WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, participated in the February 24 Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on ending modern slavery. His prepared opening statement follows.
“Mr. Chairman, Thank you for calling this important hearing today. I share your commitment to put an end to all forms of modern slavery, which is one of the great challenges of our time.
“Modern slavery involves crimes of forced labor, sexual exploitation, debt bondage, forced marriage, and the sale and exploitation of children. The fact that these practices exist today is a stain on our collective conscience. But modern slavery and trafficking have tangible effects on our security and our economy as well that make our fight all the more important.
“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 modern slavery 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 in the Gulf. It 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 last year’s earthquake in Nepal – to prey on vulnerable civilians. We are witnessing terrorist groups like ISIL and Boko Haram proudly build their so-called “states” on the trade in and enslavement of women and children.
“There has been some progress, but it has been slow in coming and is only a small step. President Obama is expected to sign this week legislation that effectively bans American imports of fish caught by slave labor in Southeast Asia. Much more needs to be done.
“In addition, the State Department is expected this week to release the Interim Trafficking in Person’s Reports and then the 2016 TIP report this spring. The TIP Report is 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.
“Last year, significant questions about the integrity and neutrality of 2015 TIP Report were raised, particularly about the Department of State’s decision to upgrade Malaysia, Uzbekistan, and Saudi Arabia, among other countries, from the Tier 3 designation. Senator Corker and I took those concerns very seriously, and we will be working closely with the State Department in the coming, critical months to ensure the credibility of the 2016 report.
“Senator Menendez and I sent a joint request to GAO for analysis and report on the TIP Report process, with a special focus on the most recent 2015 report, which has been the subject of much concern. We hope to get a full picture of that process with an eye to not just its integrity, but to make sure the TIP office has sufficient resources and clout inside the State Department.
“Given the particular concerns about the upgrade for Malaysia, despite a very strong feeling on many on this committee that it was undeserved, we will be watching closely the additional requirements laid out in the so-called Labor Consistency Plan that is part of the TPP recently signed in New Zealand. Malaysia is supposed to fulfill its part PRIOR to TPP entering into effect. So no matter when the vote may take place on TPP itself, those reforms of Malaysia’s serious human trafficking problem have to begin now. We want to be sure that the TIP office, and other labor and human rights players at State and USAID, have the resources and the authority to make sure that this is not just a paper exercise.
“We all 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. We owe it to them to hold countries accountable for their efforts, or lack thereof, to combat trafficking. Governments must work harder — to identify the victims of these crimes and to prosecute the offenders who far too often are able to act with impunity.
“I want to thank all of the witnesses who are appearing before us today. In particular, I want to extend my heartfelt appreciation to our two survivor advocates for their courage and for their commitment to help us better understand human trafficking and how we can work more effectively to end it. Thank You.”