Humanity United Response to 2020 TIP Report
This year’s Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report is the 20th edition of the annual report analyzing the progress (or lack thereof) in combating trafficking around the world. The TIP Report, which was mandated in the original Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA), has long been a key mechanism to hold countries accountable for their work to prevent the crime of trafficking, prosecute traffickers, and protect victims. Over the last 20 years, the report has played an important role in raising awareness of the problems, highlighting the steps needed to be taken, and driving action by governments around the globe to better address the crime. The data contained in the report is a valuable source of information for advocates working on the issue.
At the same time, as we have consistently noted for years, the report can only be as effective as it is credible. While the majority of the country rankings each year are noncontroversial, the integrity of the report as a whole still suffers when even one country’s rankings are determined not by the standard outlined in the TVPA, but by other political pressures.
In particular, in order to maximize the impact the TIP Report has in influencing other countries’ efforts, the United States needs to be honest about its own ranking. As we noted last year, the evidence did not warrant the United States ranking itself as Tier 1, and sadly once again this year based on the evidence the United States still does not deserve a Tier 1 ranking. Significantly, we continue to see the Trump Administration pursue harmful immigration policies that heighten vulnerabilities for trafficking victims and increase the risk of exploitation. We see these policies continuing to negatively impact trafficking survivors’ access to T Visas, which are supposed to help them receive services and remain in the U.S. to help prosecute their traffickers.
In fact, the 2020 TIP Report even mentions that this year “[the United States] prosecuted fewer cases and secured convictions against fewer traffickers, issued fewer victims trafficking-specific immigration benefits, and did not adequately screen vulnerable populations for human trafficking indicators. Anti-trafficking advocates reported a continued lack of sustained effort to address labor trafficking, increased obstacles for foreign nationals to secure victim protections, and a systemic inability to prevent traffickers from using employment-based and other nonimmigrant visa programs.” The United States must earn its Tier 1 ranking and improve on the many issues the report itself calls out.
One additional country of focus for Humanity United is Qatar, which remains at Tier 2 in this year’s report, as was the case in 2019. Over the past year, the Government of Qatar has taken some steps to address the exploitative labor conditions of migrant workers. As the report notes, Qatar has expanded the repeal of its exit permit law to now include domestic workers, making it easier for them to leave the country without their employers’ permission. Qatar also expanded the number of e-visa centers in countries where its migrant workforce originates from to centralize recruitment-associated procedures such as medical exams and issuing Qatari residency permits.
However, elements of the kafala system remain and more progress must be made. As the report notes, Qatar is yet to implement proposed reforms abolishing the “no objection certificate” (NOC), and workers still are forced to wait months to receive judgement on cases or salary payments. Although domestic workers are now included under the repeal of the exit permit law, in practice, they are still required to notify employers of their intent to leave at least 72 hours in advance, and employers are able to use ‘absconding’ laws to take punitive measures to prevent a worker’s departure. Further reforms, along with fully operational government shelters can serve as a vital resource for workers fleeing abuse. As the report highlights, Qatar must also increase the number of trafficking investigations and prosecutions, particularly in forced labor cases.
Additionally, we have concerns about the Tier 1 ranking of Taiwan, in spite of the report’s acknowledgement that, particularly in Taiwan’s distant water fleet, “fishermen working on Taiwan-owned and -flagged fishing vessels experience non- or under-payment of wages, long working hours, physical abuse, lack of food or medical care, denial of sleep and substandard safety equipment, and poor living conditions while indebted to complex, multinational brokerage networks”, which are indicators of human trafficking. For years, the TIP Report has highlighted the need for Taiwan to better address forced labor on its fishing vessels, and the lack of meaningful progress remains troubling. Similarly, Malawi’s upgrade to Tier 2 is also unjustified in light of its failure to pay a $1 million judgement in a domestic servitude case involving one of its diplomats, which the report notes.
Looking back over the last 20 years, we have seen progress in the global fight against human trafficking. Yet as we look to the next 20 years, it is clear there is much more that needs to be done. The United States has traditionally played an important role in this work, including through the annual TIP Report. However, when the United States upgrades undeserving countries and fails to honestly assess its own shortcomings, it loses credibility and the ability to persuade other countries to do better. As the United States continues pursuing isolationist policies that shirk leadership in international organizations, cut foreign assistance, and deprioritize diplomacy, it falls increasingly into irrelevance, even on issues like human trafficking it claims are still priorities.
The United States can do better, it should do better, it must do better.