Release of the Ninth Annual Trafficking in Persons Report

Special Briefing
Luis CdeBaca
Ambassador-at-Large, Office To Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons
Washington, DC
June 16, 2009

MR. WOOD: Good afternoon, everyone. A pleasure to have with us today Ambassador Luis CdeBaca, who is the Director of the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. So Ambassador CdeBaca is going to make some remarks and then take your questions. So without further ado, I’ll turn it over to Ambassador CdeBaca.

AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: Thank you. This morning, the Secretary unveiled the annual Trafficking in Persons Report, which is statutorily mandated for the Secretary to report and rank on the progress that countries are making to fight human trafficking around the world. Human trafficking defined in American law and international agreements as obtaining or maintaining the labor or services of another through force, coercion, and, in effect, modern slavery.

One of the things that the report looks at this year is the effect of the global economic crisis on the human trafficking issue, and the report concludes that in a time of economic crisis, victims are more vulnerable, affected communities are more vulnerable, and persons who are under economic stress are more likely to fall prey to the wiles of the traffickers, who often get their victims through promises of a better life, promises of better earnings, the ability to earn money if they are to travel abroad for work. And often what we see and is reflected in the report this year is the notion of large, upfront payments, recruiting fees, debts that are taken out either to the recruiters themselves or to loan sharks in the home country, so that by the time that workers get to their destination, they are already, in effect, held in debt-bondage. That is a circumstance that unscrupulous employers can often build upon, holding a complacent and compliant labor force through the threat of force, through the threat of coercion, through the threat of bankruptcy and economic ruin.

This is something that the United States has been leading on in the last ten years. This is the ninth annual trafficking report. When the trafficking report first began, it was a relatively modest undertaking with about 82 countries. Now the report is up to 175 nations and is truly becoming the global snapshot of the modern slavery problem.

One definitional issue as far as trafficking is concerned: Despite the name, the use of the word “trafficking” seems to have the notion of movement built into it. Under both U.S. law and under the United Nations protocol, movement is not required. And so what we’re really dealing with is we’re dealing with that notion of global forced labor, global enslavement.

The International Labor Organization issued a report, The Cost of Coercion, about six weeks or – excuse me, about a month ago, and in that report the ILO estimated about 12.3 million people being held in bondage worldwide, of whom they estimated about 1.5 million are for sexual slavery, sexual servitude, which is perhaps a little bit counterintuitive to what people have seen the modern slavery or the human trafficking problem as, historically. Certainly, press accounts, what you see in movies, what you see in mass culture, tends to define this as a problem of people being moved to prostitution, people perhaps being kidnapped into prostitution. Rather, what we see, what the UNODC has reported on in their trafficking report earlier this year, and what the ILO is reporting on, is the notion that people are being enslaved, whether it is for prostitution, whether it is in labor, agriculture, factories, fields, domestic service, that they are often entering into the relationship voluntarily and then becoming enslaved within that.

And so, of course, the notion obtaining, while that is certainly one of the ways in which trafficking manifests itself, we often see maintaining the victims as just as important. And that makes sense because you often have situations where a person will have agreed to work as a maid, for instance, and it’s only after she’s in the city, after she’s being behind closed doors, after the abuse starts, that she truly is being held captive. So it’s not necessarily trickery, although, again, trickery is something that is often built into the situation.

The TIP Report itself this year, I think you’ve hopefully had a chance to see the copies that were distributed. I think we’ve got other copies that will be available as well. The TIP Report is perhaps notable for the notion that there are some – as there always are – some countries that have shown improvement, and which is reflected in the report, and there are some countries that have either gone backwards or have failed to improve.

And since one of the things that we look at as far as the trafficking report is concerned is whether countries are showing continued and sustained efforts in this field, it’s not enough for a country simply to pass a trafficking law or to announce that they have a national plan of action; we then spend the next year looking to see whether they actually are using that trafficking law, whether they’re not only looking at victims, but are they prosecuting cases; are they – if they are prosecuting cases, are they prosecuting both sex trafficking and labor trafficking cases.

One data point that’s reported in the report is that of the 2,983 convictions that were reported last year – a notoriously imprecise number given that countries don’t necessarily do that good of a job of keeping track of human trafficking prosecutions – but of the 2,983 that we were able to confirm as far as convictions are concerned, only 104 of them were for trafficking in the labor sector. And again, that’s hard to square with the ILO numbers in which there are around 11 million more people being held in bondage in what we would consider valid forms of labor.

There are a few very positive countries that I’d like to single out as we talk about this. And I think that those of you who saw the feed or were present upstairs in the Ben Franklin Room when the Secretary and I unveiled the report this morning heard me talk about Nigeria. I can’t talk about Nigeria enough, actually. I think that it’s – you’ve got a country here who within five years has gone from Tier 2 Watch List on the cusp of Tier 3, and because of political will, because of some talented detectives, because of a willingness to work with NGOs and actually do cases, has seen an upward trend in their prosecutions, has seen an improvement on how they treat victims, and as a result is a welcome addition to the list of Tier 1 countries.

One of the things that we find very important, and that I certainly can’t stress enough, is that the fight against human trafficking is something that was established in the Clinton Administration through the passage of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, which is something that then-First Lady Hillary Clinton worked very hard on. It was a bipartisan law, and it had bipartisan effect. In fact, it was something that the Bush Administration was very committed to working on once they came in, and the same is true of the Obama Administration.

I think today’s press event upstairs, the cable that the Secretary is sending to the diplomatic corps here in the United States and abroad is something that is a marker as far as not just a continuation of the commitment of the Bush Administration to fighting human trafficking and modern slavery, but an intensification on the part of Hillary Clinton and the Obama Administration.

I think that that’s something that those of us who have worked in the field, whether it’s here at the State Department, people like myself who have been federal prosecutors out investigating the cases, working with the NGOs, I think that’s something that we’re seeing a lot of positive response to from the anti-trafficking community worldwide. And I think that we’re going to hopefully see an improvement in the coming year as far as the counter-trafficking response.

Two things that I would like to leave you with, and one of which is the notion that because we are in a time of economic crisis, and especially workers, especially foreign guest workers are particularly vulnerable because of the way in which recruitment is often – is too often done, we see a problem in the guest worker programs both abroad and here in the United States, and a number of the tier rankings are affected by countries having large guest worker programs that do not have any safeguards built into them.

We saw this in the United States in our territorial possession of Saipan, which had its own guest worker laws in the 1990s. Those guest worker laws have now been overturned by Congress last year. But one of the situations that we saw there is exactly what replicates itself in too many countries around the world, which is the notion that the first step that the boss has when dealing with labor unrest, when dealing with people who are asking just for minimum amounts of food or minimum amounts of pay, the notion that they would withdraw their sponsorship, have the persons deported, cut off any labor activism, cut off any attempts to try to make the workplace better by punishing the workers who would dare to speak back.

That punishment should not be something that the government in any way is complicit in. And yet, guest worker programs both here in the United States and abroad far too often have been used in that manner. The United States passed a law, the Trafficking Reauthorization Act, in December, in which we actually addressed that situation. And one of the recommendations in the Attorney General’s annual report is that we do a top-down review of our guest worker programs to see if there are additional protections that need to be put into place. And we would certainly encourage other countries as well to do that same type of review of their guest worker programs.

At the end of the day, though, it’s not about administrative responses, it’s not about structural responses; it’s about the fact that this is a crime. It is one of the most serious crimes that is out there. The slavery and involuntary servitude that the traffickers hold their victims in is something that cannot simply be remedied by having different immigration structures, by having labor inspectors, by having different policies about various things. Rather, it can only be dealt with by investigating and prosecuting the people who dare to do this.

And so we certainly stand ready, not just abroad but also at home, for those countries who would like to engage, for those countries who are willing to do the same type of self-assessment that we did in the Attorney General’s report which was also released today, where we look at what are the strengths, what are the weaknesses of the United States Government’s response. For those countries who are willing to engage in that type of partnership, the trafficking office here at the State Department, the Justice Department and the rest of the U.S. Government stands ready to partner.

MR. WOOD: Matt.

QUESTION: The thing that jumped out at me in looking at this report was the rather substantial increase in the number of countries when you pull down the Tier 2 Watch List. It’s a 30 percent increase from last year. And I’m wondering what you attribute that to. What is it a function of? Is it a function of the – a larger pool of countries being reviewed? Is it a function of the economy? Is it a function of this Administration applying more stringent criteria to the – as the – than the last one did?

AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: I think it’s all of the above, actually. We see 173 ranked countries this year, as opposed to 153 in 2008. A number of cases, 17 cases in 2008, were thought of as special case countries, as opposed to actually being ranked.

Now part of that is that Congress changed the standards last fall as far as who gets ranked, as opposed to reported on. There had been a threshold analysis as to how many cases were being uncovered in a particular country. And I think that one of the things that Congress recognizes is that you could have a significant trafficking problem, even in a country which reported zero cases. In fact, a country reporting zero cases would probably be an indication that there wasn’t a problem there. It would be like a police force saying that they had arrested zero people for domestic violence; you start wondering whether the police force was part of the problem.

This is something that we see as far as – as more countries come in, the pool gets bigger. But also, given the fact that the economic crisis is putting so much strain on the labor system, given the fact that we are looking not just at sex trafficking, but at labor trafficking as well. But I don’t think that you can necessarily say that it’s an Obama Administration versus Bush Administration type of analysis because last year when the reporting started for this year’s report, it was made clear to countries that these are things that would be taken into account. And so we’re continuing on the work of Ambassador Mark Lagon, who was my predecessor, who started really focusing in on some of these problems of forced labor. And I think that the more you look at that, the more you find.

QUESTION: Okay. And then just another thing. It’s new this year, right, that if you’re on the Watch List for two years consecutively, you’re demoted to Tier 3, unless there’s a presidential waiver?

AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: Indeed. Beginning now, the clock is now ticking.


AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: And that’s part of the Wilberforce Act, the congressional action in December of this year.

QUESTION: And do you know – then on the countries on the Tier 3, how many are – actually have sanctions imposed against them right now?

AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: I am actually unfamiliar with that. I think that that’s something that our report staff should be able to help us with, and we can get you that answer.

QUESTION: What’s the best way to quantify that the financial crisis has impacted the amount of human trafficking? I mean, what kind of – is there are a number we can say it’s increased 5 percent or certain countries or –

AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: I don’t think that we can quantify it yet. This is a trend that our report staff is seeing. It’s a trend that some of the internationals are seeing as well. But as far as being able to quantify any in real time, I think there’s two problems.

First of all, given the very nature of human trafficking, it’s very hard to get reliable data. You go into a factory, for instance, there may have been – if it was a government-sponsored labor broker, they may have sent government employees along in that workforce who are having a chilling effect on the workers, that don’t either talk to researchers or government officials who go in.

One of the things that we’ve seen – the closest thing that we have as far as what is a hard number of the impacts, the ILO report has estimated that it’s about a $31 billion profit to the traffickers, the people who are holding these folks in forced labor, but also it’s an additional $21 billion of opportunity cost, losses by the victims – a combination of opportunity cost and then the extortionate recruitment fees and other things that they’ve paid to the labor brokers to begin with.

QUESTION: So this is a $31 billion profit in a year?

AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: To the traffickers, yes.

QUESTION: To the traffickers.

AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: Yes, just in the last year.

QUESTION: In this last year?

AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: This is their – so it’s about a 50 – according to the ILO, what they’ve been able to identify is $50 billion of direct impact. That’s not farther down the supply chain or where it all touches.

I think that’s one of the things that we see is the notion that a number of companies are beginning to take a look at their supply chain, whether it’s in agriculture, whether it’s in raw materials, and to try and figure out what needs to be done to have a slavery-free supply chain. And we not only applaud those efforts, we’re going to be trying to have public-private partnerships to work with companies that will engage in that way.

QUESTION: So that’s one tiny, little aside. Well, is it 173 or 175 countries?

AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: Well, there’s – there are a few entities that are ranked, like the Netherlands Antilles. So there’s a hundred --

QUESTION: So that’s – okay.

AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: Yes, so there’s 175 ranked places. We can talk about what that means later.

QUESTION: I was surprised by the fact that among the seven country that were demoted to Tier 3 this year, six were from Africa. What happened last year in Africa for – to give this result?

AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: Well, I think that one of the things that we see, especially in West Africa, a number of them – Chad, Mauritania, and Niger – these are countries that have a historical slavery problem, that they undertook commitments over the last 20 years to confront and to emancipate families and people who have been part of a slave caste, enslaved by the same families, some for up to 500 years. Those efforts seem to have stalled. Those efforts are part of the anti-trafficking movement.

One of the things that is interesting is that Mali, which is on Tier 2 Watch List, has confronted this perhaps a bit better than its neighbors. But I think that at the end of the day, what we’re dealing with is countries where there is not only a modern trafficking problem in that you have citizens of those countries who are being taken down to the agricultural regions farther south into other countries, but also you have this notion of ongoing hereditary slavery that is not being addressed as quickly as it should be.

QUESTION: Can you talk about the downgrades in Asia, in particular Malaysia going to Tier 3? It’s a country that sees a lot of Burmese migrants who, from what we hear, are being sold to human traffickers with authorities’ knowledge or by authorities. Malaysia is traditionally more of an open-type of country, and I’m sort of wondering what their reaction to the downgrade is, what they’ve been telling us.

AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: Well, I have not heard their reaction to the downgrade yet. I’ve been with you guys and with the Secretary. But I think that what we’ve seen in the last month or so, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, of course, did a recent in-depth study of the very problem that you’re pointing out, the Burmese refugee problem. One of the problems that we’ve been calling Malaysia’s attention to over the last years is their treatment of refugees, as has the UN refugee agencies.

The presence of a 500,000-person-strong militia that is basically deputized in the past, has actually gotten head money for the aliens that they catch, is something that seems to have contributed to a zone of impunity around that refugee population. And since you don’t necessarily have a well-structured immigration – professional immigration policing, it’s devolved into this much more self-help with that particular militia being involved.

The response of the Government of Malaysia to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee report and the allegations that were contained therein initially was positive. They said that they would be investigating the allegations. But we’d certainly like to see more movement as far as their investigation of the official complicity that’s been reported.

MR. WOOD: We have time for two more questions.

QUESTION: On Burma itself, I noticed that in the areas of prevention, prosecution, and protection, they – there was progress in all three categories. And I thought maybe that would be reason to bump it up maybe to the Tier 2 Watch List. Why not?

AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: Well, I think we are certainly heartened by the 2005 law that they passed. The penalties for both sex and labor trafficking are commensurate with the other grave crimes that are involved. I think that one of the things that we see that we are concerned about is the number of prosecutions that they’re reporting. It’s unclear whether they are prosecuting folks who actually were holding someone in slavery, or whether or not they were prosecuting migrant smugglers. And one of the reasons is that most of the interdictions which they reported are with outgoing Burmese nationals as the victims. They’re one of the only countries that I know. And having been a federal prosecutor doing these cases for years, the notion of being able to identify a trafficking case in transit as opposed to when you actually have the field, the factory, et cetera where people are being enslaved, it’s almost impossible. It’s very difficult. That seems to be what they were reporting on, so we have some questions as to their underlying numbers.

But I think we also see that notion within Burma, and there’s been some reporting as to some constitutional revisions that they’re doing, which would actually enable them to sell the labor of their citizens. And so the notion that the state could get into the labor broker market and actually then use the coercive power of the state to hold people in forced labor is something that we’re very troubled by.

MR. WOOD: Last question.

QUESTION: Yes. I’d like to ask you about the North Korea and Asia countries. North Korea’s human trafficking situation has never been better in progress. And then North Korea human trafficking is related to the China, with actually so. Do you have any just suggestion or recommendation in connection with the China and the North Korea human traffic?

AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: Well, this is actually – and I’ll take a point of personal relevance and say this is something that I care a lot about, because a case that I prosecuted earlier in my career involved ethnically Korean women from the parts of China that are near North Korea. And one of the things that we see with the ethnically Korean population in that part of China is that neither China nor North Korea seems to want to protect that population.

North Korea is Tier 3 and has been for quite some time. One of the things that we see as very necessary for North Korea to do is to actually screen returnees for trafficking. A lot of people who are caught in China in labor situations or in prostitution – first of all, the Chinese are not screening them as trafficking victims and we’d like to see China do that. But when they then deport them back to North Korea, we are hearing from nongovernmental organizations and other observers that those victims are being punished for having left the country in the first place, rather than actually being given the kind of services and the kind of rehabilitation that a trafficking victim should get under international law and international norms.

MR. WOOD: Thank you all.


PRN: 2009/601