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April 28, 2015

Last week at HU: Briefings on the Hill shed new light on modern slavery

On April 22nd, Humanity United participated in two critical stakeholder panels on Capitol Hill regarding slavery in supply chains.

Co-sponsored with the International Labour Organization and UCLA Burkle Center, Humanity United participated in the Washington, D.C. “Out of the Shadows” conference on combatting forced labor and other forms of worker exploitation. HU VP for Policy & Government Relations, David Abramowitz, facilitated a panel with senior U.S. government, Brazilian, and Maryland State officials to discuss successful approaches to combatting forced labor.

In addition, HU Director for Policy & Government Relations, Jesse Eaves, testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on the Trafficking in Persons Report, where he continued to advocate for more pressure on Thailand given its poor record on stemming slavery in its seafood supply chain. You can read Jesse’s full testimony below.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for convening this important hearing and inviting us to testify. You and Congresswoman Bass are leaders in the fight against human trafficking, forced labor, and modern day slavery. Thanks to your tireless efforts, America remains a global leader in combatting these atrocious crimes.

It’s my pleasure to be here today representing Humanity United and its partners around the world that combat modern day slavery.  Humanity United (HU) is a philanthropic organization based in San Francisco, California.  HU was started by Pam and Pierre Omidyar to build peace and advance human freedom around the globe and has been working to end modern slavery for over a decade.

This hearing is an opportunity to shine a light on the critical importance of the United States to combat modern day slavery.  Fifteen years after the Palermo Protocols and the original Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, almost every country in the world has laws that address human trafficking to varying degrees.  Much of the credit for the rise in action against slavery can be attributed to the work of the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons and their annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report.  A strong TIP office with strong tools is a powerful catalyst for change and holds countries (including the U.S.) accountable for their actions or inactions against human trafficking.  However, if these tools are compromised or the office weakened, we stand to lose much of the ground we’ve gained in the past fifteen years.  The opportunity is now, and the tools are available, to make U.S. engagement more coordinated, effective, and efficient in tackling human trafficking.

Mr. Chairman, the TIP Report is a critical resource to organizations like Humanity United and (though they may be loath to admit it) governments around the world.

Whether country governments denounce the TIP Report or rejoice in their rankings, the TIP Report is a key driver for national change.  The leverage and impact of the TIP Report is, and remains, that there are consequences of the so-called “tier rating” system. Countries do not want to be known as having failed to meet the minimum standards on modern slavery, and by not making concerted efforts to meet those standards, countries face the possibility of targeted U.S. sanctions.

Between moving a country to act, and then providing funds to help them take first steps, the TIP Report and resulting assistance programs create real change on the ground.

For instance, the TVPRA of 2013 included the key provisions of the Child Protection Compact Act (CPCA), which you championed Mr. Chairman. This legislation allows the State Department to partner with a government and set measurable goals over a multi-year period to strengthen the protection system for vulnerable children and improve justice systems so they investigate and prosecute those who would exploit a child.

Just this year, the TIP Office announced its intention to sign the first ever Child Protection Compact with the country of Ghana.  This is a tremendous opportunity to partner with a country that historically has not received much TIP program funding but has a high prevalence of trafficking, particularly of children.   There are several reasons for excitement over this new effort.  First, while attempts to address child labor and other abuses in the cocoa industry have been ongoing for over a decade, other sectors such as fishing, gold mining, forced child begging, domestic labor exploitation, and forced prostitution all remain a problem.

Second, launching this pilot effort in Ghana is a regionally smart choice. Many countries in sub-Saharan Africa face extremely low capacity to adequately address the issues raised in the TIP Report. U.S. partnership will go a long way to elevate the work of our partners who are addressing the low capacity of the government and local communities to tackle human trafficking. For example, International Justice Mission is working to strengthen the justice system to address slave labor in fishing in Lake Volta and Free the Slaves is working in cocoa and gold mining communities to address the root causes of vulnerability with a focus on education.

The funding for Child Protection Compacts bolsters US credibility and should absolutely continue, but so should overall funding for anti-trafficking programs. The TIP Office currently funds projects in 76 countries.  However, these grants are typically small and limited in scope.  Last year, the TIP Office received applications for $107 million but was only able to provide $18 million.

$18 million against a $150 billion dollar industry.

We see from the testimony today that the TIP Report, the TIP Office and the U.S. Government’s overall efforts to combat human trafficking raise the level of accountability and transformation that can occur.  With all this activity however, there is one glaring gap: the lack of an Ambassador-at-Large to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. The so-called TIP ambassador position at the State Department has been vacant for five months. The absence of the TIP ambassador jeopardizes U.S. leadership.  Without an Ambassador, the transformational impact of the TIP Office and US efforts to combat trafficking at home and abroad is severely limited.  The Administration must appoint a strong TIP Ambassador immediately, especially as we enter this critical period prior to the release of the TIP Report.

Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Bass, the TIP Report remains a critical element of the global fight against human trafficking.  But we still have work to do. Congress has given the Administration good tools. It is critical that we work together so these tools are not left to rust in the toolbox. We in civil society stand ready to deepen the conversation and work with you to ensure that together as partners, we are on the path toward eradicating human trafficking and modern-day slavery and advancing the cause of human freedom.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and Ranking Member Bass for all the work you have done on this critical issue.  And I look forward to your questions.


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