WASHINGTON D.C. — With the passage of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, the U.S. State Department gained the funding to create a comprehensive report of global human trafficking and the legal backing to campaign for improved conditions abroad. However, demands for justice come only for those whose injustices are identified.
Tuesday, July 12, 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, missing the opportunity to demand justice for the many documented victims of human trafficking in those countries.
The latest hearing is the latest in a series concerning the same topic, dating 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 expert’s recommendations when ranking the state of human trafficking in 14 strategically important countries.
The hearing on July 5 comes four months after a separate subcommittee hearing asked for a fair and victim-centered report, one that would rectify the mislabeling in 2015. Chairman of the subcommittee, Chris Smith, addressed these concerns in the March hearing. “I am extremely disappointed and concerned that last year’s Trafficking in Persons (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 a 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. Tier 2 countries that still have a significant or rising amount of human trafficking victims are ranked as Tier 2-Watch List. Lastly, Tier 3 countries do not meet standards and also do not demonstrate efforts to improve their status.
Of the 14 countries in dispute on the 2015 report, the most widely criticized were the upgraded ranks for China, Cuba, India, Malaysia, Mexico, Uzbekistan and Myanmar. Human rights groups have praised the 2016 report for downgrading Myanmar and Uzbekistan to Tier 3, but the latest subcommittee hearing was called to discuss the unaddressed human trafficking in the remaining countries. They also question the contested upgrade of Thailand to tier 2-Watch List, despite the widespread use of indentured slaves in the country’s fishing industry.
Global human trafficking is the second largest criminal enterprise, 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 of global human trafficking. Yet, the TIP Report’s ability to humiliate a country into action is dependent on its own validity.
In the words of Secretary 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 the voiceless overseas, and as such should be held to high standard.
– Lia Jean Ferguson