August 06, 2015

Combatting Human Trafficking

Mr. CARDIN.  Mr. President, I rise today to discuss one of the great moral challenges of our time – human trafficking.  The term human trafficking involves crimes of forced labor, sexual exploitation, debt bondage, forced marriage, and the sale and exploitation of children.  Trafficking in persons destroys people and corrodes communities.  It distorts labor markets and undermines stability and the rule of law.  It is fueled by greed, violence, and corruption.

 

There are at least 21 million victims of human trafficking in the world – and over five million of them are children, according to the International Labor Organization (ILO).  Forced labor alone generates more than $150 billion in profits annually, making it one of the largest income sources for international criminals, second only to drug trafficking.  Trafficking victims range from women enslaved as domestic workers in countries as diverse as Saudi Arabia and Singapore to Nepali construction workers building stadiums for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.  It also ensnares Rohingya and Cambodian men and boys on Thai fishing boats working to put fish in European and American grocery stores.  It includes countless Venezuelan women and girls, some lured from poor towns in the interior to urban centers, who are then subjected to sex trafficking.  Even in our own country, cases of human trafficking have been reported in all 50 U.S. States.

Traffickers take advantage of conflict, the collapse of state institutions, and even natural disasters – like the recent earthquake in Nepal – to prey on vulnerable civilians.  We are witnessing terrorist groups like ISIL and Boko Haram proudly build their “states” on the trade in and enslavement of women and children.

 

There has been some progress.  This year marks the 15th anniversary of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act.  The TVPA – and the annual Trafficking In Persons (TIP) Report it mandates – have played a major role in raising global awareness of human trafficking and galvanizing both civil society and governments to address both labor and sex trafficking crimes.  The report analyzes the efforts of foreign governments, and our own, to comply with minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking in persons, as set out by the TVPA.

 

The TIP Report has been widely regarded as the “gold standard” for trafficking information, and as an essential tool for ensuring continued progress against the scourge of human trafficking.  The value of the TIP Report, and the United States’ credibility on this critical issue, relies heavily on the integrity of that report. 

 

On Monday, July 27, the Department of State released the 2015 TIP report.  I have great respect for the small, dedicated staff at the Department of State’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking, as well as our numerous embassies around the world that help collect credible information for the report.  Nevertheless, I was struck by the strong response to the 2015 report by outside country experts and frontline advocates who have worked in the trenches on human trafficking for years.  They raised significant questions about the integrity and neutrality of 2015 TIP Report and the decision to upgrade Uzbekistan, Saudi Arabia, Cuba and Malaysia, among others.  We need to listen carefully to their views.

 

Of particular concern is the upgrade of Malaysia, which I want to discuss briefly.  Malaysia has a serious human trafficking problem, which is why the State Department downgraded Malaysia last year to a Tier 3 country in the TIP Report, a level that includes the worst human trafficking offenders in the world.  In Malaysia, the use of forced labor is pervasive in agriculture, construction, electronics and textile industries, and the sex trade industry.

 

This year, the State Department upgraded Malaysia to the Tier 2 Watch List on the grounds that the government had made significant efforts to comply with the minimum standards to combat human trafficking.  Those efforts by the government included beginning to reform its flawed victim protection regime, along with its legal framework, and consultations with civil society.  The Malaysian authorities increased the number of investigations and prosecutions – although the low number of convictions remained disproportionate to the scale of the problem.  The 2015 TIP report states that the Malaysian government had three convictions of traffickers in 2014, a substantial decrease from the nine convictions reported in the 2014 TIP report.

 

While Malaysia has taken small steps that seem to indicate some recent progress, these steps do not appear to me to be sufficient to justify an upgrade.  And evidence of the trafficking problems in Malaysia continued outside of 2015 TIP reporting period, which ended on March 31, 2015.  For example, in May 2015, mass graves believed to contain bodies of 139 Rohingya trafficking victims were found in abandoned jungle camps along Malaysia’s northern border, along with pens likely used as cages for the victims.

 

Malaysia is a party to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations.  The juxtaposition of the administration’s pursuit of the Transpacific Partnership Agreement in the case of Malaysia and the upgrade of Malaysia’s TIP tier ranking at the same time has raised concerns among some observers regarding the integrity and veracity of the 2015 ranking process.

 

I look forward to hearing more from the administration in the days ahead about the considerations taken into account for the TIP ranking process and, in particular, the decision to upgrade Malaysia.  That is why Chairman Corker and I scheduled a hearing on this issue in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

 

Archibald MacLeish, the writer and former Librarian of Congress, said, “There are those who will say that the liberation of humanity, the freedom of man and mind, is nothing but a dream.  They are right.  It is the American Dream.”  We owe it to the millions of men, women, and children around the world who suffer from the horrifying depredations of modern slavery to maintain America’s leadership, reputation, and resolve in the fight against human trafficking.

 

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