The US Department of State’s Trafficking In Persons (TIP) Report was started in 2001 as a diplomatic means for the United States to communicate with other foreign governments on goals towards eliminating human trafficking. TIP is meant to facilitate dialogue with nations for anti-trafficking initiatives, as well as find resources on prevention, prosecution, and protection programs of human trafficking, highlighting the United States as a global leader in human rights and law enforcement. The TIP Report ranks countries based on a Tiers model (“2017 Trafficking in Persons Report”). The policy outputs and policy outcomes of TIP have been continuously debated within government, advocacy groups, and law enforcement (Kraft 6).
There are various critiques on the given Tiers system the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP) has used in the previous years. In the “Accountability Over Politics: Scrutinizing the Trafficking in Persons Report” hearing before the Subcommittee on Africa Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations of the Committee of Foreign Affairs through the House of Representatives during the 114th Congress, David Abramowitz, the Managing Director of Policy and Government Relations of Humanity United Action, has expressed concern on the Tiers model. Abramowitz believes Malaysia is exemplary of a nation praised for the betterment of the human trafficking when undoubtedly there is no accountability for the mass graves incident of 2015, where 130 dead bodies were found (United States 32). Ineffective measures of the tiers in the TIP Report reduce the diplomatic effectiveness of the mechanism, as embodied in both Thailand and Malaysia. Increased effort towards reform of Malaysia and Thailand’s legal framework is needed. This could be achieved through the State Department, more specifically the embassies in Bangkok and Kuala Lampur and the Department’s East Asia and Pacific Bureau. Congressional action could assist in the reform as well (United States 33).
In the Committee on Foreign Affairs’ “Nomination of Rex Tillerson To Be Secretary of State,” one of the commentaries to the Secretary of State included the notion that the current administration allowed political consideration to manipulate expert recommendations of the State Department’s human rights and trafficking professionals, which contributed to the ‘politically-driven’ upgrade of countries like that of Cuba and Malaysia from the Tier 3 category to the Tier 2 Watch List (United States). According to the Honorable Susan Coppedge, Ambassador-at-Large for the Office to Monitor Trafficking in Persons of the US Department of State, as stated during the Committee on Foreign Relation’s hearing for Review of the 2017 Trafficking in Persons Report, law enforcement services should be provided to human trafficking victims. Government involvement tends to instill fear in victims. In defense of Malaysia status change from Tier 2 watch to Tier 2, as prompted by Mr. Cardin, Coppedge states Malaysia has had quadrupled trafficking investigations increases from 158 to 581, as well as improvements in law enforcement measures on trafficking. Additionally, Senator Robert Menendez had been successful in uncovering the waiver report for Malaysia as well as other countries that are not allowed for disclosure by the Department of State. The Honorable John J. Sullivan, Deputy Secretary of State for the US Department of State, noted Ukraine’s improvement to Tier 2 status as well as China’s ineffectiveness to end slavery and trafficking downgraded it to Tier 3 (United States). Previous concerns and criticism regarding TIP from the “Demanding Accountability: Evaluating the 2015 Trafficking in Persons Report”, House of Representatives hearing include concern on grade inflation and favoritism for certain countries through the Department of State tier ranking of the TIP. To further elaborate upon the TIP Tier model, Tier 1 would include nations that meet the minimum standards to combat human trafficking, Tier 2 would include those making noticeable efforts towards the minimum standards, and Tier 3 would include those not making minimum standards and in danger of receiving sanctions, respectively (United States 2). Cuba had been noted as Tier 2 status for 2015, even with the legal permission for prostitution of 16 year old girls, being a top destination in the Western Hemisphere for child sex tourism, and not criminalizing labor trafficking (United States 3). Uzbekistan’s government incites forced labor in the cotton industry on a daily basis, making it rather undeserving of Tier 2 status (United States 4). India as a Tier 2 is undeserving of its ranking as well, since it had been preventing trafficking victims and families whom had obtained T-visas to leave India (United States 27-28).
As professor Anis H. Bajrektarevic rightfully observed in his revealing work on the Justice-Home Affairs diplomacy, a very corruption (public sector of) is an elementary part of any THB business. “It is a (hidden and) seemingly victimless tradeoff between influence and gain” – as professor brilliantly defines corruption, that ‘runs the engine’.
Hence, as founded by the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO), from the representation of the Trafficking Victims in Persons Act of 2000, federal agencies have inspected allegations of trafficking crimes, provided training and executed state and local initiatives to support investigations and prosecutions, and established organizational structures, agency-level goals, plans, or strategies. For instance, agencies have trained both new and current staff on investigating and prosecuting trafficking in persons crimes through their agency training academies and centers, provided Web-based training, and developed and disseminated guidance on case pursuance. Agencies have also made training initiatives at the state and local law enforcement levels, nongovernmental organizations, and the general public through a toll-free complaint line, newsletters, national conferences, and model legislation. Some agencies have established special units for continuing their antitrafficking duties. Federal agencies coordinate across agencies’ investigations and prosecutions of trafficking crimes on a case-by-case basis, premised on individual needs per case, and established relationships among law enforcement officials across agencies. The Department of Justice and Department of Health Services officials recognize the need to increase United States efforts to combat trafficking through more practical and cooperative strategies to identify trafficking victims. Previous GAO efforts on interagency relationship prove a strategic framework with shared goals, mutually reinforcing approaches, and compatible policies and actions to function across agency boundaries helps improve and sustain relationships among federal agencies dealing with national and cross agency jurisdiction issues (“Human Trafficking: A Strategic Framework Could Help Enhance the Interagency Collaboration Needed to Effectively Combat Trafficking Crimes.”). Based on 2016 data collection from the GAO, it is questionable as to whether provisions are being fully effective.
“For 91 provisions, all responsible federal entities reported taking action to implement this provision. For 11 provisions, all responsible federal entities reported that they had not taken action to implement the provision. For 2 provisions, at least one of the responsible federal entities reported that they had not taken action to implement the provision or they did not provide a response. For 1 provision, none of the responsible federal entities provided a response (“Human Trafficking: Implementation of Related Statutory Provisions, Law Enforcement Efforts, and Grant Funding”).”
The above provisions covered topics address human trafficking and related affairs, inclusive of victim services, management and information sharing, and procedural training. Agency officials gave various explanations for why there were no arrangements to implement provisions for which they were chosen as the lead or co-lead. To be rather frank, in three cases, officials cited funding was not appropriated for the activity. Federal, state, and local law enforcement officials and prosecutors interviewed by the GAO reported properly investigating and prosecuting human trafficking cases is challenging for many reasons, including lack of victim collaboration, limited available services for victims, and the problematic nature of identifying human trafficking victims. According to these representatives, victim service programs, such as those that offer mental health and substance abuse services, have helped improve victim cooperation. The availability of services is limited. Federal, state, and local agencies have taken or are taking actions to address these challenges, such as increasing the obtainability of victim services through grants and executing both training and public awareness initiatives. GAO identified 42 grant programs with awards made in 2014 and 2015 that may be used to combat human trafficking or to assist victims of human trafficking, 15 of which are planned for these purposes only. Although there are similarities among human trafficking grant programs, federal agencies have recognized processes to help avert unnecessary duplication. For instance, in response to endorsements in a previous GAO report, the Department of Justice requires grant candidates to expose any federal grants they are currently operating under as well as federal grants for which they have applied. Additionally, agencies participating in the grantmaking committee of the Senior Policy Operating Group (SPOG), an entity through which federal agencies unify their efforts to combat human trafficking, share grant solicitations as well as information on proposed grant awards. The SPOG effort allows other agencies to remark on proposed grant awards and determine whether they plan to award funding to the same organization (“Human Trafficking: Implementation of Related Statutory Provisions, Law Enforcement Efforts, and Grant Funding”).
On the issue of child soldiers, The House Committee on Foreign Affairs 2017 hearing, “Winning the Fight Against Human Trafficking: The Frederick Douglas Reauthorization Act,” affirms that child soldiers are largely affected by the human trafficking industry. The United States has been involved in helping curtail the use of child soldiers. The United States had ratified the United Nations treaty of 2002 which banned the use of children in conflicts. By mandate of ratification, all armed services branched implemented rules to not have underage soldiers in combat. United States’ action on this matter was exemplary for other militaries to follow suite. In 2008, Congress had adopted the Child Soldiers Prevention Act as part of the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008. Nevertheless, within the United States there is still a prevalence of sex trafficking of girls. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had reported 60 percent nationwide range of trafficked girls were either from foster care or group homes. More transparency will be required for the allocation of funds towards improving efforts on the issue of child soldiers. The Frederick Douglass Trafficking Victims Prevention and Protection Reauthorization Act authorizes $130 million over four years to prevent human trafficking, protect victims, and better prosecution in the United States and overseas. The act limits the time a nation could be on the Tier 2 watchlist (United States).
In the “Child Soldier Prevention Act of 2017, H.R. 1191”, sponsored by Representative Christopher Smith in the 115th Congress, it was mentioned that Congress’ Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protections Act of 2000 would probably be the pivotal achievement on the issue of child soldiers. With the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) of 2000, Congress made the Child Soldiers Prevention Act (CSPA) of 2008 part of the TVPA. Regulations included the TIP Report to have a listing of foreign governments which recruit and utilize child soldiers in their militias or government funded armed groups. The 2017 TIP Report identifies the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mali, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen as nations on the CSPA list (“Child Soldier Prevention Act of 2017” 7). TVPA restrictions on grants to nations began with TIP Report 2003 (“Child Soldier Prevention Act of 2017” 14). Nations whom have used child soldiers as listed in the most recent TIP report are prohibited from receiving various forms of security assistance, including defense articles, global military education and training, peacekeeping operations programs, military financing, and the issuing of licenses for direct commercial sales of military equipment for child soldier recruitment purposes (“Child Soldier Prevention Act of 2017” 18-19). Relevant legislation oversight on the TIP Report includes closed hearings on the topic of human trafficking, commonly held by the Committee on Foreign Relations, in anticipation of the TIP’s yearly release as well as commentaries post-publication in public hearings. The House Foreign Affairs Committee, specifically its Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations, has also hosted hearings on the TIP Report (“Child Soldier Prevention Act of 2017” 31). A bill from the 115th Congress to further modify requirements associated with the TIP Report, include H.R. 2200, the Frederick Douglass Trafficking Victims Prevention and Protection Reauthorization Act of 2017, which passed the House on July 12, 2017, and contains several changes to the TIP Report’s country ranking process. Other bills introduced in the 115th Congress that, if passed, would modify requirements associated with the TIP Report include H.R. 436, the Human Trafficking Prioritization Act, S. 377, the Trafficking in Persons Report Integrity Act, H.R. 1191, the Child Soldier Prevention Act of 2017 and H.R. 2219 and S. 952, the End Banking for Human Traffickers Act of 2017 (“Child Soldier Prevention Act of 2017” 31).
In a statement at the 114th Congress, at a House of Representatives hearing entitled “Get It Right This Time: A Victims-Centered Trafficking in Persons Report,” the following is established:
“ While democracy does not guarantee the absence of slavery, and some struggling democracies and even democratic regimes have effectively fought trafficking, autocracy and weak or ‘emerging’ democracies are less equipped to tackle this horrific human rights challenge. Respecting the human rights, fundamental freedoms, and dignity in full of women, people in prostitution, and migrants, holding traffickers fully to account, and expunging corruption as the catalyst of human trafficking, are matters of governing justly. In particular, an independent judiciary, the rule of law, and a dynamic civil society are the markings of governments that are governing justly, and central to the success of modern day abolition efforts (United States 2).”
Witness protection under the Ministry of Justice had been found to be favorable, however there were still unaccounted for occurrences in Thailand. In 2015, Thailand did not allow traffickers’ ships on land, allowing criminals to escape via ocean routes. There were also unaccounted for Rohingya passengers refused entry. A ‘push-back’ policy does not assist with combatting human trafficking (United States 21). As the Myanmar elections were not free nor fair, political circumstances only escalate the higher risks of the Rohingya for human trafficking (United States 28-29).
Referencing the 114th Congress House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs hearing “Accountability Over Politics: Scrutinizing the Trafficking In Persons Report”, a statement released by Secretary of State John Kerry focused on the three P’s of the TIP report: prosecuting traffickers, protecting and empowering victims, and preventing future trafficking crimes. The honorable Susan Coppedge, Ambassador-at-Large to the Department of State, voiced concern for the protection of domestic workers as well as ‘corrupt or complicit officials’ whom benefit from trafficking (United States 5). TIP staff members work in conjunction with individuals at embassies, posts abroad, and the US Department of State regional offices (United States 7). Coppedge asserts housing for girls rescued from trafficking should be provided by the United States (United States 20). There is only a small amount of prosecutions and convictions on foreign labor trafficking in the United States, which needs to be reformed. More to protect unaccompanied undocumented children, as well as further address roots of the problem, need to be made feasible (United States 30).
Bills relevant to TIP include the Frederick Douglass Trafficking Victims Prevention and Protection Reauthorization Act of 2017, H.R. 2200 (“Frederick Douglass Trafficking Victims Prevention and Protection Reauthorization Act of 2017”), The Trafficking in Persons Report Integrity Act, S. 377 (“Trafficking in Persons Report Integrity Act”), The Child Soldier Prevention Act of 2017, H.R. 1191 (“Child Soldier Prevention Act of 2017”), the End Banking for Human Traffickers Act of 2017, H.R. 2219 (“End Banking for Human Traffickers Act of 2017”), and the End Banking for Human Traffickers Act of 2017, S. 952 (“End Banking for Human Traffickers Act of 2017”).
The Frederick Douglass Trafficking Victims Prevention and Protection Reauthorization Act of 2017, H.R. 2200, sponsored by Christopher Smith April 2017, had twenty-nine cosponsors from House of Representatives, which ensured approval through the House of Representatives. The twenty-nine cosponsors were Representatives Karen Bass, Edward R. Royce, Sheila Jackson Lee, Susan W. Brooks, Lois Frankel, Ann Wagner, Tony Cardenas, Ted Poe, Ryan A. Costello, David N. Cicilline, Brad Sherman, Daniel M. Donovan, Jr., Patrick Meehan, Lynn Jenkins, Susan A. Davis, Salud O. Carbajal, Gwen Moore, Dwight Evans, Denny Heck, James P. McGovern, Tulsi Gabbard, Alcee L. Hastings, Raul M. Grijalva, Kristi L. Noem, Barbara Comstock, Luke Messer, David Young, Erik Paulsen, and Carolyn B. Maloney. This bill states that instead of only the President, the Secretary of Health and Human Services has the authority to award grants to local education agencies, in partnership with nonprofit agencies for awareness services. H.R. 2200 further ensures priority funding for lodging and accommodation purposes that lack policies on child sexual exploitation, and calls for making certain the United States does not fund human trafficking. H.R. 2200 calls upon credible evidence on nations’ human trafficking reform progress. Additionally, airport personnel should identify and report human trafficking victims (“Frederick Douglass Trafficking Victims Prevention and Protection Reauthorization Act of 2017”).
The Trafficking in Persons Report Integrity Act, S.377, was introduced in 2017 by Senator Robert Menendez, and cosponsored by five Senators, including Marco Rubio, Tim Kaine, Cory Gardner, Rob Portman, and Christopher Coons. The bill aims to amend the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 to clarify standards upon which countries are held accountable for the TIP Report tier ranking model, as well as other purposes related to concrete measures taken towards ending human trafficking. The S.377 amendment includes identifying ‘concrete actions’ and ‘credible evidence’ towards improving the epidemic of human trafficking. Additionally, reports on the amounts of loans towards Tier 2 and Tier 3 countries are to be submitted to the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Committee of Foreign Relations sections in the Senate as well as the House of Representatives, to be distributed by the Secretary of the Treasury (“Trafficking in Persons Report Integrity Act”).
The Child Soldier Prevention Act of 2017, H.R. 1191, was sponsored by Representative Christopher Smith, and cosponsored by Representatives Frederica Wilson, Randy Hultgren, James P. McGovern, and Randy K. Weber, Sr. The purpose of this bill would be to ensure operative enactment of the Child Soldier Prevention Act of 2008 and hold régimes responsible for having children part of armed conflict, whether that may be as soldiers, servants, or sex slaves. H.R. 1191 also prohibits the selling of armament to nations that look favorably upon the utilization of child soldiers (“Child Soldier Prevention Act of 2017”).
The End Banking for Human Traffickers Act of 2017, H.R. 2219, was sponsored by Representative Edward Royce, and cosponsored by Representatives William Keating, Carolyn Maloney, Mia Love, Patrick Meehan, Brian Fitzpatrick, and Kyrsten Sinema. H.R. 2219 aims for including the financial industry to assist with combatting human trafficking. The purpose would be to resolve and ensure financial accountability of funding towards human trafficking through means such as the Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Human Trafficking (“End Banking for Human Traffickers Act of 2017”). H.R. 2219 is not to be confused with S.952, which is of the same bill title. The End Banking for Human Traffickers Act of 2017, S. 952, was sponsored by Senator Elizabeth Warren, and cosponsored by Senators James Lankford and Marco Rubio. S. 952 is an amendment to the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000 to include the Secretary of the Treasury within the President’s Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking. This task force is responsible to submitting recommendations to Congress for revising anti-money laundering programs to target money washing found in the human trafficking industry. The Federal Financial Institutions Examinations Council examines processes to improve anti-money laundering programs to combat human trafficking actions and referrals for potential human trafficking cases to the appropriate law enforcement agencies. S. 952 also establishes that the Department of Justice must report both efforts to eliminate money laundering on to human trafficking, and the quantity of formal examinations, custodies, allegations, and criminal offenses in money washing cases related to human trafficking (“End Banking for Human Traffickers Act of 2017”).
Overall, the TIP Report of 2017 of the Department of State has shown improvement from previous report versions, but is still in need of amendments to address misdemeanors found within the Tier ranking system of nations as well as preferential agreements on the issue of allocation of funding. In defense of efforts made by the Department of State, on September 14, 2017, the Department awarded $25 million to the Global Fund to End Modern Slavery, through the Office to Combat and Monitor Trafficking of Persons. The Global Fund to End Modern Slavery is a non-profit organization focused on developing public-private partnerships to decrease modern slavery (Tillerson). However, a true dedication to the cause of human trafficking, although wanted by many advocacy member groups as well as Congressional members, is a decision today mainly influenced by the executive branch’s priorities. As Secretary of State Rex Tillerson stated in his nomination hearing, “Nomination of Rex Tillerson To Be Secretary of State”, his commitment to end human trafficking is only to the extent that is compliant with the policies and law preferences of President-elect Donald Trump. This response was given various times throughout the report, inclusive of a specific interlude question on the seafood industry, raising numbers of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, the need for transparency measures in the fishing industry, and human trafficking (United States). More information on United States’ legislation on the TIP Report could be found if there were public accessibility to Closed Hearings’ materials as well as other confidential material Congressional staffers have access to, such as that of the “CLOSED: Preparing for the Trafficking in Persons Report” of June 2017 (United States).
(About the author, Ingrid Stephanie Noriega is junior specialist in International Relations, Latina of an immense passion for human rights, democratic accountability, and conflict resolution studies as it relates to international development for the Latin America and Middle East – regions of her professional focus.)