TIP Report Underscores Need for Global Accountability to Combat Human Trafficking
Washington, D.C. — Human Rights First today welcomed the release of the State Department’s 2017 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report, and called on the U.S. government to press countries to improve their efforts to combat human trafficking by enforcing its existing ban against importing goods produced with forced labor. The organization also expressed concern over Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s decision not to list Afghanistan, Burma, and Iraq on the department’s Congressionally-mandated list of governments that use child soldiers.The TIP Report is an annual accounting of global efforts to combat human trafficking, and is an important tool in the fight against modern slavery, which is estimated to claim over 20.9 million victims annually.
“Countries ranked in the TIP Report’s Tier 3 or Tier 2 Watch List are failing to meet minimum standards for combatting trafficking and are making little if any effort to comply,“ said Human Rights First’s Annick Febrey. “The U.S. government can and should hold these countries accountable to improve. That effort can start at home. By complying with the United States’ ban on products made with forced labor, U.S. importers and their overseas suppliers can and should put protections in place to ensure that workers overseas are not enslaved. If importers fail to take these steps, their goods should be stopped at the port of entry,” said Human Rights First’s Annick Febrey.
The United States currently imports an estimated $142 billion worth of goods that are likely to be made with forced labor, including $83.3 billion from countries ranked at the bottom—on Tier 3 or the Tier 2 Watch List—of the TIP Report. Section 307 of the Tariff Act bans the import of any goods produced with forced labor. Robust enforcement of the Tariff Act has proven a powerful incentive in the case of commodities where the United States controls a significant portion of the export market.
Several products produced by countries with low TIP Report rankings are currently on the Department of Labor’s list of goods produced with forced labor, yet they continue to be imported into the United States in large quantities, including sugar from the Dominican Republic, where the United States imports over 99 percent of the country’s sugar export; agriculture from Mexico, where the United States imports 79 percent of the country’s agricultural export; and coffee from Colombia, where the United States imports almost 47 percent of the country’s entire coffee export.
“Enforcing the ban on products produced with forced labor also creates a level playing field for responsible businesses that work with their global suppliers to prevent trafficking within their supply chains,” added Febrey.
With respect to the Child Soldiers Prevention Act list contained within the 2017 TIP Report, Human Rights First’s Vice President for Policy, Rob Berschinski, noted the following:
“Secretary Tillerson’s decision not to place Afghanistan, Burma, and Iraq on the State Department’s Congressionally-mandated list of governments that use child soldiers bears many of the hallmarks of his tenure to date, including a willful disinterest in leadership on advancing human rights and a management style seemingly designed to alienate his staff of professional diplomats.”
Added Berschinski, “U.S. law couldn’t be clearer: each year, the Secretary of State must publicly list those countries whose armed forces maintain child soldiers in their ranks. In years past, reasonable experts within the State Department have disagreed on whether a particular country meets the law’s evidentiary threshold, forcing the Secretary to make a decision on the basis of the evidence put in front of him. This year, however, for reasons that he didn’t explain, Secretary Tillerson appears to have simply overruled the State Department’s consensus view on the countries in question. A decision like this is certain to further estrange Tillerson and his small coterie of gatekeepers from the staff that they purportedly lead. By arguably dodging the spirit if not also the letter of the law, the decision is also likely to increase skepticism from members of Congress that Tillerson is availing himself of his department’s expertise, and has even a passing interest in America remaining a leader on human rights.”
Additionally, the TIP Report compiles global law enforcement data, calling attention to the wide disparity between the estimated 20.9 million victims versus 9,071 trafficking convictions worldwide. While this year’s report shows an improvement in the number of human trafficking cases that are being convicted around the globe, labor trafficking convictions continue to lag significantly. An estimated 68 percent of victims worldwide are labor trafficked, while just eight percent of convictions represent labor trafficking cases. This percentage is even lower in the United States, where labor trafficking convictions represent just three percent of human trafficking cases.
Human Rights First notes that holding traffickers accountable can be challenging, as trafficking cases can be difficult to identify, investigate, and prosecute. More complex human trafficking cases—such as labor trafficking—are especially difficult to identify, and can necessitate more interagency coordination requiring additional time and resources. The organization continues to urge Congress to swiftly pass the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, which would add designated trafficking prosecutors in U.S. Attorney’s Offices across the country. These designated prosecutors would improve expertise nationwide on successfully applying anti-trafficking statutes to gain convictions, as well as cultivate partnerships between government officials at all levels and service providers that are key to rooting out and prosecuting cases of trafficking.