Year in Review: 2015 and the Fight to Bankrupt Slavery
One hundred and fifty years ago on December 6, 1895, the United States ratified the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, legally abolishing slavery in America. In 2015 we commemorated America’s 19th century commitment to end slavery, and highlighted the continuing struggle to end human trafficking.
Below are the highlights and low points of the fight against human trafficking in 2015.
Slavery in the shrimp industry: Thailand’s seven billion dollar fishing industry is a major supplier of seafood to restaurants and grocery chains throughout the world. In groundbreaking reporting, Reuters revealed that labor trafficking is endemic in the sector, causing consumers to question their unwitting support of human trafficking. The revelation led many companies to reexamine their supply chains and cut ties with businesses exposed by the report.
Forced labor on the Gulf Coast: Signal International Inc., a marine service company headquartered in Mobile, Alabama, declared bankruptcy following a series of lawsuits brought against them by trafficked workers. Recruiters took advantage of 590 Indian men by charging them exorbitant recruitment fees, housing them in locked camps, and severely garnishing their wages. Signal ultimately apologized to the victims and paid out significant reparations.
Trafficking in Persons Report: In July, the State Department released the 2015 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report. Some outlets reported that senior staff at the Department of State (DOS) disregarded recommendations of experts in the TIP Office and instead prioritized other U.S. interests by giving certain countries inflated rankings. Members of Congress and anti-trafficking groups asserted that DOS politicized the TIP Report due to the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), thus prioritizing trade over human rights.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership: The release of the TPP included strong language to protect workers from forced labor. Enforcement of these provisions will be the key to effectively preventing workers from being trafficked. The Obama Administration also needs to raise human trafficking as a priority issue in all bilateral relationships. The U.S. government has a responsibility to ensure that companies operate on a level playing field.
U.S. National Action Plan on Responsible Business Conduct: In April Human Rights First submitted a list of recommendations for the first U.S. National Action Plan on Responsible Business Conduct (NAP). The submission called for increased efforts to address federal procurement and recruitment policies, and for commitments to working with businesses and foreign governments to create a more effective, multi-sector approach to combat trafficking.
Cocoa on the Ivory Coast: In June police rescued nearly 50 children, ranging in age from 5 to 16 years old, from cocoa plantations in the Ivory Coast. Traffickers abused the children physically and mentally, smuggling many of the victims from neighboring countries before selling them to plantation owners. The industry has long been under scrutiny by advocates and law enforcement, and the rescue served as a reminder that efforts to combat trafficking in cocoa must focus both on saving those trapped on plantations and ensuring they are not easily replaced by new victims.
Human trafficking in Ohio: In September two perpetrators pled guilty for their roles in a labor trafficking scheme in Marion, Ohio. FBI agents raided an egg farming facility owned by Trillium Farms Ohio in July, rescuing eight Guatemalan teenagers and two adults who had been promised good jobs and educations by fraudulent labor recruiters. Instead of a better life, the traffickers forced them to work long hours for little to no pay.
Ambassadors unite to combat human trafficking: Last January Human Rights First brought together prominent business leaders with authorities from government, the military, law enforcement, and the civil rights movement to call on the United States to dismantle the business of human trafficking. Following the convening, the ambassadors released a strategic framework to employ a multi-sector approach to increase prosecutions and decrease the number of victims exploited globally.
New federal contracting regulations: The Department of Defense, the General Services Administration, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration amended the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) to increase protections against human trafficking in federal contracts. Beginning on March 2nd, new regulations regarding contractor compliance plans and disclosure reports went into effect. The amended language also called for expanding the list of contracting relationships subject to anti-trafficking protections.