State Department Report

On Tuesday, October 18, the U.S. Advisory Council on Human Trafficking released its annual report on human trafficking.

Each member of the Advisory Council is a survivor of human trafficking, and together they represent a diverse range of backgrounds and experiences.

The Council, established by the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act (JVTA), provides a formal platform for trafficking survivors to advise and make recommendations on federal anti-trafficking policies to President Obama’a Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons.

To view the report: Click Here

New Trafficking Ambassador Addresses U.S. Mission to the United Nations

After almost a year without a leader, the State Department Trafficking in Person’s office has a new Ambassador, Susan Coppedge Amato, confirmed by Congress in October. She certainly seems like a good choice for the job.

At her first public appearance today, Ambassador Coppedge, a former federal prosecutor from Georgia with a strong record prosecuting human trafficking cases, made clear that while the United States has some strong laws on the books to prosecute traffickers, “we must all do more to address this problem.”

Speaking at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, Coppedge presented her office’s 2015 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report, a 382-page volume on anti-trafficking efforts around the world that Coppedge called “the United States’ principle diplomatic tool” to convince other countries to do more to fight this form of modern slavery.

The credibility of that report has recently been called into question, however – an issue the new ambassador will need to address. As a Reuters news report revealed in August, the TIP report released last summer (before Coppedge took office) upgraded the rankings of 14 countries, even though State Department experts reportedly did not believe the evidence supported improvement on their efforts to combat trafficking.

Malaysia, for example, long criticized for not doing enough to combat forced labor and sex trafficking, was upgraded this year to “Tier 2 Watch List,” a step above its previous “Tier 3” ranking –  essentially a failing grade. (Tier 3 countries are those “whose governments do not fully comply with the minimum standards and are not making significant efforts to do so.”) Malaysia’s upgrade was crucial to President Obama’s ability to win “fast-track” approval for his proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) in Congress, since Malaysia would be a partner in the proposed trade agreement, and Congress has prohibited “fast-track” approval of any trade deal that includes a Tier 3 country. The upgrade of Malaysia therefore raised understandable suspicion that the State Department’s change in rank was more an attempt to push through the trade deal than a reflection of any actual improvement in the country’s anti-trafficking efforts. The lack of a leader in the State Department to champion the anti-trafficking cause may have smoothed the way for that upgrade – or at least left skeptics suspicious.

To read the full story by Daphne Eviatar at Human Rights First: Click Here

Congress to Seek More Transparency in Human Trafficking Report

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A U.S. Senate committee may draft legislation seeking to add more transparency to the State Department’s annual human trafficking report following concerns it had been watered down for political reasons, a senior lawmaker said on Thursday.

Senator Bob Corker, Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations panel, said lawmakers remained concerned over the credibility of the report and whether politics trumped human rights in this year’s rankings of strategically important countries such as Malaysia and Cuba. (http://1.usa.gov/1l3GLxb)

Corker and Senator Ben Cardin, the panel’s ranking Democrat, both expressed concerns after a closed-door hearing between the Senate Foreign Relations panel and Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken to discuss the Trafficking in Persons report.

“I think what you are going to see happen is likely a legislative push to create some transparency around countries being upgraded so we understand what the dynamic is,” Corker said after the meeting.

Malaysia’s upgrade from the lowest tier on the list of worst human trafficking centers could smooth the way for an ambitious U.S.-led free-trade deal with the Southeast Asian nation and 11 other countries by removing a potential barrier to President Barack Obama’s signature global trade deal.

A provision in a related trade bill passed by Congress this year had barred from fast-tracked trade deals Malaysia and other countries that earn the worst U.S. human trafficking ranking in the eyes of the U.S. State Department.

“Nothing was put forth to alleviate those concerns in any way. As a matter of fact, I would say that most people left there with even greater concerns,” Corker said.

Mai Shiozaki, a spokeswoman in the State Department’s office that produces the trafficking report, said Blinken “had a productive discussion with senators and appreciated the opportunity to lay out the facts and rationale behind this year’s report.”

“CREDIBILITY” IN QUESTION

The hearing followed a Reuters examination published in August that said the State Department office set up to independently rate countries’ efforts to fight human trafficking was repeatedly overruled by senior U.S. diplomats in the production of this year’s Trafficking in Persons report.

To read the full story by Jason Szep and edited by Lisa Shumaker: Click Here

Despite Criticism From Congress, Malaysia, Cuba Taken Off US Human Trafficking Blacklist

WASHINGTON (AP) — Democratic lawmakers and rights groups on Monday accused the State Department of politicizing its annual rankings of nations on their efforts to combat modern-day slavery, as key trading partner Malaysia was taken off a blacklist.

Cuba was also given an upgrade, a week after the U.S. and Cuba formally restored diplomatic relations, ending a half-century of estrangement.

But Thailand, downgraded with Malaysia last year because of pervasive labor abuses in its lucrative fishing industry, remained stuck on “tier 3” — the lowest ranking in the department’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report.

Undersecretary of State Sarah Sewall denied political considerations had come into play.

Secretary of State John Kerry formally launched the annual U.S. assessment of how 188 governments around the world have performed in fighting the flesh trade and other forms of exploitative labor, which he described as a “battle against money.”

He said the report was not intended to “name and shame” but to galvanize action against an illicit trade that the U.N. estimates generates $150 billion in profits each year, in industries also including mining, construction and domestic service.

Critics contend that Malaysia’s upgrade is related to its participation in a U.S.-backed trade agreement among Pacific Rim countries. Thailand is not part of the proposed agreement.

Read the full story by MATTHEW PENNINGTON of the Associated Press at US News & World Report: Click Here

Good News on TPP: Senate Passes Fast Track Bill with Human Trafficking Poison Pill

Remember, passing Fast Track in the Senate was supposed to be the easy part. Not only did Fast Track get rejected on its first try — “Welcome aboard the S.S. Lame Duck, Mr. President!” — now we get this. Ryan Grim explains:

The Senate approved a bill to “fast-track” trade agreements negotiated by the president. The agreement will prevent Congress from amending or filibustering Obama’s controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. The TPP deal would have a hard time surviving without fast-track authority.

But a key crackdown on human trafficking survived the legislative jujitsu. The White House considers the provision a deal-breaker, as it would force one of the nations involved in the TPP talks — Malaysia — out of the agreement.

From the US State Department:

Malaysia (Tier 3 [the worst]) is a destination and, to a lesser extent, a source and transit country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and women and children subjected to sex trafficking. The overwhelming majority of trafficking victims are among the estimated two million documented and two million or more undocumented foreign workers in Malaysia.

Foreign workers typically migrate willingly to Malaysia from other countries in Asia—primarily Indonesia, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Nepal, Burma, Cambodia, Vietnam, India, Thailand, and Laos—in search of greater economic opportunities.

Here I pause to note that somebody decided that it would be a good idea for the US to take in the Rohingya, the Muslim boat people who have turned to traffickers to escape a slow motion Burmese genocide, after which the Malaysians offered temporary, one-year status to such Rohingya as actually reach their shores.

Some of the migrants subsequently encounter forced labor or debt bondage at the hands of their employers, employment agents, or informal labor recruiters. Many Malaysian recruitment companies, known as “outsourcing companies,” recruit workers from foreign countries. Contractor-based labor arrangements of this type—in which the worker may technically be employed by the recruiting company—create vulnerabilities for workers whose day-to-day employers generally are without legal responsibility for exploitative practices. In some cases, foreign workers’ vulnerability to exploitation is heightened when employers neglect to obtain proper documentation for workers or employ workers in sectors other than that for which they were granted an employment visa. In addition, a complex system of recruitment and contracting fees, often deducted from workers’ wages, makes workers vulnerable to debt bondage. A Malaysian government policy implemented in January 2013 that places the burden of paying immigration and employment authorization fees on foreign workers, rather than the employers, increased this risk.

(Sounds like the sort of labor market that only a neo-liberal could love, but I digress.) So, yes, the anti-trafficking provision — assuming it has teeth, and Malaysia can’t slip by with a wink and a promise — is indeed a poison pill; Malaysia can’t possibly qualify. The administration doesn’t like that, arguing that will push Malaysia into the open arms of the Chinese, with whom the Thai junta is already flirting, but I suppose if push came to shove, Obama could throw Malaysia under the bus. More pertinent is the procedural roadblock the Menendez amendment throws in Fast Track’s way. Back to Ryan Grim:

The slavery provision’s survival means that the House will either need to amend the bill and send it back to the Senate, which would cause a delay and complicate the House debate, or pass a bill and go to conference with the Senate, also causing a delay. It also potentially could be fixed in separate legislation otherwise moving through Congress. But time is not on the side of advocates of the trade agenda, as summer recess is approaching, followed by a heated presidential campaign season. “It leaves a substantial problem that no one’s sure how will be addressed,” said one senator.

Complicating any efforts to “fix” the bill, however, is the possibility of an alliance between feminist factions in the Democratic party, and Christianist factions among the Republicans, both of whom take strongly principled positions on human trafficking.

To read the full story by Lambert Strether: Click Here

House Panel is Told of Slavery in Thai Seafood Industry

Modern-day slavery persists around the world, including the abuse of fishermen in the Thai seafood industry whose catch can end up in U.S. markets.

To read the full story from The Valdosta Daily Times: Click Here