Thank you, Ambassador Esserman, President Jarrell, and Dr. Ward, for the warm welcome. Thanks also to our hosts for this important forum: the SAFE Center, the Baltimore Center for Global Engagement, the Graduate Center, Prince George’s County Human Trafficking Task Force, and the Montgomery County Human Trafficking Prevention Committee.
I am delighted to be here to celebrate National Human Trafficking Prevention month, joining those of you on the front lines of advocacy, research, direct services, and case work. Thank you for your tireless efforts to combat human trafficking.
I am impressed with the team of experts you have assembled across both panels; it is nice to see so many colleagues and other familiar faces. I am especially heartened to see Tanya and Ronny too. I only wish we were all together in person. And to all of you joining us virtually today, good morning and thank you for participating.
Allow me to share a few brief words about my office for those who may not know us. The Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, or the TIP Office, leads the State Department’s global efforts to combat human trafficking through a 3P framework – the prosecution of traffickers, the protection of victims, and the prevention of human trafficking. We do this by objectively analyzing government efforts; engaging in strategic bilateral and multilateral diplomacy; targeting foreign assistance to build capacity of foreign governments and civil society; and advancing federal anti-trafficking policies through interagency coordination. We also partner with civil society including human trafficking survivors, the private sector, and the public to advance the fight against human trafficking. It is this “fourth P” for partnership that strengthens the capacity of the other “Ps” to effectively fight against human trafficking.
The last two years have not been easy ones. The COVID-19 pandemic has and continues, to exacerbate economic inequality, particularly among historically and systemically marginalized groups; to create job insecurity in certain sectors; and to disrupt global supply chains. Traffickers operating around the world take advantage of this economic uncertainty and the diversion of resources and services toward the pandemic to exploit vulnerable individuals.
While human trafficking continues to be underreported, we know this crime is far more pervasive than statistics indicate. The security, economic, social justice, and public health ramifications of human trafficking affect individuals and communities everywhere. For example, forced labor has been found in virtually every industry and region around the world, affecting the supply chains of many of the goods we buy. Human trafficking undermines our values, creates unfair advantages for those who exploit workers, undercuts legitimate businesses, and misleads consumers about the true cost of goods.
Pandemic mitigation efforts have also affected sex trafficking solicitation and recruitment methods for both adults and children. Online recruitment and grooming increased, particularly as children spent more time online for virtual learning due to school closures, often with little parental supervision. Reports from several countries demonstrated drastic increases in online commercial sexual exploitation and sex trafficking, including online sexual exploitation of children, and demand for and distribution of child sexual exploitation material.
Although these are significant challenges, we are undaunted in our anti-trafficking efforts. The federal government updated its National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking, which the White House released in December. This represents a whole-of-government approach to address this crime and human rights abuse. It does so by directly linking anti-trafficking initiatives to efforts to advance gender and racial equity and equality; preventing and addressing forced labor in global supply chains; ensuring survivors of human trafficking are not only heard but their advice is heeded; and promoting safe, orderly, and humane migration – topics I will briefly cover this morning. Overall, this plan contains more than 60 priority actions to complete over the next three years. I anticipate you will hear much more about it this morning from other federal experts and, if you’d like to read the full text, you can find it on our website – (https://bit.ly/34cmetl).
At the State Department, we are focused on implementing key actions surrounding an effective anti-trafficking response to embed racial justice and equity into our policies and programs, address forced labor in supply chains, identify visa categories that require additional protections related to the labor recruitment and treatment of workers, and develop best practices in implementing screening forms and protocols for all federal officials who have the potential to encounter a human trafficking victim in the course of their regular duties.
In addition to our part in implementing the National Action Plan, our office and the State Department are also working to build a global coalition of governments, civil society, and private sector partners to serve the American people and address pressing issues. During last month’s Summit for Democracy, Administration officials stressed the importance of partnerships to advance democratic institutions, human rights, responsible supply chains, and the fight against corruption in the year ahead.
One thing we heard repeatedly at the Summit is that we must collaborate with the private sector to prevent forced labor. Another call was for measures to prevent practices that are exploitative in nature and increase the vulnerability of workers, while also harnessing the innovative power of companies to enhance our capacity to detect human trafficking and increase survivors’ access to services.
During the Summit, Under Secretary Uzra Zeya announced support for the M-POWER initiative, which is part of the Presidential Initiative for Democratic Renewal and underscored the U.S. commitment to workers’ rights. This initiative will work to enhance workers’ voices within global supply chains.
Encouraging responsible supply chains, free of forced labor, has long been central to our efforts. The U.S. Government has a policy in place to prevent U.S. government contractors, subcontractors, grantees, and subgrantees from engaging in trafficking in persons. We are working to implement this policy, conduct risk mapping of U.S. government procurement, build in extra protections for contracts for goods and services of particular concern, and train acquisition officials on human trafficking. Across the interagency, we are working to support Customs and Border Protection in its efforts to prohibit the importation of goods produced with forced labor.
We are also calling out countries that engage in acts that undermine democratic institutions and values and stepping up pressure on those governments that are intentionally engaged in human trafficking – including governments that have a policy or pattern of human trafficking such as Cuba, North Korea, Russia, and the People’s Republic of China.
In July 2021, the U.S government issued an updated Xinjiang Supply Chain Business Advisory, alerting the private sector of the legal, economic, and reputational risks of doing business associated with Xinjiang, China, where the government is engaged in state-sponsored forced labor, among other human rights abuses.
Congress has now provided new, enhanced tools with the recent passage of the bipartisan Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act. This Act provides new tools to further promote accountability for the People’s Republic of China’s state-sponsored forced labor in Xinjiang and beyond. We believe it is not just vital to call out countries for acts that undermine democratic institutions and values, but we must put policies and laws in place to enforce this. We are committed to advancing workers’ rights and combating forced labor in global supply chains, using all the tools we have.
Throughout all of our efforts – survivor engagement has been and continues to be a policy priority for my Office, the State Department, and a focal point of the U.S. government’s approach to combating human trafficking. Integrating survivor expertise into anti-trafficking strategies and policy is fundamental to ensuring these measures are victim-centered and trauma informed.
One primary way we do this is through our collaboration with the U.S. Advisory Council on Human Trafficking, which was established to provide a formal platform for trafficking survivors to make recommendations on federal anti-trafficking policies to the President’s Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. Every member on the Council is appointed by the President for a two-year term. Council members come from diverse backgrounds with unique experiences that inform their expertise and recommendations. I will never tire of celebrating a change in federal law that, as of January 1, 2021, allowed Council members to be compensated for their work, achieving a long-sought priority for the anti-trafficking movement and the TIP Office.
The Council just recently released its fifth report. Our team will add the link to the report in the chat box (https://bit.ly/3nCl2Xa), and I urge you to read it closely. This latest report contains 19 recommendations focused on underserved populations and the administration of justice. The Council spent months engaging with nearly 40 federal agencies and components to inform their recommendations. We are so grateful for their wisdom, expertise, and innovative ideas for how to improve our anti-trafficking response.
In addition to our work with the Council, my office also launched the Human Trafficking Consultant Network (the Network) in 2019 to deepen our commitment to survivor engagement and further ensure meaningful incorporation of survivor input into our anti-trafficking work. Of course, this includes compensating consultants for their expertise and input. The idea behind this Network was a direct result of our engagement with the Council and an effort to implement Council members’ recommendations. Network consultants, consisting primarily of experts with lived experience of human trafficking, have been critical in the development of smarter, more informed anti-trafficking policies, strategies, and products both in the United States and abroad. Most recently, the TIP Office commissioned the Network to develop a series of resources that provide observations, lessons learned, and recommendations for government officials, civil society members, service providers, and others to establish and improve trauma-informed anti-trafficking measures and responses during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Given the importance of incorporating survivor expertise, we are also encouraging other governments and those interacting with survivors to collaborate with and include survivors’ input in all aspects of their work. We recommend they develop a shared understanding of trauma and trauma-informed approaches through training and internal capacity building; and that they ensure survivors are not treated as token additions to working groups or conferences but rather recognized for their expertise on matters related to human trafficking. It is paramount that survivors are not seen as just recipients of services but also given agency to assist in the creation and implementation of anti-trafficking policies and comprehensive solutions to some of our most entrenched challenges.
We have seen and been humbled by promising models of engagement. I must mention here the work by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s International Survivors of Trafficking Advisory Council, or ISTAC, which was established about a year ago. ISTAC represents another milestone in the multilateral sphere, advancing commitments and forward-leaning endeavors in the fight against human trafficking. This cross-dimensional and multi-disciplinary approach recognizes the integration of a trauma-informed and survivor-informed approach is critical to survivor engagement. A little later this morning, you will hear from Ronny Marty, who is a former member of the U.S. Advisory Council and a current ISTAC member.
As we begin to see the interest of our bilateral and multilateral partners to start their own mechanisms for responsible survivor engagement lead to action, we are hopeful about the ability of elevating survivor voices to strengthen anti-trafficking efforts globally. When governments and civil society prioritize partnerships with survivors, we know that meaningful engagements abound.
Similar to our learnings about the importance of survivor engagement is our growing understanding of the critical nature of racial equity efforts in our anti-trafficking work. Twenty-one years after the enactment of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, our collective understanding of this crime has grown significantly. We have come to recognize that the living global legacy of systemic racism, colonization, the transatlantic slave trade, and chattel slavery has created socioeconomic disparities that traffickers often exploit. If we are to prevent all forms of human trafficking, we need to increase our commitment to reducing those vulnerabilities to exploitation, particularly for individuals from historically marginalized or underserved communities.
We are challenging ourselves to do more in a few ways. Internally, we are answering the President’s call to agencies to increase our own Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility efforts within our office and to promote and support training on unconscious bias and trauma-informed approaches for our staff and within the Department. We are now getting expert recommendations through the Network on how to advance racial equity efforts at the intersection of human trafficking in a more thorough, thoughtful, and trauma-informed manner.
We are also using our annual TIP Report. In the 2021 TIP Report, we worked to elevate understanding through Secretary Blinken’s letter and a special interest section on Acknowledging Historical and Ongoing Harm: The Connections between Systemic Racism and Human Trafficking. Survivors also provided input on the photographs and images used in the Report. This year, Network consultants are advising us on how best to seek information from foreign governments and other key stakeholders for the 2022 TIP Report that more fully captures the impact of inequity and marginalization. Network consultants are also providing invaluable input into our foreign assistance programs and helping us evaluate and improve our work through an equity lens that accounts for ongoing systemic disparities, as called for in the National Action Plan.
In collaboration with our 20 interagency partners, we are working on an implementation plan to integrate racial equity throughout our federal anti-trafficking efforts and aim to release it later this year.
Finally, I would like to touch on the importance of the intersections between our anti-trafficking policies and broader migration policies. It is critical that we promote safe, orderly, and regular migration pathways. This calls for collaboration with other U.S. government agencies as they work towards enhancing pathways to safe and humane migration and tackling the root causes of irregular migration. As part of this effort, through the work of the Senior Policy Operating Group, we are analyzing temporary worker visa categories and other visa categories with a work component to identify and address any need for additional labor protections to prevent human trafficking.
The National Action Plan, as I mentioned previously, does not shy away from this topic and since you will hear more from DHS on this, I will only make a few broad comments on this point. In addressing the acute and long-term drivers of irregular migration, we recognize it is crucial that we safeguard our regular immigration pathways, so migrants are not exposed to human trafficking risks. This includes deepening trust in the U.S. government’s duty to protect individuals who have experienced human trafficking, including noncitizens.
We know this work cannot be done alone. We are excited to work with Canada and Mexico to restart the Trilateral Working Group on Trafficking in Persons that was announced at the first North American Leaders’ Summit in 2016 to combat human trafficking in the region. Our office will work together with our interagency partners and colleagues from Canada and Mexico to convene this trilateral meeting during the second half of 2022.
Without question, there is much work ahead of us in 2022. We are already rolling up our sleeves and getting to work. Each of us has a role to play in the fight against human trafficking—whether in federal, state, or local government; as advocates or service providers; the private sector; or individual citizens.
Let me close by thanking again our hosts and panelists. Several of my co-workers are here virtually and excited to listen to the following two panels. I applaud all participants for taking the time out of your busy days to join this forum. Events like this leave us all with new ideas and a renewed vigor for tackling these issues head on. Thank you.