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June 28, 2017

The Latest TIP Report

On June 27, 2017, the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons released the 2017 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report.

The annual report collects the number of global trafficking prosecutions and monitors individual governments’ efforts to meet its minimum standards for eliminating human trafficking. It then issues country rankings of Tier 1, Tier 2, Tier 2 Watch List, or Tier 3. Countries ranked Tier 1 are those that fully meet the minimum standards for combating trafficking, while a Tier 3 ranking indicates that the government fails to meet these standards and shows little effort to improve.

This annual account of global efforts to combat modern slavery provides an overview of each country's actions and serves as an important diplomatic tool. Unfortunately, TIP report rankings are not always utilized as leverage in diplomatic relationships.

The United States often waives or does not strongly enforce the sanctions associated with a country’s poor ranking. Despite an amendment made to the Tariff Act in 2016 that bans the import of goods produced by forced labor, the United States imports an estimated $142 billion in goods likely produced by forced labor per year. $83 billion of that comes from countries ranked Tier 3 or Tier 2 Watch List.

If fully enforced, the ban on goods produced by forced labor could prove highly influential in international efforts against human trafficking. By refusing to import goods from countries known to have poor trafficking regulations, the U.S. government can press the global community to protect workers and level the playing field for responsible businesses.

In addition to diplomatic leverage, the TIP report provides valuable evidence that the number of human trafficking prosecutions worldwide is horrifically low in proportion to the staggering number of trafficking victims. According to the report, there were only 6,601 trafficking convictions worldwide in 2015, and only 9,071 in 2016. In the United States, there were just 439 convictions.

Labor trafficking conviction rates are particularly low. Of the 20.9 million people estimated to be living in slavery, 68 percent are exploited for labor. However, labor trafficking cases represent about eight percent of global convictions and only three percent in the United States.

Reporting on these numbers is key to understanding global trafficking trends and fighting this crime. Data from the TIP report gives ample reason to push for increased trafficking convictions. Without placing an emphasis on increasing prosecutions, the number of victims globally will continue to rise.

Despite the many benefits of the TIP report, there have been questions about its integrity. Many believe that some countries have received unjustly high ranks due to their diplomatic relationships and trade deals with the United States.

The Trafficking in Persons Report Integrity Act (S. 377), introduced by Senators Rubio (R-FL) and Menendez (D-NJ) in February, would ensure that this valuable tool accurately reflects international efforts to combat human trafficking. This bill would increase transparency in the TIP report ranking process. It would also ensure that countries are ranked on current efforts—and not those promised to be made in the future.

Without collaboration from the international community, many people will continue to be exploited across the globe. The TIP report is an opportunity for top tier countries to exchange best practices and build collaboration, and for lower tier countries to be incentivized to improve their trafficking regulations. Using the report as a diplomatic tool and fully enforcing U.S. laws to protect vulnerable workers in supply chains could have a lasting impact on efforts to combat human trafficking.