WASHINGTON — With the passage of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, the state department had the funding to create a comprehensive report of the global condition of human trafficking and the legal backing to urge for improved conditions abroad. However, demands for justice come only for those whose injustices are identified.
On July 12, 2016, the Congressional Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations held a hearing to address identified shortcomings of the State Department’s 2016 Trafficking in Persons Report. The report is said to have mislabeled strategically important countries as “friendly” for political reasons — which resulted in a missed opportunity to demand justice for the many documented victims of human trafficking in those countries.
The latest hearing is one in a series concerning the same topic that dates back to the publication of articles by Matt Spetalnick, Jason Szep, and Patricia Zengerle on Reuters.com in August of 2015. The articles criticized both the Obama Administration and the 2015 report for putting a political agenda before the recommendations of experts when it came to ranking the state of human trafficking in 14 strategically-important countries.
In March, a separate subcommittee hearing asked for a fair and victim-centered report, one that aimed to rectify the mislabeling in 2015. Chairman of the subcommittee, Chris Smith addressed those concerns. “I am extremely disappointed and concerned that last year’s TIP Report gave a pass to several countries meriting Tier 3 accountability — countries whose trafficking victims desperately needed protection and America’s powerful voice,” Smith said.
The TIP Report ranks countries on the 4-tiered scale. Tier 1 countries are recognized as those whose governments meet the minimum Trafficking Victims Protection Act standards. The governments of Tier 2 countries don’t meet those standards but demonstrate an effort to work toward them. Otherwise, Tier 2 countries that still have a significant or an increasing number of human trafficking victims are ranked as Tier 2-Watch List, and Tier 3 countries do not meet and do not demonstrate the effort to meet standards.
Of the 14 countries in dispute on the 2015 report, the most widely criticized were China, Cuba, India, Malaysia, Mexico, Uzbekistan and Myanmar for their upgrades in rank. Human rights groups have praised the 2016 report for downgrading Myanmar and Uzbekistan to Tier 3, but the subcommittee hearing was called to discuss the unaddressed trafficking present in the remaining countries, as well as the contested upgrade of Thailand to Tier 2-Watch List, despite the widespread use of indentured slaves in the country’s fishing industry.
Human trafficking is the second largest criminal enterprise on the globe according to the FBI, and the TIP Report has been instrumental in the fight against it. A Tier 3 ranking can create limitations for U.S. aid, but those limitations are often waived. Of more importance is the publicity that will spur a country into action. Failing to declare a country’s shortcomings is a missed opportunity to demand action for victims, and the TIP Report’s ability to humiliate a country into action is dependent on its validity.
In the words of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry from the 2016 TIP Report, “just because a certain abuse has taken place in the past doesn’t mean that we have to tolerate that abuse in the future or that we can afford to avert our eyes.” The TIP report remains a valiant U.S. effort to improve the wellbeing of a voiceless population overseas, and as such should be held to high standard.
– Lia Jean Ferguson