, or by development programs, or better schools or the alleviation of poverty although all of these are necessary. At some point, the State has to guarantee this most basic of rights.

Those who violate it must be punished; for those who lose it, it must be restored and protected. Because those who restrict freedom aren’t just violating a norm, they’re committing a crime.

As we turn from a movement in its infancy to one that has matured, we have to look to strategic and dynamic effects, how can we combat this modern form of slavery?

As much as we discuss the policies of protection or prevention or prosecution, tor the concepts of freedom or democracy, this work is about people. It is for them that we have to be hopeful, audacious, and urgent. It is for them that we should together dare to pledge that every single person alive today can succeed – will succeed – in a world without slavery.

Thank you.


Luis CdeBaca
Ambassador-at-Large, Office To Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons
Center for American Progress
Washington, DC

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