SEATTLE, Washington — On October 19, 2015, Susan Coppedge was appointed to a new position created within the U.S. State Department: Ambassador-at-Large to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. Now also serving as Senior Adviser to Secretary of State John Kerry, Coppedge leads a global campaign against the rapidly-escalating criminal industry of modern slavery.
The Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons was established by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 and is designed to partner with foreign governments, international organizations, civil societies and the private sector to develop and implement effective solutions in the war against human trafficking.
Its core philosophy is the “3P” paradigm — prosecuting traffickers, protecting victims and preventing trafficking. The office currently has 20 open projects in East Asia and the Pacific, and a 10 million-dollar budget is evenly dispersed to each portion of the paradigm.
Coppedge compiles the U.S. State Department’s Trafficking-in-Persons Report, the world’s most comprehensive resource of anti-trafficking efforts that includes 188 countries and territories. Countries that fail to meet the report’s minimum requirements fall to tier three status, which can result in sanctions on the country.
Yet, modern slavery — sex trafficking, child trafficking, forced labor, bonded labor, domestic servitude, and use of child soldiers — is the fastest-growing criminal industry in the world. The number of trafficked children is rising, more than doubling to 28 percent of all trafficking victims in 2014, from 13 percent in 2004. In West Africa, traffickers pose as teachers and enslave optimistic students to become beggars, exploiting innocence and educational vulnerabilities to make a profit.
Inroads have been made. The Associated Press won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for a series investigating severe labor abuses tied to the supply of U.S. supermarkets and restaurants. Its work inspired international reforms, freed 2,000 slaves and brought justice to traffickers. A Harvard University study focused on an Indian nonprofit organization that develops community empowerment models; after four years, the study showed a decline in the region’s modern slavery practices.
It is difficult to measure the black market for human trafficking, but the International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates that human trafficking generates $150 billion annually. For comparison, a Forbes contributor found that the North American sports industry was worth about $60 billion in 2014.
By changing environments to decrease the number of exploited people, modern slavery’s lucrative appeal can dwindle significantly. Traffickers prey on economically vulnerable, socially excluded and weak people. Although the State Department collaborates with different organizations, many holding diverse interests and perspectives, Coppedge states their main goal is the same: erasing these vulnerabilities.
Coppedge herself has made significant strides to ensure victims receive justice, providing results to many who believed the system would never stand up for them. With a law degree from Stanford University, Coppedge served as Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia for 15 years, prosecuting sex and labor traffickers. She successfully prosecuted more than 45 human traffickers, including pro wrestler Hardbody Harrison, and assisted approximately 90 victims.
In the field, she developed consistent investigative techniques to identify victims forced to engage in criminal activities. Decades later in a recent visit to Burma, Coppedge said it was crucial to screen vulnerable people involved in crime “to see what the true nature of the activity is there and whether they were compelled to engage in it”.
Coppedge has been recognized by the Department of Justice Director’s Award for Superior Performance as Assistant U.S. Attorney, two U.S. Attorney awards, Attorney General’s John Marshall Award, and other accolades. Her authority and perspective are the results of decades of experience and compassion. People like her will be instrumental in the fight against the modern slavery that is going on right now.
– Andy Jung