Modern Day Slavery and What We Buy

Luis CdeBaca
Ambassador-at-Large, Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons
Statement Before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission
Washington, DC
July 24, 2014

As delivered

Thank you, Representative and Members of the Commission and entirely. Tom Lantos was a leading light in getting the Trafficking Victims Protection Bill passed and it was such an example to so many of us, whether we worked on his committee or were staff on sister committees; and for me, being able to appear before the Commission is personally very gratifying because of what he meant to me when I was working at Judiciary. But I want talk first about somebody else who means a lot to us in the trafficking office and that is Fredrick Douglass -- one of the first African-American ambassadors that the United States ever had. But, more importantly a person who escaped slavery and worked so hard to eradicate it, not just for his own community – the African-American community – but around the United States and around the world. He said one time that, ‘I prayed for my freedom for 20 years and never got an answer until I prayed with my feet,’ and that notion of the journey to freedom being something that is not ours to give to the victims, but rather a journey to walk with them on. And, really think of them as survivors: people who can pray with their feet and can get out. So one of the things I want to just highlight in my testimony today is that notion of the survivors’ as being full participants in this fight. This isn’t something we’re doing for them, or something we’re doing to them, but rather something we’re doing with them.

As you mentioned Secretary Kerry released the annual Trafficking in Persons, about a month ago. And it looks at the ongoing challenges of fighting human trafficking in about 190 countries and territories around the world. We’ve come a long way in our shared fight, and we saw and we’re very happy with the fact that about 45,000 victims were identified by governments in the last year. But up again the International Labor Organization (ILO)’s most recent estimate – a conservative one – suggesting that there are over 21 million trafficking victims in the world; people held in servitude even as we speak. Clearly, we have a lot more work to do.

First, the diagnostics.

As you know, trafficking in persons covers all the activities involving holding a person in a condition of compelled service. Despite the name, it doesn’t require moving a victim. Indeed many people in forced labor around the world work in or near their home communities. It does require the use of force, fraud, or coercion to compel or maintain someone in labor or sexual exploitation, unless, of course, they’re under 18 for commercial sex.

Each year we look at government efforts around the world through this “three-P paradigm” of prevention, protection, and prosecution. I grew up on a farm so of course, I have to make an agricultural reference: it’s the three legs of the milking stool. You fall over if you only have two legs or even one -- Prevention, protection, and prosecution, all together.

And the TIP Report ranks these countries. Last year 31 governments in Tier 1, which is not getting an “A” on the test. This is basically the equivalent to a “C” – meeting the minimum standards. United States is one of those, and we’re doing some interesting things. We’ve got 55 of the 57 states and territories have passed modern anti-trafficking legislation, and every year we see more and more good policies, good trainings, more and more good outcomes for trafficking victims, and yet all I can say about the United States is that we’re meeting the minimum standards. I’d like to say that the United States and the other 31 countries on Tier 1 are doing well, and we’re going to keep working to make sure we can get to that point. But right now we’re talking about doing the bare minimum. Eighty-nine governments in Tier 2, 44 governments on the Tier 2 Watch List, and 23 governments on the lowest level, which is Tier 3.

Couple of “progress stars” this year I’d like to point out: Chile and Switzerland, both moved up into Tier 1 of the Report. In part thanks to President Obama’s meeting with Former President Pinera in March of 2011, and the ongoing commitment of President Bachelet since she’s come back. Chilean authorities have strengthened anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts through building police and prosecutor capacity. They obtained their first convictions for labor trafficking, increased interagency coordination, and created a national action plan, and victim assistance protocol. All of the things that we’ve seen as a recipe for success around the world.

In Switzerland, the government passed a law prohibiting the prostitution of minors for the first time. Convicted more traffickers, issued more serious prison sentences, and launched their first-ever nationwide awareness campaign. It has taken a lot of time and dedication both from the United States and Switzerland to get to that point, including the personal commitment of our Ambassadors Don Beyer and Suzi LeVine, which is much appreciated.

We’ve seen a number of other countries where we’ve had progress, and it’s put forward in my written testimony but I do want to call out one here in the hemisphere and that is Haiti. Amazingly in a country where a slave revolt led to the creation of a new nation, Haiti had never made slavery a criminal offense. And, paid for it with almost 300,000 children in domestic servitude in a practice known as restivik, but what really is a form of modern slavery. Two-hundred-ten years after slaves seized their own freedom, the passage of the modern anti-trafficking legislation this spring made modern slavery illegal in Haiti, and is very welcomed.

We also this year in the Report saw the operation of the auto-downgrade provision of the 2008 law, which basically said that countries can only be on Tier 2 Watch List for X number of years before they automatically have to fall down to Tier 3. If they’re just stagnant they’re actually moving backwards. It might be the jet-lag talking from the trip that I was on last week, but you know, it’s like being on one of the moving walkways at the airport: if you’re just standing there facing the wrong direction, you’re moving backwards. So, the auto-downgrade provision really was looking at how do you incentivize governments to move, and we saw that with Afghanistan, Barbados, Chad and the Maldives. Countries that took action, made serious efforts, and did not get subjected to that automatic downgrade provision of the law.

But two significant allies, and important trade partners to the United States did not show significant improvement. Thailand and Malaysia were put on Tier 3 this year as a result of that auto-downgrade provision and their lack of sufficient progress going forward.

Over the coming years, things to look at both in you and your oversight function and us in our diplomacy will be the four countries that face the automatic downgrade next year: Angola, Belarus, Burundi, and the Comoros. While human trafficking may seem far away, in reality it is very much a part of our daily lives. Not only does it happen here in the United States (in both urban and rural settings), over 350 calls to the National Hotline from Oregon alone last year, but in a globalized world. Goods and services tainted from forced labor can easily enter the closets, pantries, and garages of even the most dedicated modern abolitionists.

We continue to see in the Report this year widespread use of forced labor throughout the world, in a wide range of industries. And while governments have typically had more success in identifying and responding to sex trafficking cases than labor trafficking, and we do not want anyone to back off of those efforts, more must be done to combat all forms of modern slavery.

A couple of sectors that I want to point out. Forced labor in mining was noted in 46 of the narratives this year, but the actions did not match the exploitation. No prosecutions or convictions whatsoever in the mining sector; and we’re talking not about the Klondike gold rush here. We’re talking about artisanal mining. People scraping tantalum, and coltan, and other things that come into our cell phones, come into our mobile technologies, all the way from the Eastern Congo and other places. Highlighting the interconnections between human trafficking forms, sex trafficking related to the mining industry is discussed in 15 of the narratives. Fifteen countries where we saw that happening. Now, there were some prosecutions: four in Senegal and Namibia and one conviction in Senegal. We have a long way to go to tell consumers that the mineral they use, whether it’s the mica that makes the lipstick glittery, or whether it’s the coltan makes your cell phone not burn your pocket is somehow slavery-free.

Forced labor in agriculture is also very prevalent, and it’s discussed in 126 narratives; 67% of the countries covered in the Report. We saw forced labor in agricultural, including the United States. The Report describes activities as diverse as cattle herding and cultivating, cocoa, tea, potatoes, bananas, palm oil, sugar cane, and coffee. I’ve had many of those things in the last week. And I can’t tell you whether or not they came from a place that was exploitation-free, despite the fact of what I do for a living.

Forced labor in the seafood sector is discussed in 51 narratives, with four prosecutions and two convictions recorded. And again, the demand for commercial sex acts related to the fisheries sector exists and it is noted in eight countries around the world.

So what are we doing in the face of these facts? We are supporting programs to counter forced labor in supply chains, such as work being done by the Solidarity Center in Bangkok to address human trafficking and other labor issues in the migrant communities. We are funding projects with the ILO and U.N. Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) that address the role of recruitment fees charged to employees in facilitating human trafficking. The final ILO global report will be based on field research in Vietnam, China, and Paraguay. And the UNODC global report will focus on the criminal justice response and its impact in UAE, Thailand, and Mexico.

Congress, when you mentioned the ILO report, 150 billion reasons why we have to fight human trafficking, telling us that this is not just a moral issue, this is just not a security issue, this is also an economic issue. A hundred-and-fifty-billion dollar industry around the world.

The conclusion of the ILO report is undeniable – and I’ll simply quote them – “The continued existence of forced labor is bad for business, bad for development and bad for its victims. It is a practice that has no place in modern society and should be eradicated as soon as possible.”

A couple of very quick things that we’re doing to address trafficking in the supply chain. Most importantly to ensure our tax dollars don’t support this crime. President Obama signed an Executive Order two years ago strengthening protections against human trafficking in federal contracts. And we’re happy to say that the regulations carrying out that order are in their final stages. We’ve had good input from NGOs, from the business community, from the academy to really look at that, and one thing that I’m struck by is the shared commitment and the shared values of all the different actors to ensure that we have a slavery-free supply chain. As the largest purchaser of goods in the global economy, this was an important step that both signals to U.S. corporations what is expected by the largest customer in the world, but also demonstrates an approach other governments can take to strengthen protections in their own procurement.

I’d like to take a few moments to discuss the victims of this crime as well. The thematic focus, as you mentioned, Congresswoman, is the “Journey from Victim to Survivor.” The impact of human trafficking is horrifying; those who escape modern slavery struggle to recover, heal, reclaim their lives. It is not an easy path, and true recovery is far from guaranteed, but it can happen, and governments can hasten that process.

But the Report also highlights the importance of empowering trafficking survivors to strengthen the anti-trafficking movement itself. And, as Secretary Kerry explains – and we know this from the domestic violence work, we know this from the sexual violence movement over the last 25 to 30 years -- from their experiences, survivors know better than anyone else the types of protections and opportunities that would help ensure others don’t go through the same thing. Someone who was invisible to police can provide advice on what law enforcement should’ve looked for, what types of awareness campaigns might have helped him or her see that they were a victim of a crime. A survivor who cooperated in the conviction of their trafficker knows best what made her participation in that process less traumatic and more effective.

Survivors are strong. And they are perhaps our best hope—and our most overlooked resource—for ending modern slavery once and for all.

This was brought home to me in a vivid way yesterday when we hosted our annual intern roundtable, which brought over 350 interns from across town to think about this journey. There, we saw Survivor Caucus member Evelyn Chumbow and Special Assistant to the President Amy Pope sharing a podium. A decade ago the newly-liberated child slave, Evelyn, met for the first time, the young prosecutor Amy Pope, and that day made the hard choice to trust her, to put her story forward and to take that leap that somebody from the government would actually help her pursue justice. A decade later yesterday, we saw the two of them together again, as colleagues confronting modern slavery together, but as equals. And that is what we’re fighting for when we talk about this Journey to Freedom.

So, finally, what is the way forward?

The TIP Report and the tier rankings are a means to an end, not an end unto themselves. We must not lose sight of the true goal which is stopping modern slavery and helping victims recover. Only with concrete programs to help them find their voice and reclaim their lives, can we help them become survivors.

Recent years have seen increased concern about the stewardship of natural resources, ethical treatment of animals, and ensuring that farmers receive fair prices for their work. As a result, certifications and labels exist to inform customers whether seafood is sustainably caught, livestock is pasture-fed, chickens are free range, coffee beans are “fair trade,” diamonds are conflict-free, I can go on and on. And yet those “seals-of-approval” while fostering increased transparency and driving consumers to reward companies that engage in good corporate citizenship, they all seem to assume that the hands that pull the net, that the hands that pick the crops are not enslaved. We know that assumption is non-operative. We have a responsibility to the 20-plus million people around the world to break that cycle of human trafficking that forms the basis of so many products and goods to drive out a supply chain the patterns of vulnerabilities to forced labor, and to address socio-economic foundations of poverty that ensnare so many into these exploitative situations.

It will continue to require leaders throughout society—community workers, activists, faith groups, organized labor, government officials, industry leaders—to encourage producers to monitor their supply chains and buy and sell goods and services free of forced labor. So we will continue to build our knowledge of forced labor in the supply chain, we will continue to expand our collaboration with other governments, the corporate sector, and civil society. And we look forward to working with you in Congress to proclaim freedom and seek justice. So we can achieve our ultimate goal: a world without slavery.