As we celebrate the timeless words of our Constitution’s 13th Amendment – that “[n]either slavery nor involuntary servitude … shall exist” – we recognize that such absolute guarantees need to be constantly enforced lest they only be words on a page. So too in the international arena; Article 4 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the United Nations’ Protocol to Prevent, Suppress, and Punish Trafficking in Persons (Palermo Protocol) do not enforce themselves. Rather, it takes governments and civil society working in partnership to identify victims and
punish the traffickers who would enslave them.
The call that went forth from Palermo in December of 2000 is being heard; 116 countries have enacted legislation to prohibit all forms of trafficking.This last year saw more victims identified, more services provided, and more traffickers convicted than any year in history. Yet enslaving someone still carries too little risk. Remediation, fines, or warnings are too small a price to pay – those who would profit by stealing freedom should lose their own. Fighting trafficking commands too few resources, too little vision, and as a result, too few outcomes.
Millions continue to toil in modern forms of slavery. Disturbing trends are coming into focus, such as the feminization of migration. For example, in the last three years, one source country in Southeast Asia has seen the demographics of its outgoing migrants switch from majority male to more than 70 percent female. Given the unscrupulous nature of labor recruiting, this trend leads to the feminization of labor trafficking, once simply thought of as the male counterpoint to sex trafficking. But like their brothers, husbands, and sons, women are trapped in fields, factories, mines, and restaurants, often suffering the dual demons of forced labor and sexual assault. As we more fully understand the plight of women who are victims of labor trafficking, we continue to see the devastating effects of sex trafficking, where services for survivors are as rare as programs that address the demand for their victimization. And if they are found, women are repatriated as a matter of first instance, or are locked in “shelters” that look more like prisons than the safe haven that a survivor needs.
Despite these sobering trends, this 10th anniversary is not a time to despair at the scope of this problem; it is a time to honor progress and re-dedicate ourselves to the fight. We can celebrate triumphs that are no less great because they did not solve the whole problem; we must recognize needs that are no less pressing because others were met. In that spirit, let this be the year that we imagine a world without slavery. Let this be the year that we come together in partnership to deliver on that vision.
Ambassador Luis CdeBaca