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April 27, 2017

TVPRA: Continuing the Fight against Modern Slavery

The Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) is a landmark human trafficking law, first passed in 2000, that outlines the U.S. government’s policy on human trafficking. Today Representatives Chris Smith (R-NJ), Karen Bass (D-CA), Ed Royce (R-CA), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Susan Brooks (R-IN), Lois Frankel (D-FL), Ann Wagner (R-MO) and Tony Cárdenas (D-CA) introduced the Frederick Douglass Trafficking Victim’s Protection Act of 2017. This bipartisan bill reauthorizes the critical anti-human trafficking programs we need to continue fighting modern slavery both at home and abroad.

The bill focuses on civil remedies and services for victims, education and trainings for people most likely to encounter human trafficking, and increasing accountability for perpetrators here in the United States. Other recent versions have focused on increasing accountability for traffickers overseas and strengthening collaboration between state and local law enforcement to better identify victims and prosecute traffickers domestically.

In order to increase prosecutions for traffickers, this bill designates human trafficking prosecutors in key judicial districts across the United States to ensure increased exploration of all potential cases of human trafficking and to focus on bringing traffickers to justice in more complex cases.

These designated prosecutors will be particularly helpful in prosecuting complex cases—such as labor trafficking cases —which pose a unique challenge to prosecutors and law enforcement because they are harder to identify and can require more interagency coordination, time, and resources. Under the new law, prosecutors will be able to deepen their expertise on how to successfully apply anti-trafficking statutes to gain convictions. It will also encourage cultivating partnerships between government officials at all levels and service providers that are key to rooting out and prosecuting cases of trafficking.

We are already seeing the success of increased coordination between representatives from DOJ, DHS, and DOL in districts that already have designated prosecutors. In these areas, the number of human trafficking cases filed has increased by 119 percent and defendants charged by 86 percent.

If passed, this bill will also enhance enforcement of section 307 of the Tariff Act of 1930, which bans goods produced with forced labor from import into the United States. With the 2016 closure of a loophole that allowed these goods into the country, it now falls on Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to enforce this policy.

While enforcement has increased, CBP is still in the process of developing best practices for investigations into products potentially produced with forced labor. The bill requires additional transparency about petitions that have been filed and a close audit of successful practices and challenges to robust enforcement of the law. To help CBP better identify which goods should be investigated, the bill also asks that the Department of Labor International Labor Affairs Bureau expand its report to be comprehensive of all goods with signs of forced labor, a critical tool in ensuring that slave-made goods no longer enter U.S. markets.

In addition to enhancing the Tariff Act enforcement, the U.S. government is making efforts to prevent human trafficking in procurement policy. U.S. government contractors are expected to have compliance plans in place that prevent human trafficking, but implementation and enforcement of this provision has lagged. The bill requires key agencies to identify human trafficking compliance advisors who will be responsible for training procurement officers on the human trafficking requirements and reporting potential allegations.

The original landmark legislation was authored and led by Congressman Chris Smith in 2000, who continues to champion anti-trafficking issues. The current authorizations for the TVPRA passed in 2013 expire at the end of September. To continue the robust fight against human trafficking in the United States and across the globe, Congress should support this legislation and pass it swiftly with bipartisan support.