House Passes Bill to Prevent Human Trafficking in U.S. Government Contracts
Washington, D.C. – Human Rights First today praised the House of Representatives for passing 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 bill passed in the House of Representatives last night.
“We applaud the House for passing this bill, which is an important step in enforcing new regulations meant to protect workers from being trafficked to serve U.S. government contracts,” said Human Rights First’s Annick Febrey. “Without a clear and broad definition of what constitutes a recruitment fee, traffickers will continue to prey upon vulnerable people and U.S. taxpayer dollars will continue to drive them. The Administration has had a year to draft a definition. We hope Congress’ action will motivate them to act more quickly.”
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 or training that they claim is needed for the job that they’ll never actually receive.