Another Stride towards Ending Modern-Day Slavery
The Department of State released some compelling reading today. The annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report is one of the best resources for gauging the global state of modern-day slavery, and its country rankings are often a powerful diplomatic tool in persuading nations to combat human trafficking within their borders.
Such a report exists at all because modern slavery is a flourishing, $32 billion industry, and the world’s second largest organized crime affecting as many as 27 million victims each year. It will require bold measures to bring it to its knees, and the report’s threat of sanctions, and naming and shaming, combined with adroit diplomacy and targeted foreign assistance, has proven to inspire real change. For example:
• In Cambodia, a recent survey suggests that once-rampant trafficking of children into prostitution is all but eliminated.
• In the Dominican Republic, a poor TIP ranking inspired law reform and led to the first-ever prosecutions of forced labor.
• In Nigeria, the nation’s first lady took on the issue and compelled significantly increased prohibitions of women being trafficked to Europe.
• In the Philippines, threats of an automatic downgrade led to rapid improvements in efforts to combat both sex and labor trafficking.
Of course, the TIP report is only as effective as it is honest, and there have been suspicions about whether its tiered ranking system is influenced by geopolitical considerations. Briefly: Tier 1 countries are deemed to meet minimum standards in preventing human trafficking; Tier 2 nations are making significant efforts to meet those standards; Tear 2 Watch List countries are making such efforts but require special scrutiny; and Tier 3 countries are making no significant efforts.
In the past, numerous countries appeared to be “parked” on the Watch List for years. So, in 2008, Congress mandated that nations on the Watch List for four straight years and still haven’t demonstrated progress, must be automatically downgraded to Tier 3 and face sanctions and moral opprobrium.
This year, that mandate created a real test for Secretary Kerry and the Obama Administration, and a wide range of human rights groups were deeply concerned that politically sensitive countries such as Russia, China, Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan would never be allowed to fall to Tier 3. And beyond the six countries facing “automatic downgrade,” many of us also suspected that sensitive countries like Thailand and Malaysia, which have been on the Tier 2 Watch List for three straight years, would get “early upgrades” to avoid being the focus of attention next year.
We are glad to be proven wrong, however, and commend Secretary Kerry and the Administration for getting this year’s report mostly right.
Russia, which has done little since last year, was automatically downgraded. This is especially important as the world’s attention focuses on the Sochi Olympics—certainly an event to celebrate, but also a known magnet for sex and labor traffickers. Uzbekistan, which eliminated government-sanctioned child labor but filled the gap by forcing older children, university students and others into labor, was also automatically downgraded. Thailand, which continues to have widespread reports of forced labor in its fishing industry, did not earn an early upgrade. Assessing such sensitive countries honestly will make the TIP Report an even more effective tool in the years to come, and could spur action over the next year in countries that will be on the Tier 2 Watch List for four consecutive years in 2014.
We are assessing nations for which we have less public information, like Azerbaijan and Iraq, to see if some geopolitical assessments crept in.
For the third year in a row, the United States also ranked itself, awarding a Tier 1 ranking. While we feel this ranking is justified at this time, there is still cause for concern, and we are keeping a watchful eye. There is no question that the Administration has taken a number of steps since the President’s speech on human trafficking in September 2012, including initiatives to combat trafficking in federal procurement, launching an effort to put together a strategic plan for victim services, and proposing an increase to woefully underfunded federal anti-trafficking programs.
However, we do not know how federal funding will work out this year, and the budget conflict threatens to undermine a $20 million increase for victims in the United States. In order to really earn its top ranking, the President and Congress must now prove itself this summer by passing a proposed appropriations bill that funds anti-trafficking programs.
We’ll monitor progress as that story unfolds, working to make sure the United States earns its Tier 1 ranking this year and every year.
This blog post was originally published by the ATEST Coaliton, of which ECPAT-USA is a member.