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February 14, 2017

How to Dismantle the Business of Human Trafficking: Blueprint for Congress

The United States abolished slavery with the ratification of the 13th Amendment more than 150 years ago, and slavery is illegal everywhere. However, the International Labor Organization estimates that there are more than 20 million slaves in the world today[i]—about twice as many as there were during the time of the transatlantic slave trade. The United States is both a source and destination for victims.

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Since passage of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) of 2000—and its subsequent reauthorizations—the U.S. government has taken steps to build an anti-human trafficking infrastructure. Through annual publication of the Department of State’s (DOS) Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report,[ii] the United States has led the movement to call worldwide attention to this problem. The DOS Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (J/TIP) provides grants to both American and foreign institutions involved in prevention and awareness raising, protection and victim services, law enforcement and efforts to increase prosecutions, research and data collection, and evaluation. J/TIP also facilitates coordination between U.S. agencies, both at home and abroad, including those on the President’s Interagency Task Force (PITF).[iii]

Despite these efforts, human trafficking continues to be a massive human rights problem across the globe, one that inflicts suffering on millions and undermines legitimate, law-abiding U.S. businesses and their workers. Victims are forced to work in fields and factories and on fishing boats for little to no pay, while others are held captive in private homes. Forced prostitution rings imprison women, girls, and boys in brothels or make them to work on the streets under threat of abuse.

The primary reason for the persistence of slavery is clear: the crime pays. Operating with virtual impunity, traffickers earn an estimated $150 billion annually in illicit profits worldwide.[iv] The 2016 DOS TIP report used law enforcement data to determine that there were only 6,609 human trafficking convictions globally in 2015—a paltry figure considering the millions of victims. The U.S. government reported just 297 convictions in 2015.[v]

The United States should flip the financial equation for traffickers: dismantle the business of human trafficking by increasing the risks and decreasing the profits. To that end, the 115th U.S. Congress has an opportunity to prioritize policies that will increase prosecutions through

the annual appropriations process and the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, which is up for reauthorization this fall. These policies should strengthen partnerships across federal, state and local law enforcement and related agencies, and increase funding to create more effective and sustainable efforts to combat this horrific crime.

 

[i] ILO, “ILO Global Estimate of Forced Labour,” June 1, 2012, available at: <http://www.ilo.org/global/topics/forced-labour/news/WCMS_182109/lang--en/index.htm>

[ii] U.S. Department of State, “Trafficking in Persons Report,” annual, available at: <http://www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/>

[iii] This includes, but is not limited to the Department of State (DOS), Department of Justice (DOJ), Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Department of Labor (DOL), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Department of Defense (DOD), Department of Agriculture (USDA), Department of Treasury (Treasury), Department of Education (DOED), Department of Transportation (DOT), and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). A full list can be found here: <http://www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/reports/pitf/>

[iv] ILO, “Profits and Poverty: The Economics of Forced Labour,” May 20, 2014, available at: <http://www.ilo.org/global/publications/ilo-bookstore/order-online/books/WCMS_243391/lang--en/index.htm>

[v] U.S. Department of State, “2016 Trafficking in Persons Report,” July 2016, available at: <https://www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/2016/index.htm>