United States Mission to the United Nations Annual Trafficking in Persons Report

Photo source: https://www.safehorizon.org/news-from-the-field/trafficking-persons-report-2016/
(Photo source: SafeHorizon)

By Katherine Maloney, Dominican Volunteer

Each year the United States Mission to the United Nations releases a Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report to re-assess and evaluate the status of human trafficking (both sex trafficking and labor trafficking) worldwide. At this point in time, human trafficking is not only an issue discussed with regularity at the UN, but it is also an issue central to the advocacy of the Catholic Church. For the first time in 70 years, the United States brought the issue of human trafficking into discussions in the United Nations Security Council; on December 20, Spain brought the issue to the UNSC, and in March, the United Kingdom will do the same. In November 2016, on World Fisheries Day, Pope Francis urged for action in regards to the labor trafficking associated with the global fishing industry. In his statement, Vatican Secretary of State Parolin, speaking on behalf of the Pope, stated that labor trafficking is a “crime against humanity.” The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has initiated an effort to educate the public about the horrors of human trafficking. The fight against trafficking is an interfaith effort – Christian churches, including the Anglican Church, Greek Orthodox Church, and the Episcopal Church, along with Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, and other faith groups  are all playing a direct role in remedying the root causes of human trafficking while also caring for the victims.

The report released by the United States serves as a tool in bilateral negotiations and is a key piece for American diplomacy. Ambassador Coppedge, who leads the human trafficking initiatives for the US Mission, said that on a recent trip to China and Myanmar, the report was a valuable tool to set the narrative for discussions. Similarly, the report can be an important tool for NGOs to use when determining where to initiate or enhance anti-trafficking efforts in the field.

The TIP report this year focuses on prevention strategies for human trafficking, and analyzes efforts in 188 countries. The report classifies countries into four “tiers.” Tier 1 countries are those such as the United States, Australia, Israel, Canada, and most of Western Europe that meet minimum standards for preventing trafficking. Trafficking is present in Tier 1 countries, but there are also strong efforts across many stakeholders – including non-profits, law enforcement, government, and more – that are working to prevent and combat the problem. Tier 2 countries are those that are making significant efforts, but are not meeting minimum requirements. Much of Eastern Europe, Africa, and South America are on the Tier 2 list. In addition to Tier 2, there is the Tier 2 Watch List, which is composed of countries that are making efforts to be close to meeting minimum standards, like Tier 2 countries. These countries, however, are at greater risk for falling into Tier 3, so one might think of Tier 2 Watch List countries as “Tier 2.5.” Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Cuba, and Rwanda are just a few of the countries that qualify as Tier 2 Watch List. Tier 3 countries are those that are not meeting minimum requirements and have little infrastructure to prevent or deal with human trafficking. South Sudan, Burundi, Syria, Venezuela, and Haiti are all Tier 3 countries.

An important theme to note among Tier 2 Watch List and Tier 3 countries is conflict or post-conflict status. Syria, South Sudan, Venezuela, Haiti, Burundi, Central African Republic, Eritrea, Democratic Republic of Congo, North Korea, and many others on the Tier 2 Watch List and Tier 3 List are countries that are struggling with the aftermath of natural disasters, operating under oppressive regimes, dealing with ongoing war or the immediate aftermath of war, or experiencing tremendous social strife. Conflict is one of the many root causes of human trafficking. Another theme to note is that countries with lower GDP are more at risk for human trafficking – Haiti has one of the lowest GDPs in the Western Hemisphere, and is also a Tier 3 country. However, some of the fastest growing economies are also Tier 3; Myanmar, Cote d’Ivoire and other countries whose economies are rapidly growing have not seen changes in status since 2010; this could be an indicator that industry and business practices are actually continuing to contribute to trafficking, rather than seeking to eliminate it.

Ambassador Coppedge provided five actionable ways that we can all use the TIP report. These include:

  1. Enhancing understanding of the problem through research: To get started on the study of human trafficking, some useful resources are the full text of the TIP report, the UN Office on Drugs and Crimes comprehensive information section, an infographic from the US Department of Homeland Security, and Al Jazeera’s documentary series on Slavery in the 21st
  2. Raising Awareness. Posting articles on social media or participating in social media campaigns is a great way to raise awareness. The “Gift Box” campaign is one way that the NGO Committee to Stop Trafficking in Persons seeks to raise awareness. Learn the signs of trafficking and remain aware at airports, hotels, and other places where trafficking can be prevalent. Conduct letter-writing campaigns to urge airlines and hotels to educate employees and intervene in human-trafficking situations. Purchase products that are slavery-free. Find out how many slaves are used to produce the goods you own or buy, and take steps to reduce that number.
  3. Policies and Programs to Reduce Risk and Empower: While we might be unable to create policy, we can certainly use our voices to advocate for change. Polaris, an anti-trafficking organization, has many different ways to take action, including a petition urging Congress to bring an end to the criminalization victims of trafficking.
  4. MultiLateral Collaborations: Ambassador Coppedge stated that because traffickers do not respect borders, countries must not respect traffickers. By collaborating with other member states, the US can enhance efforts worldwide to fight trafficking. Urge your representatives to take measures that will implement partnerships with other countries to fight trafficking. Urge the passage of HR 3226 in the US House.
  5. Enhance partnerships: Governments alone cannot bring an end to human trafficking, although they can introduce regulations to prevent trafficking in the supply chain. Faith-based organizations must continue to partner with other NGOs, non-profits, and the public to raise awareness and care for victims. Law enforcement must be made aware of the signs and be tasked with special operations to remove victims from the situation and prosecute traffickers. Businesses must heed the advice of activist organizations and adhere to government regulations to ensure that the supply chain is free of trafficking. The public, as well as large organizations must boycott businesses that are known to have high levels of trafficking in the supply chain. While Ambassador Mendelssohn claimed that the United States Government does not purchase products known to have trafficking in the supply chain, sufficient evidence of this could not be located.

In short, human trafficking can only be prevented when we all work together. There is a continued need for social workers and advocates to work with the victims of trafficking and ensure that they are able to find gainful employment, housing, and psychological services. However, there is also a need for activists, politicians, business leaders, lawyers, and others to go to the source of trafficking and change the policies and regulations that allow for this heinous crime to continue. The TIP report offers a roadmap of where efforts must be concentrated, the gains achieved in mitigating the issue, and the work that must still be done to fulfill Target 8.7 of the Sustainable Development Goals.