Conversations With America: U.S. Efforts To Combat Trafficking in Persons

Luis CdeBaca
Ambassador-at-Large, Office To Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons
Cheryl Benton, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs; Wade Henderson, President and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights And The Leadership Conference Education Fund
Washington, DC
February 8, 2011

MS. BENTON: Good afternoon. I’m Cheryl Benton, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Department’s Bureau of Public Affairs. Welcome to the State Department, and thank you for joining us for the ninth installment of Conversations With America, a series of video discussions that enables you to watch and participate in a live discussion between a top State Department official and the leader of a nongovernmental organization. Today’s discussion will focus on U.S. efforts to combat trafficking in persons. Our blog DipNote has received many questions and comments on today’s topic from all around the globe. We have selected some of the questions for discussion during this broadcast. Before we begin, I will briefly introduce you to our guests.

Ambassador Luis CdeBaca is the Administration’s Ambassador-at-Large to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. Ambassador CdeBaca was appointed by President Obama to coordinate U.S. Government activities in the global fight against contemporary forms of slavery. He serves as senior advisor to the Secretary of State and directs the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons which assesses global trends, provides training and technical assistance, and advocates for an end to modern slavery. In coordination with interagency partners, the office utilizes diplomatic tools such as the Trafficking in Persons Report – we often call that the TIP report – to highlight current trends and jumpstart multilateral and bilateral action as well as support antislavery programs around the world.

Let me introduce you to Wade Henderson. Wade is an old friend and the president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and The Leadership Conference Education Fund. Mr. Henderson is well known for his expertise as a wide – on a wide range of civil rights, civil liberties, and human rights issues and is the author of numerous articles on civil rights and public policy issues. Since taking the helm of The Leadership Conference in 1996, Mr. Henderson has worked diligently to address emerging policy issues of concern to the civil and human rights community and to strengthen the effectiveness of the coalition. Under his stewardship, The Leadership Conference has become one of the nation’s most effective advocates for civil and human rights. Today, Mr. Henderson and Ambassador CdeBaca will discuss their efforts to combat trafficking in persons and other human rights violations stemming from that crime.

Before we get started, I’d like to invite our guests to provide a brief introductory set of remarks – Mr. Henderson and Ambassador CdeBaca. Now, Mr. Henderson, could you start us off?

MR. HENDERSON: Well, thank you, Cheryl, and Lou. It’s terrific being here, and I’m honored to be on your show.

Let me say at the outset that I think it’s wonderful that the State Department is focusing on contemporary issues of human trafficking and slavery. Too often, the public sees this as simply an historic problem, one that does not exist in the 21st century, and obviously, we’d be wrong. About 800,000 individuals are trafficked worldwide each year. At any given time, the United States perhaps has as many as 57,000 to 87,000, I think, individuals being trafficked in the United States, and in many instances, forced into contemporary slavery. And we admit somewhere close to about 20,000 individuals who are trafficked each year.

So having said that, this is a contemporary problem. It’s a problem that needs greater focus than it’s received. And obviously, the efforts of Ambassador CdeBaca and the State Department, but also the Department of Justice and other federal agencies needs to be greatly increased. And so we see this as a very important issue, and we’re delighted to have you bring it up today.

MS. BENTON: Okay, perfect. Thank you. Ambassador, could you give us some brief opening remarks?

AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: Indeed. First of all, thank you for hosting us, and I’m just delighted that I could join Wade Henderson here. I remember meeting Wade, I think, for the first time around ’95 or ’96 when we were talking about some other civil rights issues – police brutality, the rash of church burnings that was happening around the country at the time. But at the same time, the civil rights division of the Justice Department was also doing slavery cases. And I think that a lot of people were surprised not just when the new law was passed in the year 2000 that updated our post-Civil War slavery statutes, but are surprised even today in 2011 that the Obama Administration would be not just talking about this, but making it a civil rights priority.

But I think that, as Wade says, this is something that at the end of the day, we have a responsibility to always be vigilant for this promise that President Lincoln made not just in the Emancipation Proclamation, but about 146 years ago last week when he sent the 13th Amendment to the states for ratification. He was making a promise on behalf of the United States that said slavery and involuntary servitude, in whatever form, whatever label we call it by, should not exist. And I think that promise has to drive us, and it does for me and Secretary Clinton, in our foreign policy as much as it being a promise that it won’t exist here at home.

MS. BENTON: Good deal. Wade, why don’t you go ahead and lead us.

MR. HENDERSON: Yeah, well – no, thank you, Cheryl. Lou, I’m so pleased that you brought up the Emancipation Proclamation and what it means in this discussion. As you know, in a couple of years, we’ll celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation – obviously, one of the important policy statement initiatives – both, of course, during the Civil War, but its implications going forward are quite significant. But I think it’s really important for the civil and human rights community to focus on this issue of contemporary slavery.

Look, we are proud to be American citizens, but I think we have to acknowledge that this republic began with a flawed concept, a flawed concept of democracy on the one hand, but ingrained with slavery on the other. And it took, of course, many, many years to resolve that dilemma, and we’re still struggling to do it today.

The Emancipation Proclamation was, of course, an important statement from President Lincoln about his commitment to a republic without slavery. But let’s be honest about it, no romanticism here. It was signed January 1st, 1863. It freed slaves only in Confederate states under the control of the Confederacy. And we recognized that since they had seceded from the union, they were not likely to follow President Lincoln’s edict.

In the North, the provision did not apply. And yet, in Border States and in the North, slaves and committed abolitionists used the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation to spur – to spur activism and change. It was at the conclusion of the war, with the adoption of the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery, and the 14th Amendment, which guaranteed some form of citizenship, that we began to realize our road to a more perfect union. And we are continuing on that road today.

So America is a work in progress. But I think we are able to demonstrate, with the kinds of broad changes that we’ve been able to foster, that it is possible, even in countries today mired with problems of contemporary slavery.

And last point: I think there’s a real distinction between the effort to end slavery prior to the Civil War and efforts to end slavery today. For example, we have a legal system which recognizes that no one should be kept as a slave. Secondly, we don’t have the economic problems that were associated with slavery during the Civil War. We have no state, no country, that’s dependent on slave labor in the way that existed prior to the Civil War. And lastly, there is no moral justification for slavery today. Every country, by and large, agrees that slavery should not exist. The issue is whether they take those edicts and enforce them. And I think, quite frankly, there is a real contradiction between what many of – countries say, on the one hand, and the practices they pursue, on the other.

And then lastly, there are many euphemisms that are used that disguise the contemporary problem of slavery. For example, to call it “trafficking” – to suggest that trafficking, which has an economic and political dimension, is different from slavery, I think miscasts in many instances the conditions of people who live in a so-called trafficked environment. For example, many women are coerced into prostitution and are characterized as sex workers, which, in fact, disguises their role as being exploited victims of human rights violations of the first magnitude. When children are exploited for sexual purposes, they are sometimes referred to as having been pushed into prostitution; children in prostitution. But it is important that we call it what it is and make certain that people understand that indeed, human rights violations of this magnitude can’t be tolerated and can’t be dismissed in economic terms alone.

MS. BENTON: That leads right into --

AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: I think – it’s music to my ears. But I think that it’s – it shows how the American civil rights story is truly a story for the world, this journey that we’ve taken as a country. The man who wrote what became the 13th Amendment was not Abraham Lincoln; it was Thomas Jefferson, when he was writing the Northwest Ordinance to bring Michigan and all those states in. Here’s a man who declared freedom, declared a country based on equality and freedom, wrote what later became the 13th Amendment, and then went home to his staff and servants.

And I think that that’s the thing, is that not only have we had a very conflicted relationship with ourselves in America over these issues of slavery, but also, I think it was Frederick Douglass that talked about you can call it whatever you want to – servitude, the peculiar institution, servants, staff – call it all you want, but it’s going to be the same when you look at the lives of people who were enslaved. I think that’s as true now as it was then, although very different context.

The brilliance of that flawed man, Thomas Jefferson – by the way, the first Secretary of State; we have to give him a shout out. (Laughter). Let’s give him a shout out here. The brilliance of him, even while he was personally flawed, was that instead of just saying slavery won’t exist said slavery and involuntary servitude – and that’s that notion of you can do away with the legal basis, but if people are then using threats, coercion, force, looking at people’s vulnerabilities and taking advantage of it, they are then violating that human right, that constitutional right, even though the legal underpinnings of slavery are long in history. And I think that’s what – to me, it’s that living promise.

At the end of the day, I think it’s very important – and we don’t always talk about it here at the State Department because we’re very focused on the – whether it’s the annual Trafficking in Persons Report, whether it’s the training and technical assistance, et cetera. But this notion of democratization – the 13th and 14th Amendments in American life cannot be separated. The idea that people who were protected from slavery ongoing into the future but also that they were made American citizens, that’s citizenship, and not citizenship writ small but citizenship writ large. What is citizenship? It’s voting, it’s being able to go to school, it’s education, it’s being able to participate in democracy.

A lot of the things that we think of as the civil rights movement, starting in ’47 with Dennis Chavez putting in the equal employment bill that eventually, 14 years later, finally got us to where we needed to go – those things were only possible because for 15 years before that, the nascent civil rights section over at the Justice Department was doing slavery prosecutions while people were enslaved, until the Supreme Court cases that broke the back of the sharecropping system were taken – was taken care of. You don’t have 14th and 15th Amendment jurisprudence, what we think of as the civil rights movement – all the letters that you see at the Library of Congress to Thurgood Marshall and others in the ‘30s are all, “Please Mr. Marshall, help me find my son. They came and said he’d get a good job, he left; I don’t know where he is.” It sounds eerily like what I hear when I go around the world, when I’m talking about a mother in Bangladesh, when I’m talking to a father in the Philippines. They’re saying, “Will the United States help me find my son?” So I think that’s the thing is that we, that pre – that notion of freedom as a precursor for democracy, for civil rights, for human rights.

MR. HENDERSON: Well, you’re absolutely right, Lou. And I think, factually, your statements are correct. But I think we need to put this in context, because I think, for our listeners around the world, it’s important that they understand American democracy for what it is, not what we’d necessarily like it to be, but what we’re evolving into in the future.

Look, the first 15 presidents of the United States maintained slaves and did so until their death without ever freeing them. It took the Civil War, many, many years of struggle with individuals giving their lives to achieve freedom; it took the passage of three constitutional amendments; it took many, many years of Jim Crow laws, laws that discriminate against African Americans because of their race. And we are still struggling to overcome the effect of slavery in this country. An African-American President and a fully integrated Cabinet do not substitute for freedom at its inception. And so the only thing I really want to underscore is the fact that yes, we have evolved into a more perfect union, but it was not a passive evolution; it was a struggle of the most – the greatest intensity.

Now, I would recommend that for those who are listening, there is a place to go to get more information. The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, Ohio and their website,, will offer both historic perspectives on slavery as it existed in this country, but links to contemporary information about slavery worldwide. It’s the most, I think, fascinating connection between the historic and the contemporary that’s available to us today. And I would encourage your listeners to take a look at it because I think it’s very important.

MS. BENTON: It’s fascinating, just fascinating.

MR. HENDERSON: Yeah, I think it --

AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: And one of the things that’s so intriguing to me about what they’ve done at the Freedom Museum is – we see something that’s like the Underground Railroad in other countries. We see in countries that have a lot of guest workers that’s sourced out of South and Central Asia, people who are halfway around the world, they’re in – often domestic servants. If they can get away from the abuse, they have nowhere to go. So there are actual – often church-based, just like in the original Underground Railroad – there are people who are taking them in and helping them and helping them get home.

I think that one of the things that we’re trying to do, as the U.S. Government, is then to say, “Look, governments of the world, don’t outsource this to good-hearted people running a kind of unofficial underground railroad.” Don’t say, “Oh, well, they’re being taken care of because the church is going to take care of them” or “They’re going to – they have a place to escape to in their own community.”

MR. HENDERSON: Yes, yes, yes.

AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: The government has a responsibility then to step in, prosecute the bad guy. This is not a development issue, although it has development aspects. This is an issue where people’s core, fundamental rights are being abused. And so then that government has to step in, help the victims put the bad guy in jail. They can’t just sit back and say, “We’ll let people in the middle of the night escape and find help on their own.”

MR. HENDERSON: Well, let’s take a deeper dive, though, Lou, in terms of who actually makes up this population of contemporary slaves or people who have been trafficked for a variety of reasons. A substantial portion of them are debt traffickers, they’re people who have been trafficked for reasons of debt. For example, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the ACLU has perhaps the largest class action lawsuit ever brought on behalf of a group of Indian – East Indian workers in the New Orleans area who came into the United States as guest workers to work in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, but who have been abused and deprived of wages and put in a dreadful situation. It’s a contemporary problem of how debt is used and manipulated to perpetuate a kind of bondage – a slavery, if you will – that’s really quite disgusting.

Another portion of them, a small portion, are brought in by diplomats. I mean, we’ve seen many instances where the diplomatic corps will bring staff into the United States, and they are virtually in bondage. And in many cases countries, you have a sort of understood system that if you want the advantages of going overseas, you really have to play this role. Colbert King, a Pulitzer Prize winning author – or rather reporter with the Washington Post, wrote about as far back as 2006, and other articles have been written about that.

And then the last group, and a group that I think has been terribly mischaracterized, are women and children that are forced into prostitution. And I think we do far too little to look at the circumstances of women who are – who find themselves, through no fault of their own, in this kind of coerced and abusive circumstance. Many of them are women of color, many of them are brought into the United States with no option. And some who would choose to characterize them as – quote – sort of sex workers or women who exercise free choice – completely ignore the situation in which they find themselves.

And that’s why we and our organization are so strongly committed to the full and effective enforcement of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, but also to the ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. This is an international covenant that’s been floating around in the Senate now for 30 years. It needs to be ratified. And women need to be given additional tools to protect themselves. And obviously, when you’re talking about this vulnerable population, they have to be protected with advocates like those in the civil and human rights movement and the State Department.

There’s a wonderful group called, I think the Coalition Against the Trafficking Women. I don’t know their website, but I know they focus with great intensity on the issues of women who, again, through no fault of their own, find themselves coerced and forced into prostitution. And this coalition has stripped away a lot of the euphemisms and sort of characterizations of this condition as the exercise of free will. In reality, it is a human rights violation that should not be tolerated.

And I think when you look at the array of laws that have been passed and that are exercised to help these victims, they’re completely inadequate. I mean, with the exception of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, there are very few initiatives that really provide meaningful protection for the victims of contemporary slavery. The 1956 Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery and the Slave Trade has not been an effective tool for handling this issue. I think when one looks at the kinds of civil remedies that might be filed, they’re inadequate.

And while I think the Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, the Department of State, a few of the other federal agencies, have tried to coordinate their activity, unless the President issues an executive order that establishes an interagency working group on human rights that would give us an opportunity to require each federal agency to contribute to the effort of coordinating a response, we’re going to continue to be behind the eight-ball in terms of doing anything meaningful for these victims. So I think the U.S. could do a great deal more. I think we need to be outspoken advocates for change, but we need to get our own house in order.

Ratifying CEDAW, I think, is an important step in that direction, and insisting on additional resources being devoted to human trafficking would also be good. But of course, in this time of economic austerity, the deficit, and efforts to cut back on foreign aid by some in the House and Senate, who have a very shortsighted view of what human rights is today, I think we have a struggle ahead of us.

AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: You know, Wade, last week we were able to meet in the annual meeting of the Cabinet on this. There’s the President’s interagency task force that’s created by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, and one of the things that was really interesting to me as the secretary for that – Secretary Clinton chaired it, of course – but was the notion that folks who know what the budget outcomes may be this year, that folks who know what the atmosphere on Capitol Hill is saying, “No matter what happens, we’re going to work on this. We’re going to make it a priority.” And I think it’s that notion of it is kind of who we are as a country for good or ill(inaudible), as we talked about, but also that idea that – I’m the first person to say that we need to have the oxygen to play in this area.


AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: The President’s budget is probably going to be different than what Congress wants to give us. And so we know that one of the things we’re going to have to do is to do better with whatever we have. I’m not going to say do more with less.

MR. HENDERSON: No, I understand. I understand.

AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: And I think that that’s exactly what you’re saying, is that this idea of increased interagency coordination so that we can really take it to the next level. The Secretary – Secretary Clinton this morning was asking me about can we take all of the training materials that have been done, whether – Department of Defense has some really good things for their guys.


AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: DHS has some really good things. Can we, as the State Department, then bring those all together so they’re available to everyone, but then use that as a platform to get it out? And I think that, even going one step further, we’ve talked a little bit about the victims; we’ve talked a little bit about some of the perpetrators. But at the end of the day, this is driven by demand. Nobody is offering a girl or a woman as a prostitute if there’s not a client.

MR. HENDERSON: That’s right. That’s right.

AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: Nobody is having a little kid in Cote d’Ivoire pick that chocolate if we’re not ourselves –

MR. HENDERSON: Yes, absolutely.

AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: And I certainly know that the coffee that I drank this morning and the chocolate that I ate yesterday –


AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: I didn’t even ask. There’s no way for me to look and say, was this picked by a child slave in West Africa?


AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: And I think that that’s the thing that –

MR. HENDERSON: No, you’re so right. No. Mr. Ambassador, you’re absolutely right, that the U.S. has to really set the standard in international terms about what we see as a significant human rights violation and our willingness to address it. The value of slaves today in contemporary terms is very different than when slavery was practiced in this country prior to the Civil War. The average cost of a slave then was about $40,000. The average cost of a slave from the Ivory Coast today is about $30. There is no desire or need to protect a slave today in the same way that those who ran plantations in the South before the Civil War would have protected. That disparity, that difference in value, has had a significant impact on how we pursue responses.

Now, you mentioned demand and the economic incentives that foster slavery in the contemporary world. And you’re absolutely right. The sex trade that is global in nature is billions of dollars in unregulated funding that, obviously, is the result of a criminal enterprise. And until we are willing to take steps, in some instances, to pursue remedies that perhaps criminalize some of the activity in ways that help to suppress demand, only then will you be able to offer the kinds of protections to some of the most vulnerable victims of slavery today.

There are slaves among us that we would not know to be slaves. They’re walking the streets of Washington, D.C.; they’re walking in our major cities. Some of them may have characteristics that seem to make them unremarkably similar to undocumented immigrants. On the other hand, they speak little English, they’re furtive and afraid to report crimes because of a fear of deportation, they have no health insurance, a host of problems. If they are children, they are additionally vulnerable to the psychological manipulation and pressure that adults bring. If they are women who have been trafficked for sex purposes from other countries, they are fearful about their own circumstance. In too many instances are women then deported if they have been victimized by sex trafficking. There are inadequate protections that exist.

Some of the Scandinavian countries have begun to pursue something I think called the Nordic model, in which they’re looking at ways of sort of criminalizing behavior in the circles of prostitution. That seems to have made a difference. It’s certainly worth looking at. I do know that some in this country, and particularly those who argue a civil libertarian point of view with respect to issues like prostitution – and I certainly believe in free will and free choice – often don’t recognize, however, that those who are – who find themselves on the wrong end of prostitution have not exercised free will. Their circumstances compelled them into the profession from which they can now not escape.

And so I think we must be much more honest, and we need to offer a variety of remedies. Those who talk about civil remedies don’t really understand the nature of the court and how it works and whether that would be valuable. And the few instances where you’ve had successful prosecutions of human trafficking cases, sometimes suggest that we are more on top of the problem than in fact we are. And I think in that sense, there needs to be a greater level of understanding and communication about how we address the issue.

AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: I think that one of the things that we see, as far as you mentioned, sort of the issues around the women in prostitution, whether it’s a girl here in the United States, a girl or woman who’s fallen under the spell of a seductive pimp who then controls her, whether it’s a girl that just got off the proverbial boat, one of the things that we’ve seen too often – in the United States we prosecute somewhere around 25,000 men every year for going to prostitutes. And yet, those men are very likely to be able to go to a diversion program, sit through a Saturday where they’re hearing about the evils of prostitution, and it gets taken off of their record.

MR. HENDERSON: That’s right.

AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: The girls and the women or even the young boys who get caught for prostitution then get prosecuted as prostitutes. There’s no diversion programs for them.


AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: For the rest of their life, they’re going to be branded as having committed a crime of moral turpitude, while the man that was there –

MR. HENDERSON: Has no stigma.

AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: -- is going to, within six weeks, have it wiped off of his record. I think that shows some of the priorities, the competing priorities that –

MR. HENDERSON: No, absolutely. And when the victim is a foreign national, unless they are willing to participate in the prosecution of those who abused them, they are then subject to virtual automatic deportation. I mean, the truth is the system works a harsh penalty on those who are most vulnerable and have been victimized by prostitution and by related problems of the sex trade.

Moreover, I think many Americans view prostitution as if we were talking about Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman. That’s not the view of prostitution in the 21st century. It’s a sleazy business in which individuals without the adequate protection of the law or the ability to articulate their own circumstances are exploited for economic reasons and are abused in a completely nonromantic setting and circumstance. And I think that before we launch a new round of prosecutions however, I do think a public education campaign to help the public understand the perils of human trafficking and what it means, strip away the illusion that somehow this is a benign, largely economic, in the individualized sense of the term, and really point up the fact that this is a business in most instances that is run by unscrupulous individuals. And unless we are prepared to bring prosecutions for example under the RICO statutes, the racketeering laws for example, using conspiracy statutes to really get to the heart of the trade, then we’re not doing enough.

And lastly – again, I go back to the importance of the – our own government making a statement about how we value women. And until we enact – ratify the Convention of the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, we are not taking seriously the conditions of women in trafficking and contemporary slavery.

MS. BENTON: This is absolutely fascinating, and I have a question for the two of you. I was curious if – the education we talked about – what is it going to take for the American public, for our public across the waters, to become aware and engaged in and step up so that they can be a part of the solution? Because it’s going on everywhere. We had the earthquake in Haiti. We had a number of people rushing over there to bring the kids back, which on the surface was a great idea. But were those people okay to bring those kids back, or are those kids going to be put into a bad space? So I’m just curious what can we do to bring the public into this a little bit more.

MR. HENDERSON: Well, I have an answer, but I’m going to defer to the Ambassador, because I know you want to speak first.

AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: I think that one of the things that, unfortunately, we’ve seen as we ask what does it take, a lot of times it takes a tragedy, and I think we have to get out of that cycle.

In Britain, they passed a trafficking law right after the 2000 UN – what we call a Palermo Protocol, which said that countries of the world should update their slavery laws. They passed a trafficking law that only applied for bringing in women for prostitution. It wasn’t about forced labor. It wasn’t about the migrants. It wasn’t about the factory workers or the domestic servants. It was a very old way of thinking.

Nineteen Chinese men and women died in the ocean. When the surf came in, they were out picking up oysters and cockles and other things like that. They were in debt bondage. They owed a huge smuggling fee to the people who had brought them in. Some of them were even able to call home on cell phones as the water rose. It was one of the most tragic things that’s happened in the UK in decades. Those 19 people died and woke up all of Britain, and now they have trafficking laws that help everybody. Now they have victim protections and everything else.

It shouldn’t take 19 people dying. It shouldn’t take – we’re almost to the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist fire. It shouldn’t take those women having to jump out of that building with their hair on fire for us to then wake up and try to end the sweatshops.

Now, I don't want to sound like I’m a total pessimist, because I am very optimistic about this. I think that whether it’s through new media, through awareness campaigns, things that burst through and say, I don’t – we got to get past people thinking, “Okay, well I don’t buy sex, and I’m not abusing my domestic servant, and I’m – I don’t have a factory, so therefore this is not my problem.” Well, the problem is if there’s some guy who I know who buys sex, and I’m not talking to him about that, or if I’m not saying to my buddies, “Hey, that’s not cool,” if I’m not asking those questions about the things I’m buying, then, you know what, it is my problem.

MS. BENTON: You are part of it.

MR. HENDERSON: But you know – well, first of all, I completely agree, Mr. Ambassador. But I also think there has to be a global public education campaign to put the issue of trafficking, the issue of prostitution, coerced labor on the table. The International Labor Organization of the UN has a campaign now against forced labor practices. You’ve perhaps seen the public service announcements on television. They’re terrific. But that needs to be coordinated with a campaign in the United States in which the Department of Labor and HHS and the State Department and the Immigration Service are working in tandem, using portions of their budget devoted to a broader public education campaign. Which is why we think that an interagency working group on human rights, brought together largely by an executive order, could go a long way toward helping to achieve that level of interagency coordination. And it needs to be done with the support of some of the world’s foundation community.

Obviously, their resources are going to be at a premium. But if foundations are willing to pool resources and to adopt a global campaign, and if that campaign is shared by countries that have found themselves in the crosshairs of some of the most difficult trafficking issues today, I think we can make a dent. And you have to, of course, lift up the value of human life. I mean, in countries that are struggling to survive, the exploitation of children is legend. It’s legend. Now, you’re not going to change these practices overnight. But I think, through a coordinated effort, we can make a dent. And I think public education, along with a coordinated campaign of adjustments in our laws and statutes, ratification of treaties like CEDAW, could go a long way toward elevating public understanding of why this is a problem.

MS. BENTON: Great, Wade. I wanted to bring some of our questions in.

MR. HENDERSON: Would love to.

MS. BENTON: We’ve gotten some from around the country. And many interested viewers have submitted those through our DipNote. So let’s take some of those questions now.


MS. BENTON: Lilly W. in Minnesota writes, “In my experience working in Thailand by the Burma border, human trafficking is a massive, massive problem. People are being trafficked from Burma to Thailand. Many of the victims are children and women. Is there any international authority that will protect the rights of these unfortunate people? Will the United Nations offer a solution to this kind of problem?”

AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: Well, I think that, as Wade has eloquently said, CEDAW provides a structure, as perhaps even more operationally so does the Palermo Protocol, the Protocol Against Trafficking in Persons from 10 years ago. And Thailand is a – I think is a signatory. Don’t quote me on that. What I do know is that Thailand has laws against trafficking. They’re actually fairly good laws. But laws have to be implemented. Laws themselves don’t free anybody; they don’t help anybody. And one of the concerns that we’ve had in recent years with Thailand, as is referenced in the annual Trafficking in Persons Report, is the notion that cases aren’t being prosecuted, especially among that particular ethnic group.

Now the root cause, of course, is with no other options but to flee the junta in Burma, people are leaving. They’re voting with their feet. They’re also voting for opportunity. So there are, I think, almost 3 million people in Thailand.

The UN agencies in Thailand – there’s a particularly effective working group in the area called the COMMIT Process, which – I can’t tell you what the acronym stands for, but it’s basically a Mekong sub-region working group that brings these countries together. And the UN, through the UN information program, actually has one of the best projects in the world as far as intel is concerned. It’s called UNIAP. The UNIAP program is actually out there at the borders, both on the Burmese border and the Cambodian border. They’re interviewing with the victims, they’re interviewing workers when they come back. They’re giving us a snapshot of how this exploitation works. Without the UN, that doesn’t happen. Without the UN supporting the UNIAP program and creating that baseline information, the Royal Thai Police, those of us who want to help, couldn’t do anything to dismantle these. So we’ve definitely seen the UN projects, particularly UNIAP but also UNODC, UN Development Program, et cetera, really playing up –

MS. BENTON: So they’re impactful.

AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: They are impactful, but they’re only as impactful as the government will let them be. Because at the end of the day, no international organization – not even a bilateral relationship with the United States – comes down to is a prosecutor from the Royal Thai Government going to call for justice on behalf of that victim? Is the immigration service from the Royal Thai Government going to do the right thing by that woman in trouble?

MS. BENTON: That’s very good. Let’s now take a question from Texas. TLG writes, “U.S. victim assistance, especially for domestic minor sex trafficking victims, has been repeatedly stalled. There are groups struggling to establish safe houses all across the country and provide leadership to the movement. What leadership role can this forum take in calling for a coordinated effort across the federal and state levels that works with public and private ventures in practical ways?”

MR. HENDERSON: Yeah. Yeah. Well, first, let me commend those NGOs, those volunteers who stepped forward to assist some of the victims of trafficking, whether they are minor children, whether they are women forced into prostitution, whether they are laborers who have been denied their basic humanity and the wages they’re entitled to. So I want to commend them.

But having said that, this system of – this network of volunteer assistance is really not the answer to what is an institutional problem, institutionalized problem that requires a greater devotion of resources and coordination than these volunteers can bring. I mean, I think the civil rights division at the Department of Justice – Lou shared with me recently a report that they’ve just issued on the 10th anniversary of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act and their enforcement of that statute. It’s a good report; it’s a good statement of what the Department of Justice has done. I know that they’re coordinating their effort with this network of U.S. attorneys, the 94 U.S. attorneys who serve as an advisory group to the attorney general. That’s a positive statement.

But the religious community has an important role to play. State and local governments have an important role to play. Their human rights and civil rights departments at the state level have important roles to play. There needs to be, again, a greater level of coordination between federal and state authorities and some sort of strategic prioritization of how you attack the problem.


MR. HENDERSON: I mean, obviously, this is a global issue, but some states have a more significant problem than others. And I think, given the limited resources that we have, some strategic consideration of how we attack the issue has to be designed. There is no – it seems to me – no sufficiently global campaign that is focused on these issues using both law enforcement, using policy changes, and using communication as elements of how we put together such a program. So I think, again, the ambassador may be one of the leaders in this area and could contribute to that development.

MS. BENTON: Good. Next, we’ll have a problem from Meredith L. in Washington, D.C. She actually has two questions. The first is: “The upcoming 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation is a date that many in the U.S. will commemorate. For both of you, how might the proclamation’s promise and the legacy of the era’s antislavery activists best be honored?”

And second question: “Let’s get into the media on human trafficking. How do we increase awareness? How do we do that?”

MR. HENDERSON: Well, let me say the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, we talked a little bit about that. But again, I think it is an opportunity to both create an aspirational goal for the problems of contemporary slavery and to give some hope to the victims of trafficking and slavery today that there can be a successful movement to achieve a freedom which has been so elusive.

I think when you look at the freedom center that I mentioned, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, the artwork, the documentation of the problem is inspirational, because it really does help to show what can be achieved even by individuals with limited education, where there’s a burning commitment for freedom. But we have to do more than simply commemorate the day. We should use the Emancipation Proclamation’s anniversary as a period for the recommitment of the federal government to really address these issues in a more fundamental, structural way.

And so what I’m hoping the anniversary might present is an opportunity for the U.S. Government to make a major statement on issues of slavery and freedom in the contemporary world, and really come forth with initiatives that really help to underscore how seriously we take the problem. And really, if the Senate were able to ratify CEDAW by the anniversary, what a powerful statement that would make to women all around the world that we believe in reconciling our practice with our ideals. And that’s something that we have yet to demonstrate sufficiently, in my view.

AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: It’s interesting. I was – last summer, we took our nephews over to Harpers Ferry, which is where John Brown’s fort where he holed up and was finally apprehended when he tried to start the slave revolts. And one of my nephews is Mexican and African American. One of my nephews is Asian and Mexican. And a few days later, we heard them talking in the back of the car as we were driving around, and Nathan was saying to Isaiah, if that thing with John Brown hadn’t have happened, you’d be building a railroad, and I’d be a slave. (Laughter.)

And it was so interesting to me to hear 12-year-olds getting their heads around what that – what something that happened back then meant to them. And they know what I do for a living. They know that I try to help kids who are in this situation now. But I think a lot of kids their age don’t, and if they do, they think it’s something back then.

And so that notion of not just the Emancipation Proclamation but what then really made it count was the 13th Amendment. So a few months after that, in early 1866, Congress passed a law making it clear that this protection applied to the Hispanic residents of the Southwest who were being held in debt bondage.

And it was the same Congress. They knew what they were doing. They knew it was in the context of the war. They basically at that point said that this anniversary is for everyone. And while the legacy of chattel slavery fell so heavily on the African American community, that notion of a white kid, in a year and a half when it comes time to celebrate this, it’s protecting them. It’s their anniversary.

MR. HENDERSON: Absolutely.

AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: It’s our anniversary as a country. And I think that, to me, is that it’s an opportunity for uniting in a way that could hopefully be a very positive thing.

MS. BENTON: I think that’s a story for the media. That’s how the media then gets engaged.

MR. HENDERSON: Yeah. No, I think that’s right. I would recommend two things. One, I think there is a need for a public education campaign. I think the Ad Council, which is known for its campaigns, would be helpful in constructing such an effort around trafficking. But secondly, I think the media is fed by stories. They’re fed by stories of personal tragedy and triumph. And there are stories that are born from the litigation that the Department of Justice brings. There’s stories that are born from the efforts that Ambassador CdeBaca has been able to identify.

My view is that there has to be a more proactive cultivation of the media. The media is not going to come to this issue simply because it’s the right thing to do. We’re going to have to feed them with the kinds of stories that make news. But those stories exist, and they are in every city across the country. And we need to localize them so that the local press can understand we’re talking about my city. We’re not just talking about a city across the ocean or somewhere else. We’re talking about my city.

And I think we can do that, but it has to be coordinated both with the help of government, but also with the nongovernmental organizational community.

MS. BENTON: Yeah, right. And the private sector pitching in, too.

MR. HENDERSON: Absolutely.

MS. BENTON: I think we can take one more questioner, and then I think we’re pretty much running out of time. Elizabeth in Ghana writes: “Human trafficking, especially child trafficking, is very real in Ghana. How do we obtain adequate funding and support from the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons?”

Somehow you knew that question was going to come. So, folks are looking for help out there.

AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: And first of all, I’m very happy that we have some international questions as well. One of the things that we have been doing, I’ve been all this week for instance, is going through the funding requests. Each year we do a Request for Proposals. We do a big sweep to bring in themes of interest and we go back to ask for more fulsome proposals. But we get about $400,000 – or $400 million worth of requests, and we’ve got about 22, 23 million that we can actually then fund.

And I think that that’s one of the things that, as we look at that difference, we’ve got to try to figure out whether it’s through linkages, whether it’s through new media, whether it’s through other things, is the groups that we can’t fund, how can we still support, how can we still help them? Whether it’s by putting out kind of how to put together your organization, even just web resources, I think that that’s something that we really want to look at as far as how do we harness the technology, because otherwise 23 million versus 400 million, we’re always going to be chasing this problem.


MR. HENDERSON: Well, I think your answer is encouraging, and I’m delighted that you’ve offered some hope and optimism to our –

AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: I’m trying to be optimistic.

MR. HENDERSON: I know you are. (Laughter.)

AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: Our friend from Ghana.

MR. HENDERSON: I’m going to give you a slightly different perspective. The challenge I think the State Department has is holding on to the budget you have. You will be faced with a severe attack on the importance and value of foreign aid, given the nature of the deficit and the debate that’s taking place on Capitol Hill. You’ll need every friend you can marshal, both in the official government, and you will need the NGO community. And you will need foreign governments that are able to speak to the value of your contribution that don’t appear to be entirely self-serving and are met by other contributions by those governments to address the problem.

Ghana is not the wealthiest country in the world, but Ghana can contribute to the exploitation of Ghanaian children and are willing to do so, and they are willing to step up. I’m always impressed by the NGO human rights community in this country, whether it’s Human Rights First or Amnesty or Human Rights Watch. They all do a terrific job in examining what’s happening in countries other than the U.S.

We’re focusing on U.S. compliance with human rights commitments that it has made. We want to make certain that the U.S. is doing everything it can to both, through leadership and through a willingness to put their resources where they matter most, to do what they need to do. But we are prepared to help in defending the State Department’s efforts in this area because they make a difference. But I encourage you to marshal other forces as well, because I think a failure to do that is likely to result in severe cuts in the coming year.

AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: And I think that along those lines, the experience of Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire is very telling. Ghana, where the president talked about democracy in front of the parliament, two of his heroes of democratization were a reporter and a policeman who fight against child slavery, fight against trafficking. Go next door to Cote d’Ivoire; there isn’t that kind of support for the NGOs. There isn’t that kind of actors who are addressing this. And so what do we see? A divided election, a president who won’t leave, a country which is going to have to really rebuild itself after the current situation.

So in some ways, how a country is dealing with human trafficking, how they’re dealing with contemporary forms of slavery, is a canary in the coal mine for so many of these other issues. And I think you’re right. That’s a conversation that we need to have with Congress, it’s a conversation we need to have with the world.

MR. HENDERSON: Absolutely.

MS. BENTON: Well, this has been fascinating, and I could sit here for a lot longer, but that does conclude this session of Conversations with America. I’d like to thank Ambassador CdeBaca and Mr. Wade Henderson for sharing their work and knowledge on this issue with us. Also, I’d like to thank you all for joining us.

Please note the video and transcript will be available on very shortly. Look for our upcoming Conversations on international disability rights and global water issues. We hope that the series will continue to inform citizens about the Administration’s efforts to address the challenges of the 21st century. We look forward to engaging with you again very soon. Again, thank you for joining the State Department.