The fight against human trafficking confirms the adage that nothing good happens without a struggle, a Washington meeting heard this morning. The complexity and scale of the challenge requires multi-stakeholder partnerships of government, civil society, labor unions and the private sector, and victim-focused responses that mobilize and target public resources.
Some 12.3 million adults and children are victims of forced labor, bonded labor, and commercial sexual servitude, according to International Labor Organization estimates. The U.S. Congress passed the Trafficking Victims Protection Act in 2000 which set up the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons and requires an annual assessment of “severe forms of trafficking in persons” and details of government responses.
Trafficking should be a foreign policy priority and be the focus of a whole-of-government approach, said Ambassador Luis CdeBaca, the State Department’s Ambassador-at-Large to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. The FBI places a priority on trafficking but other government agencies have yet to do so, he said.
The Quadrennial Development and Diplomacy Review should provide a guide to developing an agile and responsive approach to democracy and development issues, including trafficking. He favors partnering with NGOs and private sector actors; more sophisticated approaches that counter traffickers’ use of new technologies; and the use of criminal penalties, not just administrative remedies.
“How can the US play a role in addressing temporary or guest worker programs in which workers travel to a country through legal channels yet are still vulnerable to extreme exploitation, rising to the level of human trafficking?”, asked Neha Misra, Global Coordinator for Human Trafficking and Migrant Worker Programs at the Solidarity Center. The center is a core institute of the National Endowment for Democracy which funds the center’s work on human trafficking.
Countries like Malaysia, UAE, Qatar, Bahrain and Singapore are not open to pressure through US aid because not beneficiaries of development assistance. But they are sensitive to their reputation and their ranking in the Global Trafficking in Persons (GTIP) report that provides leverage for persuading governments to take action, including on migrant workers who are trafficked through legal channels and denied basic labor and human rights.
David Abramowitz, Director of Policy and Government Relations with Humanity United took heart from the consistent commitment to addressing this issue on the part of successive administrations, from Clinton through Bush to the Obama administration.
What would be the “blue sky ask” for anti-trafficking campaigners, asked Holly Burkhalter, Vice President of Government Relations at the International Justice Mission. Perhaps a PEPFAR equivalent for combating human trafficking, she suggested.
Countries in conflict two processes drive trafficking, said John Norris, Executive Director of Enough: vulnerability, a symptom of every conflict, from family break-ups to economic desperation; and, more importantly, “the silent hand” of predatory economic relations, represented by the “iron triangle” of politics, violence and a willingness to exploit the vulnerable for economic gain. This is the shadowy world, he said, in which Serbs and Croats will try to kill each other during the day but collaborate in trafficking contraband and people at night.