Ambassador-at-Large to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons Susan Coppedge on the 2016 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report

Special Briefing
Susan Coppedge
Ambassador-at-Large, Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons
Washington, DC
June 30, 2016


MR KIRBY: Good afternoon, everybody. Today we have – it looks like we got a lighting problem up here. Today we have a special guest briefer, Susan Coppedge, Ambassador-at-Large to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. As you know, today we released our annual Trafficking in Persons Report. The Secretary did that officially this morning, followed up with presentations to some of our TIP Heroes. Ms. Coppedge is going to have a few opening comments about the report this year, and we’ll stick around to take a few questions for you. As always, I’ll stand off to the side to moderate, so if you want to ask a question, raise your hand; I’ll call on you. Since she’s not a regular briefer up here, if you could do us a favor and identify who you are and who you’re with before you ask the question, that would be helpful, and then we’ll get started. And after that, I’ll stay behind, obviously, and we’ll do the normal daily briefing when we’re finished.

With that, Susan Coppedge.

AMBASSADOR COPPEDGE: Thank you. Thank you very much. I have a prop. Have you all seen our Trafficking in Persons Report? If not, get your copy.

Good afternoon. This morning Secretary Kerry released the 2016 Trafficking in Persons Report, a product of U.S. global leadership on this key human rights issues and rule of law, and our principal diagnostic tool to assess government efforts across what we call the three Ps: prosecution, protection and empowerment of victims, and preventing future trafficking crimes. The Secretary this morning called the report a targeted roadmap for how we can better address human trafficking globally. It’s an analysis of how countries combat trafficking and an instrument of diplomacy, a means to effect global change and move – and motivate tangible progress around the world.

Since its first publication in 2001, the TIP Report has prompted foreign governments to enact legislation, establish national action plans, and implement anti-trafficking policies and programs. The TIP Report is the product of a year’s worth of research and reporting by my office, the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, and U.S. embassies and those here in Washington in collaboration with foreign government officials, nongovernmental organizations, and international organizations around the world. It provides country-specific narratives and tier rankings for 188 countries and territories, including the United States. It places each country on one of four tiers based on the extent to which they meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking as outlined in the Trafficking Victim Protection Act.

Out of the 188 countries analyzed in the 2016 report, 36 countries were placed on Tier 1; 78 countries on Tier 2; 44 were placed on the Tier 2 Watch List; and 27 countries were placed on Tier 3. In all, there were 27 downgrades and 20 upgrades of countries as compared to last year.

No matter what tier a country falls in, every nation can and should do more to combat trafficking, which is why the TIP Report offers recommendations for improvements for every country – even Tier 1 countries, including the United States. I would like to highlight the Philippines as a case where a strong, coordinated government effort to combat trafficking earned a Tier 1 ranking after two years on the Tier 2 Watch List and five years on Tier 2. The seven-year movement reflects in part the Department’s investment of more than $4.5 million in foreign assistance to help the government improve its efforts, leading to an increase in the number of prosecutions and successful convictions, and the creation of a dedicated anti-trafficking unit in the capital.

Here are a few other quick statistics in this year’s report. Since last year, 30 trafficking laws have been adopted or amended – one of the highest numbers in recent years. Three nations became parties to the landmark UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress, and Punish Trafficking in Persons. Those were the Republic of Korea, Sri Lanka, and Singapore. The 2016 report also saw large increases in both prosecutions and convictions. Specifically, there were a total of 18,930 prosecutions reported as compared to 10,051 in 2015. There were 6,609 convictions reported in 2016 compared to 4,443 the previous year. While increasing convictions is a good sign, convictions still pale in comparison to the size of the problem globally. Further, some governments are not imposing sentences for traffickers that are sufficient to deter the criminal activity or reflective of how serious this crime is.

The country narratives make recommendations in countries that need to increase prosecutions, impose more stringent sentences, or better quantify the efforts they are taking. In addition to narratives for each country, this year’s TIP Report focuses on effective strategies to prevent human trafficking.

The international community is demonstrating some enhanced efforts to demonstrate – to prevent trafficking in persons. For example, several countries and NGOs have increased efforts to legally register marginalized populations. In Vietnam, an NGO helped register more than 2,000 ethnic minorities in areas at high risk for trafficking. Legal registration facilitates access to formal education, health care, and employment in the formal economy and significantly decreases potential risk factors for victims.

In Guatemala, a leading coffee company with government support partnered with a U.S. labor rights organization to better understand the risks of recruitment abuses that can lead to forced labor. The partners are strengthening communications between workers and the employer and the government to better report and monitor practices in the coffee sector.

We are encouraged by governments and organizations using creative and collaborative methods to prevent human trafficking, yet much work remains. Among the areas for improvement highlighted in the narratives are the need to increase protection for domestic workers, to root out corrupt and complicit officials who are themselves either engaged in or benefiting from trafficking, to not penalize victims for crimes committed as a direct result of being trafficked, and to increase support services available to victims.

I am very proud of the hard work that went into the report this year, and I’d be happy to take any questions you have. Thank you.

MR KIRBY: Thank you. Lesley, you want to start?

QUESTION: Hi.

AMBASSADOR COPPEDGE: Hi.

QUESTION: Lesley Wroughton from Reuters. I want to follow up with you specifically with regard to the refugee problem coming from Syria and how that has affected – there seems to be increase – your report just in separately looking at Lebanon, looking at Jordan, seems to indicate some kind of increase in trafficking coming from – as a result of refugees in those areas. Can you give us a more broader perspective of whether this is a growing problem or whether you think you’ve addressed it?

AMBASSADOR COPPEDGE: Now, Syrian refugees and refugees really from any conflict are a problem. Refugees are displaced persons. They don’t have safe places to live. They don’t have jobs. They sometimes don’t have their family around. And all of these become risk factors for human trafficking, making them more vulnerable to traffickers who would lie to them about possible future jobs or a safe place to go. So they prey on these vulnerabilities, and we are working together with international organizations such as IOM and foreign governments to help them screen for trafficking victims among migrant and refugee populations.

QUESTION: But has it – has the problem increased, given the numbers that are fleeing Syria at the moment?

AMBASSADOR COPPEDGE: Well, the vulnerabilities and the potential numbers have increased, but trafficking is so hard to quantify because the victims are hidden. It’s hard to know when someone is being trafficked because their trafficker has put fear in them – fear of reporting it, fear of coming forward, fear sometimes of embarrassment or humiliation in front of their family. So the numbers are hard to quantify, but we’re certainly concerned about the heightened vulnerabilities and making sure that we screen victims or potential victims and get them into proper care.

MR KIRBY: Said.

QUESTION: Thank you. My name is Said Arikat; I am a journalist with a Palestinian newspaper, Al Quds. I wanted to ask you about workers, transit workers or imported labor, especially in the GCC countries. Because you have these contractors that bring in people, put them in camps and so on, then they take them to these places where they could get jobs and so on. Does that fall under trafficking? Is that – because they charge a fee for everybody and workers are obligated to stay for a certain period of time so they can pay off whatever they paid? Does that fall under trafficking?

AMBASSADOR COPPEDGE: Certainly. That’s a type of debt bondage under forced labor, so that is human trafficking. And we look at whether a worker has the ability to leave their job and move on to something else, has that freedom of choice. If they are bound by debt and locked into a situation, that becomes trafficking. And for the Gulf countries, we point out that sometimes their visas are tied to that particular employment. That creates another vulnerability factor. If they don’t have their documents and their documents are held by the employer, another vulnerability factor. So we have implored all of the Gulf countries to reform their labor systems and make sure that workers are being screened for trafficking.

QUESTION: Well, because on top of the sponsorship that you mention, they all have to be sponsored, they take away their passports and so on – but it is in plain view of the governments. And these are your allies. So what have they done in responding to this problem? What have, let’s say, Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates or Qatar and so on?

AMBASSADOR COPPEDGE: So we are asking different governments in the Gulf to reform, as I said, their labor employment system. Kuwait for the first time has put domestic workers under the protection of their labor laws. We’re encouraging other Gulf countries to follow suit, because in some of them domestic workers are not protected. We are asking for reforms of the kafala, or sponsorship system. So we have specific diplomatic asks of these governments that we are seeking to secure their better treatment of workers and their screening for trafficking.

QUESTION: Human rights group felt that Malaysia shouldn’t have been taken off the blacklist or Tier 3 last year and still deserve to be on it, with the sort of widespread view it was taken off because of TPP negotiations. Was there any discussion about whether Malaysia deserved to retain its position? And what was the argument around that?

AMBASSADOR COPPEDGE: Well, certainly every year we look at the facts on the ground in a country – Malaysia compared to what Malaysia did last year, whether there were improvements or not. And the Tier 2 Watch List says that you are not, as a country, complying with the minimum standards of the TVPA, but that you are making significant efforts; however, those efforts are not increasing on the previous year. So we do discuss what Malaysia is doing. And this morning, the Secretary addressed again – he said political considerations do not go into tier determinations. They are not part of the minimum standards that we at the Department apply when evaluating what has happened in a country. Malaysia still has a human trafficking problem. The Tier 2 Watch List does not obviate that or say it has gone away. They – we continue to urge the Malaysian officials to take bold steps to combat trafficking.

This year, in June – in July – I’m sorry – of 2015, the Malaysian parliament did pass amendments to the existing anti-trafficking laws to reform their victim protection system, and these amendments came into force in November. Then, acting on that, the Government of Malaysia hosted three consultation sessions with civil society stakeholders to develop implementing regulations for the amendments. And this focuses on legal changes that allow trafficking victims to live and work outside of government facilities. The regulations were completed in March of 2016 and were adopted beyond the reporting period, but the consultations and the efforts to pass the amendments and to work on them were during the reporting period.

And why this is important is we need – all governments need to establish trust with trafficking victims. As I indicated earlier, they’re fearful of coming forward. And if when coming forward they get put in a government shelter that they’re not allowed to leave, not allowed to work, then why would they come forward to law enforcement? So reforming your system and looking at a victim-centered approach to these cases we hope will lead to more prosecutions and more convictions as well.

QUESTION: I’d just note in passing, before I ask my question, that my U.S. visa depends on my continued employment by my sponsoring news agency, in reference to the question about Dubai earlier. The – how has the Malaysian Government investigated the mass graves that were found along the Thai border in 2015 near migrant camps? And Thailand has been removed from Tier 3, promoted to Tier 2 Watch List. Is that because of any measurable improvement in the conditions of trafficked peoples in Thailand, or is it just simply that laws have been passed that would allow future improvements?

AMBASSADOR COPPEDGE: So we certainly look at laws that are passed; we look at convictions, prosecutions. Those increased in Thailand. They have done more sex trafficking prosecutions and turned away more registered sex offenders at their borders. So we look at that, as well as programs they have put into place to register workers and interview them, who are engaged in the fishing industry. And so we look at all the different components of what is going on.

Again, they are – Thailand is Tier 2 Watch List, which does not mean they don’t have a trafficking problem. They do in Thailand, and it is serious. And one of the things we continually ask both Thailand and Malaysia to do is prosecute and hold accountable corrupt officials. There were allegations that there were some officials involved in the situation with the mass graves and immigration along the border, and we have repeatedly implored those countries to hold those officials accountable. Again, back to the point of encouraging victims to come forward, they need to be able to trust the police officers that they are communicating with.

QUESTION: But has there been any sign of them holding the officials accountable?

AMBASSADOR COPPEDGE: Thailand did have two convictions, I believe, within the reporting period. And Malaysia was have – did have prosecutions ongoing.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: Ros.

QUESTION: Hi. Rosiland Jordan with Al Jazeera. It’s one thing to spell out what countries are or are not doing in terms of prosecution, in terms of dealing with corruption, in terms of making it easier for victims to not just come forward but to get services. Does the U.S. also need to look at holding governments accountable for what they’re not doing? Is it appropriate, for example, to look at imposing travel bans or financial sanctions on countries that aren’t doing enough to try to stop this problem? I mean, they can pass all the laws they want, but if things aren’t actually prosecuted fully, then what’s the point of having them pass laws?

AMBASSADOR COPPEDGE: Under the Trafficking Victim Protection Act, Congress gave us the Trafficking in Persons Report as the diplomatic tool to raise trafficking issues with countries. And so we certainly ask them to pass laws, but then we do see how those laws are being implemented and whether they’re effective. You will see throughout the report that we point out where countries are not sentencing traffickers sufficiently and compared them to the heinous nature of this crime. So we ask countries to increase their sentences to show that they are serious and to deter future traffickers. And the Trafficking in Persons Report does have the Tier 3 Watch List category, which can be accompanied by financial sanctions for other than non-humanitarian aid.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: We’ll just take one more. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes. Ronnie Amberson with TV Asahi. So Japan has consistently been in Tier 2 for several years and is the only the G7 country in that category. And as the report also notes, Japan is the only G8 country that is not a party to the 2000 UN Protocol. Is there any disappointment or frustration that Japan has consistently not shown greater leadership on this issue, despite being a G7 country?

AMBASSADOR COPPEDGE: So we don’t compare countries to one another, so we wouldn’t compare it to other G7 nations. But we would, each year, list recommendations in the report and encourage Japan to follow those recommendations to improve their anti-trafficking efforts.

QUESTION: But you don’t think that Japan has a particular responsibility as a G7 nation to show leadership on this issue?

AMBASSADOR COPPEDGE: Well, all countries have a particular responsibility to their citizens to stand up for their rights within the country. I do think it’s important for more developed countries to set a good example.

MR KIRBY: Thanks, everybody. I think that’s all the time we’ve got for this part of the briefing.

QUESTION: Thank you.

AMBASSADOR COPPEDGE: Thank you.