Testimony Before the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations

Luis CdeBaca
Ambassador-at-Large, Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons
As-Prepared Statement
Washington, DC
January 27, 2014

[As-delivered statement]

Good afternoon, Mr. Chairman. Thank you for the invitation to testify today, for calling this hearing to shine a brighter light on modern slavery, and for your years of leadership on this issue. One of the greatest strengths driving the fight against human trafficking in this country is a government that is galvanized in our commitment: a partnership that has included Congresses and Administrations across the political spectrum for more than a decade. Mr. Chairman, we thank you for this continued, bipartisan success story.

Today we’re focusing on a specific concern that has garnered the attention of the entire anti-trafficking community: trafficking around major sporting events.

But before we dig down into that issue, it’s important to take a step back and remind ourselves that trafficking in persons is not a crime that occurs in isolated places, or at specific times, or that victimizes a narrow set of individuals. Trafficking in persons is all the conduct involved in reducing a person to or holding that person in a state of compelled service, whether for labor or commercial sex. It is modern-day slavery.

It takes place every day in every country in the world, and it’s a crime estimated to victimize approximately 27 million men, women, and children. Every single person living under the yoke of modern slavery is the victim of a kind of exploitation that has no place in the 21st century. And every single victim deserves our focus and our attention.

Despite the scope of this crime, around the world roughly only 40,000 victims of trafficking are being identified every year. So in cases where we suspect there may be a heightened risk of trafficking—whether relating to a particular industry or migration route or major event—we need to ramp up efforts to prevent this crime and root it out. We need not only to build on established best practices, but to develop fresh ideas for identifying victims, investigating trafficking cases, and enforcing trafficking laws.

Many of our partners across the country are pioneering such techniques around major sporting events. I’ve been impressed with the activism of women religious in Indianapolis and this year in New Jersey—conducting anti-trafficking training and street outreach on Super Bowl weekend. They truly are carrying out Pope Francis’s exhortation that we “not look the other way” when we see our “brother or sister who is enslaved.”

A range of partner agencies—from the Justice Department to the Department of Health and Human Services to the Department of Homeland Security—have greater expertise when it comes to addressing trafficking here at home. My colleague from DHS will discuss specifics of what we’re doing with respect to major sporting events in the United States. Today, I’d like to talk about how the State Department is engaging with governments around the world to address concerns about major sporting events, and what we’ve learned from that engagement.

In recent years, we’ve worked with governments and NGOs in South Africa as they prepared for the 2010 World Cup and in the United Kingdom leading up to the 2012 Olympics. We’ve collaborated on efforts to prevent trafficking surrounding these events and kept a close eye on reports that followed them. And if there’s an overarching lesson that we’ve taken away from these cases, it’s that efforts to respond to modern slavery need to be sustainable and comprehensive, targeting all forms of trafficking.

In many cases, major sporting events require massive capital improvement and infrastructure projects, creating a huge demand for cost-effective labor and materials. In regions with sizable migrant populations, much of this labor force will cross at least one border to reach the job site. Once the event takes place, the locations become massive destinations for travel and tourism. At every step of this process, we see characteristic vulnerabilities to human trafficking.

Addressing those risks means putting safeguards in place every step of the way. What protections exist for these laborers? What methods are being used to screen migrant workers who may be victims of trafficking, including through debt bondage that resulted from paying hefty recruitment fees in their home countries? How are law enforcement personnel and partners in the travel, tourism, and hospitality industry being trained to identify potential trafficking situations—not just child sex trafficking, but that of adults as well? These are questions governments should be grappling with every day, and especially when a major gathering is on the horizon. And these are some of the specifics we’re watching for as we approach additional major sporting events.

The upcoming Olympic Winter Games will be hosted in Sochi, Russia. According to the 2013 Trafficking in Persons Report, there continue to be reports of women and children exploited in sex trafficking in Russia. The construction of facilities for major events drew estimated tens of thousands of migrant laborers to Russia. Human Rights Watch documented that employers of construction projects related to the upcoming Winter Olympic Games in Sochi withheld pay, disregarded contracts, and seized passports and work permits to keep workers in conditions of exploitation.

This year’s World Cup will take place in Brazil, where, according to the 2013 Trafficking in Persons Report, a significant number of Brazilian women and children are exploited in sex trafficking. Many states and cities in Brazil are partnering with the Special Secretariat for Large Events at the Brazilian Ministry of Justice and with NGOs to raise awareness about human trafficking in preparation for the event. For example, last year the government of the Federal District partnered with volunteers from the Salvation Army to distribute 20,000 flyers on human trafficking to attendees of the Confederations Cup games, a campaign which is now being replicated in several other states. Brazilian officials are also increasing their provision of trafficking-related trainings. In June 2013, the city of Recife in Pernambuco state, which is scheduled to host a first-round match between the U.S. and Germany men’s World Cup teams, trained 400 World Cup volunteers on how to identify and report possible trafficking cases. In addition, law enforcement officers in several states, including Mato Grosso, have received training on the risks of sexual exploitation of children during the World Cup. These prevention efforts are welcome examples of training and awareness-raising in the run up to major sporting events.

Qatar is scheduled to host the FIFA World Cup in 2022 and is home to more than a million migrant workers. As World Cup-related construction projects commence, we will continue to work with the Government of Qatar towards ensuring that the conditions for migrant workers on these sites do not lead to exploitation and an increase in human trafficking. The Government of Qatar has made efforts to combat human trafficking, including the adoption of an anti-trafficking law, increasing the numbers of labor inspectors, blacklisting companies found in violation of labor laws, increasing outreach to migrant labor groups, and imposing mandatory, contractually protected standards on construction projects for 2022 World Cup venues; however additional measures, such as reforming Qatar’s sponsorship system, are necessary. Labor conditions at construction projects in Doha have generated serious concern from the media and international organizations, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. Many migrant workers arriving to work in Qatar have paid exorbitant fees to recruiters in their home countries—a practice that makes workers highly vulnerable once in Qatar. Moreover, when workers do face abuse, they often avoid taking legal action. Not only does Qatar’s sponsorship system bind foreign workers to their designated employers placing a significant amount of power in the hands of employers, but also workers often lack knowledge of their legal rights and fear reprisal; the recourse process can also be lengthy. The number of construction projects in Qatar continues to grow ahead of the World Cup, including in the hotel and transportation industries. However, construction of stadia for the World Cup games has not officially begun in Doha.

These glimpses provide some insight into what we’re learning about the complexities surrounding major sporting events. More significantly, these examples underscore one of the biggest challenges we face in the struggle against modern slavery: the relative lack of public data and research on this issue. At this point, when it comes to major sporting events—including those here in the United States—much of the information we have is anecdotal. Crime reporting statistics paint an incomplete picture, and the handful of reports that have emerged on this topic present contradictory findings.

So as we continue focusing on modern slavery at major sporting events and making it a priority to prevent trafficking and improve the identification and rehabilitation of victims, we also need to keep gathering data and information about this aspect of the crime. Where is it taking place? Who are the criminals driving this enterprise? What is the most effective way to prevent it? Because while our top priority must always be getting victims out of harm’s way, the more we know about the crime, the better we’ll be at responding to it.

And we’re well equipped to respond to this specific concern thanks to the partners that have rallied around this issue: partners in the transportation industry like Airline Ambassadors and Delta Airlines, which are not helping just to make fighting trafficking part of the way our air carriers do business, but, in Delta’s case, are acting to convene partners across the corporate sector; partners in the hospitality sector like Carlson and Hilton, which have long been leaders in private-sector action to combat this crime; and partners across government, whether the Department of Transportation or state governments from Indiana to Arizona to Texas to New Jersey, where leaders have heard these concerns and are taking this problem seriously.

The work of our partners is helping to make major sporting events safe for all people, and every person they reach becomes a partner in this effort. The knowledge they’re spreading doesn’t expire when the Super Bowl clock ticks down to zero. Once people understand modern slavery—the way it touches their lives and communities, how to spot it and who to call if they do—that knowledge doesn’t go away, just as trafficking does not go away when the stadium lights are dimmed.

Perhaps that ripple effect is just as important as stopping trafficking at major sporting events. Because modern slavery is a 365-day-a-year crime that requires a 365-day-a-year response. And as more and more people contribute to that response, we grow nearer and nearer to our goal of a world free from slavery.

Thank you, and I’m eager for your questions.