ATEST Statement on State Department’s 2017 Trafficking in Persons Report
Rankings Undermine Credibility of TIP Report: Malaysia, Burma and Qatar Upgrades Unjustified
The following statement is from the Alliance to End Slavery & Trafficking (ATEST), a U.S.-based coalition that advocates for solutions to prevent and end all forms of human trafficking, of which Polaris is a member:
Washington, D.C.— For the third straight year, the Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking (ATEST) has serious concerns about the credibility of the State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report, released yesterday. The TIP Report ranks governments worldwide, including the United States, into one of three tiers based on their efforts to combat and prevent human trafficking, forced labor, and other forms of modern slavery. Countries must improve their efforts to fight human trafficking to avoid the lowest ranking of Tier 3 and accompanying sanctions.
While some country rankings in the report reflect real progress or challenges on the ground, there are a number of rankings that are a significant cause for concern, and overall the inconsistency in country rankings calls the integrity of the report into question. The ranking process should be objective, based on a country’s efforts to combat TIP. However, the highly questionable decisions to upgrade several countries with abysmal records on TIP, including Malaysia, Burma, and Qatar, points to uneven application of legal criteria, inconsistent analysis and undue political influence.
It is important to note that the 2017 TIP Report’s U.S. Narrative highlights significant failures in combating human trafficking in our own backyard, including: 1) the fact that many trafficking survivors are still arrested and convicted of crimes their traffickers force them to commit; 2) the lack of state and federal vacatur laws to protect victims who are convicted; 3) the lack of funding for services for trafficking victims, especially housing; 4) failure to issue continued presence in a timely manner, possibly impeding investigations and making survivors more vulnerable; 5) continued charging of fees to H-visa program workers despite legal prohibitions creating vulnerability to debt bondage; 6) no civil actions or disbarments against noncompliant employers or labor contractors from U.S. programs; and 7) most notably, the disparity in federal prosecution efforts for both labor and sex trafficking –with just 13 federally prosecuted labor trafficking cases across the United States. ATEST is concerned that, while noting the vulnerability of LGBTQI communities to trafficking, the report no longer contains explicit references to this population in either the recommendations or narrative. In addition, we note that certain U.S. government actions taken outside the 2017 reporting period targeting immigrants are increasing immigrant worker vulnerabilities to trafficking in persons in the U.S.
“The TIP report should provide an honest assessment of human trafficking and forced labor in each country. It should prioritize a country’s enforcement of laws that prohibit all forms of trafficking in persons, rather than enactment of legislation or stated commitments that fail to substantively change the situation of trafficking victims on the ground. While legislation and public commitments are important procedural steps, it is the implementation of those laws that protects vulnerable populations and holds perpetrators accountable for their crimes, and makes the greatest difference in ending modern slavery globally,” said Melysa Sperber, ATEST Director.
ATEST is particularly concerned about Malaysia’s upgrade, which ignores the fact that migrant workers continue to toil in debt bondage and forced labor in key export sectors such as electronics and palm oil; that trafficked workers are more likely to be treated as immigration law violators than TIP victims; and that the number of victims identified is grossly inadequate given the millions of vulnerable migrants in Malaysia. Most worryingly, the Malaysian government has failed to prosecute any Malaysian officials for their involvement in the Rohingya smuggling rings and mass graves found on the Malaysia-Thai border in 2015. The reasons given for the upgrade are weak and fail to justify the change.
Similarly, the State Department upgrade of Qatar to Tier 2 is unwarranted. The report cites reforms to the sponsorship system; however, those reforms have yet to be fully implemented and fail to demonstrate any real impact on the ground. The Qatari government has failed to meaningfully address migrant workers’ vulnerability to human trafficking. Specifically, it has failed to fully abolish the sponsorship system – workers still have no real ability to change employers; migrant workers still have no fundamental freedom to leave the country or their employer; domestic workers (a sector widely known to be highly vulnerable to trafficking) and other workers are not covered by the labor law; and the Qatari government fails to effectively monitor and punish violators and provide redress to workers whose rights are violated.
Not all tier placement changes this year are in question. Some anti-trafficking activists who work in the Democratic Republic of the Congo agree that a downgrade to Tier 3 is warranted because the government has failed to stop widespread harassment of human rights workers on the ground. Likewise, anti-trafficking activists who work in Haiti concur with the country’s upgrade to Tier 2 Watch List. In recent years Haiti has enacted a tough new anti-trafficking law and enforcement action is beginning. And ATEST commends the State Department for downgrading Bangladesh to Tier 2 Watch List, as the country has not done enough to protect its millions of migrant workers overseas from forced labor and other forms of TIP.
ATEST has long advocated for a victim-centered and comprehensive approach to fighting modern slavery that goes beyond a strong law enforcement response to address root causes. Taken as a whole, the administration’s investment in fighting human trafficking is lagging behind its rhetoric, and this year’s TIP Report reinforces our concerns about the credibility of the tier rankings. It is critical that Congress asserts its leadership and commitment to this issue. We ask Congress to reauthorize the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, which outlines the United States Government’s comprehensive anti-trafficking framework and provides critical tools to assist in combatting trafficking at home and abroad. In addition, we urge Congress to pass the TIP Report Integrity Restoration Act of 2017, introduced by Senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Marco Rubio (R-FL). This bill would strengthen the annual TIP Report by modifying the criteria to determine whether countries are meeting the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking in persons (TIP) and by highlighting the importance of documenting concrete actions by countries to show impact in eradicating TIP.
The Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking is a U.S.-based coalition that advocates for solutions to prevent and end all forms of human trafficking and modern slavery around the world. ATEST member organizations include: Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST), Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), ECPAT-USA, Free the Slaves, Futures Without Violence (FUTURES), International Justice Mission, National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA), National Network for Youth (NN4Y), Polaris, Safe Horizon, Solidarity Center, Verité, and Vital Voices Global Partnership. ATEST is a project of Humanity United and Humanity United Action. www.EndSlaveryandTrafficking.org
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