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January 07, 2015

New Year, New Congress: What to Watch on Combatting Human Trafficking

As Congress enters its 114th session, human rights must take the spotlight. This blog series will address what we at Human Rights First believe should take top priority in Washington in the next year.

2015 marks 150 years since the United States ratified the 13th Amendment officially abolishing slavery, yet modern day slavery remains a pervasive threat to liberty and dignity. Globally, estimates indicate that roughly 21 million victims are currently trapped in human trafficking networks at a profit of nearly $150 billion dollars for the criminals behind their operation. Congress has taken important steps to create a permanent anti-human trafficking infrastructure at home, including the passage of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, but there is much more work to be done to disrupt the criminal networks that profit from modern day slavery.

Here are our top three priorities for the 114th Congress to put human traffickers out of business:

1. Increase Prosecutions by Providing Law Enforcement with New Tools to Go After Every Part of the Network that Enables Trafficking

Congress should expand federal authority to allow the use of wire-tapping for all human trafficking investigations, including labor trafficking cases. Congress must also protect all minor victims of trafficking by requiring states to have a Safe Harbor law in place in order to receive funding for state child welfare systems. Additionally, recognizing that the absence of comprehensive and reliable statistics about trafficking in the United States is a significant hurdle to battling this crime, Congress should add human trafficking as a Part I violent crime to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) program to mandate consistent data collection.

2. Enact New Measures Requiring Transparency and Accountability in Procurement and Business Supply Chains

The United States must implement measures to prevent or disrupt the criminal enterprise of human trafficking by focusing on labor recruitment and procurement, and establishing guiding principles for companies to ensure they aren’t unintentionally contributing to the human trafficking problem globally. Congress should introduce new legislation creating due diligence minimum standards and requiring businesses to map their supply chains to guarantee that no slave labor and trafficked persons were used in the production of the products we consume. Congress should also work to ensure that government procurement is free of trafficked labor by requiring the Pentagon to review their policy guidelines for procurement to ensure that suppliers of military uniforms are not using forced labor.

3. Ensure Adequate Resourcing to Anti-Trafficking Policies

Congress and the Obama Administration have made substantial public commitments to combat human trafficking. But until the funding to implement and support effective anti-trafficking initiatives matches this rhetoric, such pledges will have limited impact. In 2013, the U.S. government spent just under $80 million to combat trafficking both at home and abroad. This means for every $150 a trafficker earns, the U.S. government is only spending $0.08 trying to stop it. Congress should appropriate resources for adequate capacity-building and training activities  and ensure adequate funding for prevention programs, law enforcement training, and investigations.