How the U.S. Should Respond to Human Trafficking Internationally.
The U.S. organizes countries into tiers based on whether they comply with the Trafficking Victims Protection Act's standards, with Tier 3 being the lowest rating. Being on Tier 3 opens a country up to possible sanctions. (Image from The Atlantic)
The Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) was passed in 2000 to "combat trafficking in persons, especially into the sex trade, slavery, and involuntary servitude." Despite the progress that has been made since then, human trafficking remains an extensive global problem with no clear end in sight. For this project, I looked into what the United States should do to combat this issue. A true solution would require collaboration between many countries, but there are steps the U.S. can take to curb the growth of human trafficking and, eventually, to eliminate it.
Summaries of Resources
The United Nations’ report offers a lot of statistical information about human trafficking. One important statistic is that roughly 60% of victims have been moved into at least one other country. Another statistic challenges a common misconception about human trafficking, that victims are almost always sexually exploited. About 40% of victims were trafficked for forced labor. In 2011, trafficking victims were 49% women, 21% girls, 18%, and 12% boys. But 79% of female trafficking victims are involved in sex trafficking, and 83% of male victims are used for forced labor, so there is a large difference in what the genders are trafficked for. Another interesting fact to note is that “the proportion of detected child victims has increased significantly in recent years.”
The report also highlights how few people are actually convicted for human trafficking. Only 40% of countries report having more than 10 convictions a year, and 15% report having no convictions. When the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons entered into force in 2003, “almost two thirds of countries did not have a specific offense that criminalized trafficking in persons… in 2014, 5 per cent of countries do not have specific legislation that criminalizes trafficking in persons.” However, while more countries have been outlawing human trafficking, “overall, the global picture of the criminal justice response shows few signs of change in recent years.” This shows that passing legislation alone is not enough to fight human trafficking. Countries are having a difficult time enforcing the laws that they are passing, and most traffickers are not deterred by these new pieces of legislation.
This report explains the United States’ possible foreign policy responses to fight human trafficking. The first policy to address trafficking is “foreign country reporting,” or simply reporting on countries’ efforts to combat human trafficking. The next is “foreign product blacklisting.” This policy requires the Departments of Labor and Homeland Security to maintain “a list of foreign goods produced with child or forced labor… to be barred entry at U.S. ports.” This is a key response to prevent trafficking. If the US won’t purchase any products made using forced labor, it discourages the use of it and makes it ineffective. The next policy is “foreign assistance and related projects to support anti-trafficking efforts abroad.” The US State and Labor Departments committed $548 million for “international anti-trafficking activities, including assistance to foreign governments, NGOs, and civil society organizations, as well as researchers.”
Another way the US can respond to human trafficking is through “restrictions on foreign assistance to poor-performing countries.” Countries that are ranked in Tier 3 in the Trafficking in Persons Report are “ineligible to receive non-humanitarian, nontrade-related aid.” However, the president can waive aid sanctions “in cases where the continuation of aid would promote U.S. national interests that supersede anti-trafficking policy goals.” The US can also rescind the right some countries have to export certain products to the US duty-free.
The conclusion of this report states, however, that “reports of ongoing exploitation of trafficking victims worldwide appear to fundamentally question the effectiveness… of current responses to the trafficking problem.” While the policies listed above “exceed the international commitments set forth in treaties such as the U.N. Trafficking Protocol,” they have proved to not be enough to seriously resolve this issue.
This article talks about how some stores, including Walmart and Costco, sell products made using forced labor. In Thailand, large numbers of men are forced to work on fishing boats. The Guardian reports “the world’s largest prawn farmer, Charoen Pokphand (CP) Foods, buys from suppliers that use slaves in their production process.” CP Foods sells its products to many international supermarkets and has a profit of $33 billion a year. Walmart, Costco, Aldi, and other stores sell prawns supplied by CP Foods. And CP Foods is aware of the slave labor that is used to prepare their products. Their UK managing director, Bob Miller, said about the issue, “We’re not here to defend what is going. We know there’s issues with regard to the material that comes in, but to what extent that is, we just don’t have visibility.”
The Guardian also spoke to a few of Thailand’s human trafficking victims about the conditions on the fishing boats, “including 20-hour shifts, regular beatings, torture, and execution-style killings.” It is believed there are about 500,000 people enslaved in Thailand. Bob Miller said, “There’s no doubt commercial interests have created much of this problem.” The US and other European countries want to purchase prawns at the lowest price possible, which has amplified the need for cheap labor on Thailand’s fishing boats. There is a simple solution to this problem: “global brands and retailers can do so much good without bringing too much risk upon themselves by simply enforcing their supplier standards, which typically prohibit forced labor and child labor,” Lisa Taylor of Anti-Slavery International said. If businesses realize that their products won’t be purchased if they are made using slave labor, they will compelled to stop using enslaved people.
In this article, the author explains that in order to effectively combat human trafficking, we have to understand its causes. The responses to trafficking often only treat it as “an act… of violence, with the perpetrators to be punished and the victims to be protected,” but ignore “the broader socioeconomic conditions that feed the problem.” Because of globalization, there is a huge wealth gap between rich and poor countries, which has created a large group of people who “seek employment opportunities abroad as a means of survival as jobs disappear in their countries of origin.” The need to migrate in order to find work, along with “destination countries tightening their border controls,” results in a large population of people who are susceptible to trafficking. Most governments don’t look at trafficking as a “problem of migration, poverty, discrimination, and gender-based violence.”
The author points to the common misconception about human trafficking as a reason why people don’t view it correctly. To many people, trafficking is “women… trafficked into the sex industry by shady figures.” While that is the reality for some trafficking victims, the practice of forced labor is often overlooked. Additionally, many believe that victims are kidnapped or forced to leave their homes, but more often, the decision to leave is made voluntarily. But because most victims are migrating for survival—to “escape from economic, political, or social distress—they are willing to accept very dangerous arrangements for leaving their home.
Another factor that contributes to human trafficking is the “unmet labor demands in the wealthier destination countries.” By 2050, the proportion of people over 60 in wealthy countries is “expected to increase from eight per cent to 19 per cent,” but the “number of children will by drop one third” because of low fertility rates. These countries will have a greater need for migrant workers. However, most of these countries also have strict immigration laws and “considerable… resistance to liberalizing the migration policies.” This combination of a need for cheap labor and few legal ways to get into these countries strengthens the human trafficking industry.
Ultimately, the problems of poverty, unemployment, and migration for survival need to be addressed in order to fully eradicate human trafficking. Many of the other responses to trafficking only provide a short-term solution.
Siddharth Kara is the author of the book, “Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery,” which won Yale University’s Frederick Douglass Award for the best non-fiction book about slavery. He also advises the UN on modern day slavery. In this Q&A, Kara explains what human trafficking and slavery looks like in modern times. He says that it still serves the same purpose as always, “to maximize profit by minimizing or eliminating the cost of labor.” However, Kara identifies a key difference between pre-Civil War slavery and modern slavery: “slaves today can be exploited in dozens of industries that are intricately woven into the global economy, as opposed to just agriculture and domestic servitude as centuries ago.” It is also much easier to obtain slaves today. Kara explains that while “the average slave two centuries ago could generate a 15% to 20% annual return on investment for his or her exploiters, that same ‘ROI’ today is several hundred percent per year (over 900% per year for sex trafficking).”
Kara goes on to explain some of the obstacles that stand in the way of eradicating human trafficking. The US government “spends 350 times more money each year to combat drug trafficking than slavery,” but the US also “spends more money to combat slavery than most any other government in the world.” But despite the challenges, progress has been made. Kara says that there is now much more awareness about this issue than there was a decade ago, in part because of the “films and TV shows” that have been made. This awareness trickled into the commercial sector, Kara said, with companies taking “modest steps to understand and combat [human trafficking].” Kara explains that the next step in preventing human trafficking is “to move beyond general awareness and towards actual detailed analysis and understanding of how to combat these crimes more effectively.”