Combating Forced Labor and Modern-Day Slavery in East Asia and the Pacific

Luis CdeBaca
Ambassador-at-Large, Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons
Statement Before the Subcommittee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee
Washington, DC
July 8, 2014

Thank you, Chairman Cardin, for the opportunity to speak with you today. And just a note of personal privilege, Scot Marciel not only with the MTV EXIT program but also in his time both within EAP and at post has been a real leader on this. I just wish that we had a photo of him at that MTV concert out on the stage to offer for the record. (Laughter.)

A few weeks ago, the Secretary of State released the 14th annual Trafficking in Persons Report, what Secretary Kerry called a roadmap for the journey to freedom. This roadmap sets forth progresses and challenges in fighting modern slavery in 188 jurisdictions, including 29 in the Asia-Pacific region. And while there's progress, with more than 20 million estimated trafficking victims in the world and fewer than 45,000 victims identified we know that we all have a lot more to do.

In EAP we see both sex trafficking and forced labor -- even state-sponsored forced labor in the recruitment and the use of child soldiers in some places -- and pervasive victimization of migrants seeking better jobs. These are real people, people trapped in slavery, people in the sights of traffickers, people recovering from the trauma of being trafficked. They don't just impact our foreign policy; they touch our conscious.

As you may know, we are working closely with the Vatican as they intensify their engagement on his scourge. And the words of Pope Francis, I think, are very appropriate when he says that human trafficking is an open wound on the body of contemporary society. So the United States is focused on identifying and seeking justice for victims, supporting survivors, and creating a world where people are no longer subjected to human trafficking.

And that means developing common standards and getting governments to step up. While my written testimony deals in the efforts of a number of jurisdictions in EAP, along with several U.S.- funded initiatives to combat trafficking in the region, I'll highlight a few of those efforts and initiatives today.

First, some laudable efforts: The Republic of Korea, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands all passed legislation to strengthen their legal frameworks. The Federated States of Micronesia initiated a landmark prosecution of a trafficker and implemented a national action plan. As you mentioned, Senator, we welcomed the formal abolishing of the re-education through labor system.

However, we remain deeply concerned that forced labor persists in some government institutions in China, including re-education in through labor facilities that have been reportedly converted into different types of detention centers. And so we'll be keeping close an eye on that. However, there were other issues in China as well. A second five-year plan came into operations that included labor trafficking and covered men victims, the accession to the Palermo protocol, all good signs of forward progress.

Elsewhere, we see mixed efforts. The government of Burma undertook efforts to improve anti-trafficking response, but some military officials and insurgent militia continue to subject civilians to forced labor and to recruit child soldiers. We're lending our support to help Burma improve its anti-trafficking response through training and a joint action plan on trafficking in persons.

While we saw an uptick in public commitment by the government of Japan this spring, we are concerned about the steady decline in the number of victims identified in the last nine years in Japan, despite no evidence of a diminution in the scale of the program. Thirty-one sex traffickers convicted in 2013, but no labor traffickers. And we know that the traffickers continue to use the industrial training and technical internship program there to subject victims to forced labor. We'll work closely with the Japanese government to enhance oversight of this program and improve their anti-trafficking response.

And then there are some countries that did not demonstrate increased efforts to combat trafficking -- countries that were downgraded. You mentioned Malaysia and Thailand. In Malaysia, a flawed victim protection regime that detains foreign trafficking victims in government facilities, sometimes for more than a year. We call upon the government to amend its laws and regulations to improve victim care to enable all trafficking victims to work and travel outside of these facilities. And we have heard plans announced to allow certain restrictions to be lifted. We hope that we can work with them to turn those promises of future action into credible results.

In Thailand, widespread official complicity continues to be a long-standing problem that remains a significant obstacle to anti- trafficking progress. And whether it's in the fishing industry, forced labor among migrant workers or the sex industry, the magnitude of the human trafficking problem continues to be of great concern.

I want to close, Senator, with a positive story, though. This year's report honored 10 trafficking in persons heroes who are making a difference in the front line. One such hero, Van Ngoc Ta, has personally assisted over 300 trafficking victims of forced labor in Vietnam and sex trafficking victims who had been taken to China. His team works with Vietnamese authorities to liberate victims, and then represents them in court against their traffickers.

I would offer, for the record, a recent article about Mr. Van's work, but his efforts show that homegrown civil society actors can move governments in Southeast Asia and elsewhere and are an inspiration to us all. We remain committed to supporting such heroes on the front lines to support and sometimes nudge governments to prevent, protect and prosecute for our shared goal: a world without slavery.