Congress Urged to Pass Bill to Prevent Human Trafficking in U.S. Government Contracts
Washington, D.C. – Human Rights First today called on the House of Representatives to pass the Trafficking Prevention in Foreign Affairs Contracting Act (H.R. 400), a bill that promotes enforcement of existing policies to prevent human trafficking on U.S. government contracts. The House is scheduled to vote on the bill early next week.
“Vulnerable workers are often exploited by recruiters who force them to pay a significant fee in order to secure a job with a government contractor, becoming indebted to pay off the fee before they are able to make any income for themselves and their families,” said Human Rights First’s Annick Febrey. “The Obama Administration has rightly committed to taking concrete steps to protect these exploited workers and eliminate forced labor from the supply chain of the U.S. government, but effective enforcement lags absent a consistent definition of a recruitment fee. Congress should help make this commitment a reality by passing the Trafficking Prevention in Foreign Affairs Contracting Act, which would be an important step toward meeting the goal of eradicating modern slavery.”
The Trafficking Prevention in Foreign Affairs Contracting Act, introduced by Chairman Royce (R-CA 39) and Ranking Member Engel (D-NY 16), would require the Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development to develop definitions of what constitutes a recruitment fee in order to enable compliance with the government-wide ban on charging workers recruitment fees.
The practice of exploiting workers through recruitment fees is rampant in many global industries including agriculture, construction, housekeeping and janitorial services, hospitality, fishing, electronics, apparel manufacturing, and transportation. Unscrupulous labor recruiters prey upon those who cannot afford to pay the recruitment fee. These workers often take out a loans in order to cover the fee, putting their homes or other valuables up as collateral. Many times these workers find they have been lied to by the recruiters about the location of the job, the nature of the work, and the salary – but are unable to leave the jobs for fear of losing their homes or other valuables until they are able to repay the loan.
Last year the administration published new regulations requiring government contractors to have policies in place to better protect vulnerable workers, including a blanket ban on charging employees any recruitment fees. While the regulations went into effect in March, Human Rights First notes that the lack of a consistent definition for what constitutes a recruitment fee has hindered effective enforcement of this provision. Additionally, unscrupulous recruiters – aware of the change in policy – are instead charging workers for equipment needed for the job, such as a new computer, or training that they’ll never actually receive.
“Adopting the broadest possible definition of a recruitment fee will ensure that workers are less vulnerable to trafficking and that U.S. federal supply chains don’t support slavery,” added Febrey.