TIP Report Underscores Need for More Resources, Accountability to Combat Human Trafficking

Washington, D.C. – Human Rights First today said that the State Department’s decision to improve the ranking of Malaysia in the 2015 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report undermines the report’s effectiveness in holding foreign governments accountable for improving their efforts to combat human trafficking. The organization also notes that the 2015 report highlights the need for the U.S. government to increase resources focused on securing more investigations and prosecutions of the criminals perpetrating this horrific crime. The 2015 TIP report was released this morning and is meant to provide an assessment of global efforts to combat human trafficking.

“Giving in to political pressure to upgrade Malaysia’s TIP Report ranking was a bad move,” said Human Rights First’s Annick Febrey. “Being lenient with U.S. allies and trade partners when they are failing to meet minimum standards to fight modern slavery undermines the credibility of the TIP report’s rankings and will negatively impact the ability of the U.S. government to use the report as an effective diplomatic tool.”

The TIP Report issues a ranking of Tier 1, Tier 2, Tier 2 Watch List,  or Tier 3 for each country. Malaysia was given a Tier 2 Watch List ranking this year, an upgrade from the Tier 3 ranking that the country received in 2014. The 2015 TIP Report failed to provide substantial evidence that Malaysia had improved its efforts to combat human trafficking since 2014, when the country exhibited a rapidly declining rate of investigations, prosecutions, and convictions.

Malaysia is the United States’ 20th largest trade partner and 17th largest supplier of imported goods. In 2013 the United States imported $14.8 billion worth of electronics and $1.1 billion worth of palm oil from Malaysia, both of which are products on the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) List of Goods Produced by Child Labor and Forced Labor.

This is not the first instance of countries with strong diplomatic ties to the United States being ranked leniently by the TIP Report. India, the 11th largest U.S. trade partner, was prematurely upgraded in 2011 to a Tier 2 ranking signifying that the country is making significant efforts to meet the minimum standards to eliminate trafficking. India has is estimated to be home to a significant portion of the world’s slaves.

Additionally, the 2015 TIP Report lists the total number of prosecutions for human trafficking in 2014 to be 10,051 worldwide, with only 4,443 convictions. In the United States, the Department of Justice prosecuted only 208 human trafficking cases in 2014, up from 161 in 2013, and 138 in 2012. Of 5,000 visas available annually for trafficking victims in the United States, only 613 were issued in 2014, 848 in 2013, and 674 in 2012.

“The number of prosecutions and convictions of human traffickers is alarmingly low. The U.S. government should take steps to allocate the appropriate resources needed to secure more prosecutions and convictions,” added Febrey.

Human Rights First has recently released an updated blueprint titled, “How to Dismantle the Business of Human Trafficking,” detailing steps the U.S. government should take to eradicate human trafficking by increasing prosecutions, decreasing financial rewards available to traffickers, and increasing resources to combat this crime. Key recommendations include:

  • The U.S. government should ensure that none of its imports include goods manufactured with slave labor.
  • Congress should increase the funding allocated to the DOJ Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit (HTPU) so that it can expand convictions across the United States, thus raising the risks for traffickers and deterring future perpetrators.
  • Congress should increase funding for Enhanced Collaborative Model Task Forces.
  • The United States should define a strategy for effectively enforcing the existing anti-human trafficking regulations in the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) and the Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement (DFARS)—this strategy must clearly identify how each regulation will be enforced and which offices within agencies are responsible for ensuring compliance.
  • The DOJ should ensure the prosecution of all individuals engaged in human trafficking, from those involved in recruitment of victims to the final stage perpetrator.
  • The DOJ should consistently implement best practices for maximum victim protection.
  • The U.S. government should develop due diligence minimum standards and require businesses to map their supply chains to guarantee that no slave labor and trafficked persons were used in the production of consumer goods.
  • The Department of Treasury should employ financial sanctions to tackle traffickers who rely on its financial markets, either by creating appropriate sanctions regimes or by employing the currently existing ones, such as the Transnational Criminal Organizations Sanctions Regime.
  • The U.S. government should adopt a uniform screening tool for law enforcement personnel to identify victims of human trafficking.
  • Law enforcement and prosecutors should coordinate with the private sector and NGOs to ensure that victims have access to quality legal representation.
  • Law enforcement and prosecutors should continue to develop investigative strategies to allow them to conduct successful prosecutions with additional evidence beyond victim testimony.

Published on July 27, 2015


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