Remarks at the Annual Meeting of the President's Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (PITF)

Remarks
John Kerry
Secretary of State
The White House
Washington, DC
January 5, 2016


SECRETARY KERRY: Valerie, thank you very much. Happy New Year to everybody. Welcome back to this meeting. Actually, this is a meeting that allows us to step back into 2015, because we were supposed to have the meeting in 2015, and now we’re going to have two meetings in 2016, so just pretend this is 2015 and you’re very happy about it. (Laughter.)

I’m delighted to be here with Susan Coppedge, our ambassador-at-large. And Valerie, thank you for your leadership and the President’s leadership on this. Just this morning at our major staff meeting, I told our folks that we are going to continue to even become a little more diligent. We were good last year, but we weren’t perfect, and we want to be 100 percent in making sure we are raising this bilaterally in every meeting that we have. I said we’d do that, and we’re still intent on making sure that happens.

But the other thing we’re going to do is, over the course of the next few days, I will be telephoning the foreign ministers at every one of the marginal countries that have a chance over the next three months, before the reporting ends, to be able to meet the necessary requirements so they’re not – they’re not listed downwards. They’re not downgraded with respect to their tier. And it’ll be up to them. But we want to make sure we’ve made the ultimate effort to put them on notice well ahead of time. Generally speaking, when we put people on notice, we find that they try to take steps to avoid the de-listing, so we’ll see if we can leverage that over the course of the next few days.

Obviously, preventing human trafficking, unlike some of the issues we wrestle with which are defined by nuance or by some complexity, this is not. This is not complex and there’s no nuance. This is absolutely an issue of extreme moral clarity. And it is about also our collective security, and the interaction between this multi-billion dollar criminal enterprise, which is what it is, not only is a corrupting factor in the capacity of countries to live up to the standards that we want them to and to meet many needs across the board.

Whether it’s immigration or simply criminal activity or radicalization, there are many different impacts of human trafficking. But most broadly, it is a factor in destabilizing whole governments, it feeds the corruption that is stealing the future of many nations, and it fuels all of the illicit criminal networks that play out in many different ways – not just in human trafficking, but in terms of the narcotics trafficking, gun smuggling, and terror support particularly. So it actually exacerbates. As we learned in the brilliant New York Times story about the young Cambodian boy who was enslaved at sea, it also fuels the workforce for illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing – thank you. And so whether it’s mining activities or deforestation activities as a role in climate change, it is profoundly pervasive in its impact.

And that is why the President has made the decision years ago to strengthen federal efforts to combat it. And it’s why our department and every department around this table – and it is unusual, and I want to underscore for anybody externally who’s watching this that we have everybody around this table – the FBI, the National Intelligence, the Homeland Security, and you run the list. This is an all-government effort, and people need to note that.

So whether it is shining a light on our own procurement practices or working to ensure that forced labor is not providing the labor for illicit activities, that is why we are working across the board with faith leaders, with the private sector, with government agencies in order to try to up our capacity to be able to enforce the laws and to, obviously, diminish the impact of this scourge.

Now, survivors know better than anybody how we might better prevent people from being imprisoned in this cycle, and they know the steps that we need to take to prevent the next person from becoming a survivor. They know what we need to do to shield the at-risk populations. So whether it is that young boy or some other young person in a Cambodian field who’s enticed to go to a country and get a construction job and make his life better and suddenly finds himself with a neck bracelet, chained in a boat, unable to escape, or whether it is a young girl somewhere who is lured into the sex industry, there’s so much governments can do to prevent this from happening. And we are happily – not happily, it’s the wrong word – we are appropriately exercising the leadership necessary to try to make a difference.

So I’m convinced that through our cooperation and our teamwork we’ve made some significant gains, and we can be proud of them. But everybody around this table knows we have a long way to go. It is estimated still that there are more than 20 million people who are enslaved, but regrettably, only a fraction of them, perhaps 1 percent, are identified on an annual basis. So we are living in 2015, in modern times, with a form of slavery that is even hard to identify. But so much could be done to prosecute it.

So over the next hour – and we want to try to contain it within that time period – we’re going to look at what we’ve promised to do, we’re going to examine what we’ve delivered on, and we’re going to be honest about what we have yet to complete. And the more we ask questions, the more that we demand something of ourselves, the better opportunity, obviously, we have to try to meet the standard that we’ve set for ourselves. I believe this is a fight that we can win, but most importantly, this is a fight we have to win. You can’t have 20 million people in modern times literally enslaved. And waiting for the moment when a government, a responsible entity might step up and help protect them as we should.

So I’m proud of the work we’re doing here. I think the President can take great pride in this. And hopefully, in this last year of the Administration, we can make a quantum leap in what we can say to the world we were able to accomplish and show people how we can make that difference in a few years. We can, in fact, ultimately win a victory over this challenge.

So let me – I’ll turn things over to Ambassador Coppedge, who’s going to give us an update on the Senior Policy Operating Group.