SECRETARY BLINKEN: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to all of you and welcome to those tuning in online. This is our Administration’s first meeting of the President’s Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, which I have the honor of chairing. And to kick off today’s meeting it is a great pleasure to introduce our first speaker, a longstanding leader on these issues, the Vice President of the United States.
Madam Vice President, the floor is yours.
VICE PRESIDENT HARRIS: Thank you, Mr. Secretary, and good afternoon to everyone. And thank you to the senior administration officials who are gathered here for all of your tireless work. Thank you also to the members of the U.S. Advisory Council on Human Trafficking for your dedicated work. And congratulations to today’s award recipients. You all are an inspiration.
So, many of you know, when I was Attorney General of California, I visited a town on the northern side of the U.S. border named Calexico.
And I went to Calexico because I wanted to see for myself the tunnels through which I knew guns, drugs, and human beings were being trafficked.
And during that trip, I saw, in person and in photographs, tunnels with walls as smooth as the walls of your living room, complete with lighting and air conditioning.
And what became very clear to me is through those tunnels were being trafficked guns, drugs, and human beings, where some people were making a whole lot of money.
And in fact, the officials in Calexico, when I was there, described to me — these are folks who’ve been working there, you know, doing tough work — and described to me with tears in their eyes about children as young as five years old who were being trafficked through those tunnels.
And as Attorney General, I placed a particular emphasis on combating transnational criminal organizations and on combating the money laundering that accompanies human trafficking.
So, to see those tunnels, an obvious point was and remains clear: trafficking is an extremely heinous and profitable business. In fact, globally, human trafficking is a $150 billion business.
And let’s be clear: When we’re talking about human trafficking, we are talking about some human beings who are essentially buying and selling other human beings.
So, today, we are here to focus on the estimated 25 million people around the world — as many as one in three who are under the age of 18 — who are currently victims of human trafficking.
Now, to understand the severity of human trafficking, to take on the scourge of human trafficking, we must all understand that human trafficking is multifaceted. Human trafficking happens both abroad and right here in the United States.
When I was Attorney General, we found that 72 percent of trafficking victims in California were born right here in the United States.
In 2020 alone, there were 11,000 instances of human trafficking that were reported in the United States. And mind you, those were only the cases that were reported. Experts suggest that the number of people at risk has also grown during COVID-19.
So we must address, with a sense of urgency, what is happening in our own backyard.
In the United States and worldwide, there are many types of work for which people are trafficked. Some people are lured from their homes or their home country with promises of a better future, only to be forced into sexual exploitation. Others are coerced and forced into labor or indentured servitude.
Of the estimated 25 million people worldwide being trafficked, 65 percent are being forced to do domestic work, construction work, agricultural work, or manufacturing work.
Last year alone, we seized nearly 1,500 shipments of merchandise made using forced labor, including things like clothes and electronics. The value? Nearly $500 million.
To be sure, the economic impact of forced labor is significant. And it undermines our own supply chain, displacing American workers, driving down American wages, and creating an unlevel playing field for responsible American businesses.
As a nation, we must require serious consequence and accountability for those who commit these crimes. And we must work to stop these crimes before they happen.
In December, our Administration issued our National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking. Our plan centers on the key pillars of U.S. and global anti-trafficking efforts: prevention, protection, prosecution, and partnerships.
Today, several of our departments and agencies will make announcements regarding how we will advance this plan.
And there is a clear line that runs throughout our Administration’s work: We are focused on the most vulnerable. And based on my experience, the most vulnerable are women and girls, racial and ethnic minorities, LGBTQI+ people, Indigenous people, people with disabilities, migrants, and children in the foster care system.
When we identify who is most vulnerable, we can tailor our tactics and improve our strategy, we can look at what is putting communities at risk in order to improve our prevention efforts, and we can look at ways to reach those communities to ensure that support is trauma-informed and survivor-centered.
In this work, our government — while we need business leaders and non-profit leaders, community leaders, we need all of you to partner with us.
I have seen in my career the power of public-private partnership to address human trafficking.
Whether it was the non-profit that I teamed up with to support survivors or the technology company I invited to help identify search terms that perpetrators were using, it is clear: when we pool our resources and our expertise, we can maximize our impact.
So, those many years ago, after I visited Calexico and I saw the tunnels, I reached out to Attorneys General from across our nation. And together we launched a unified effort to take on transnational crime.
What was true then is true now: it will take all of us to address human trafficking.
So I thank you all for being here today and for the work you do every day. Thank you.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Madam Vice President, thank you so much, not just for starting us off today but for your leadership on this issue for a long, long time, for the extremely evocative words but also for demonstrating in what you’ve done and the focus you’re bringing to this now how we can actually make practical progress in tackling the issue. And we are grateful for that leadership. We’re grateful having you here today to start us off.
Let me just say a bit more about why we’re here today and what we’re going to do over the next couple of hours. To pick up where the Vice President left off, we have an estimated 25 million people around the world subjected to human trafficking, every one of them a human being exploited in some way – for labor, for services, for sex. Through force, through fraud, through coercion, traffickers violate the most basic right of people everywhere to be free.
We know, we feel, the human toll. And of course, that is borne most of all by the victims of trafficking. But it’s also worth noting that the impact extends far beyond those subject to trafficking to society as a whole. Human trafficking erodes the rule of law, the safety of our communities, the security of our borders, the strength of our economy. Forced labor, as the Vice President was speaking to, which is used to produce so many of the things that we buy and that we use every single day, from the food on our tables to the essential minerals that go into the devices probably a number of us are using at this very moment to log on to this event. The use of forced labor gives an unfair advantage to businesses that exploit workers, hurts those that follow fair labor practices, and misleads consumers about the real costs of production.
This is, by definition, a global problem. Victims come from every part of the world, as documented in our annual report. Traffickers operate in virtually every country, including here in the United States. And because this is a global problem, we have to have a global coalition to confront it, one that cuts across government, business, civil society, all other parts of our society. We also have to find more ways to put effective pressure on governments that engage in or enable human trafficking – China, Cuba, North Korea, Russia.
The recent bipartisan Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, which cracks down on the profits Beijing can make from state-sponsored forced labor in Xinjiang and beyond, is one example of how we can do this. And I want to thank Congress for its leadership on this front. We need more efforts like that one.
This is a crime that all parts of our government have to work together to address, and I think we have evidence of that commitment today just on the screen with the participation of 20 cabinets or departments and agencies. That shows, it demonstrates very vividly, that this really is a whole-of-government effort. Every agency has a role to play, and our new National Action Plan provides a roadmap for how to do that – again, here in the United States but also around the world.
So what we’d like to do is to ask principals from every federal government agency involved in this effort to set out their major priorities in tackling the trafficking problem with a special focus on what’s new in these efforts. And let me just add that, you know, this is an effort that has been underway for some years across multiple administrations, and a torch is passed to this administration to carry on the work, to dig even deeper, and to make genuine progress in combating trafficking.
Before we hear from colleagues, I’ve got something that is a particular pleasure, and that is to recognize the recipients of the 2021 Presidential Award for Extraordinary Efforts to Combat Trafficking in Persons. So if you will bear with me for a few minutes, I want to recognize the awardees.
As the Vice President said, one of the core priorities of the new National Action Plan is to persistently work to engage survivors in every part of the anti-trafficking effort, from prevention to protection to prosecution. Survivors are uniquely positioned to ensure that our policies and strategies are victim-centered and trauma-informed, which is crucial to their effectiveness. And that’s exactly what Tanya Gould, who spent decades at this, has been doing.
A survivor of domestic sex trafficking, Tanya has dedicated her life to helping people who have been victimized by sexual violence, and she has made herself an indispensable ally of institutions and individuals working to help and to empower survivors. She’s developed trainings that teach doctors and nurses what to listen and look for to identify trafficking victims and how to communicate in a way that’s respectful and meets victims where they are.
She helped the Department of Education improve its guidance to teachers, to counselors, and others in schools to prevent kids from being targeted, to spot warning signs of trafficking, and to support students who are survivors. She’s traveled the country sharing her expertise with faith groups and student groups, with advocates and practitioners, and even helped write and produce a short film – all to help raise awareness about this crime and what we’ve got to do to tackle it.
Tanya’s – Tanya calls her work, and I quote, “love in action,” and Tanya never seems to run out of love for some of the people who need it most.
Let me just read the award citation: “For her unyielding commitment and contributions to the fight against human trafficking and bringing greater awareness of the issue to her community and the nation.” Tanya, thank you, thank you, thank you, and congratulations.
The second awardee is the Thai Community Development Center, known as the Thai CDC, represented here today by its founding director, Chanchanit Martorell.
In many ways, the story of this organization is intertwined with the story of the fight against human trafficking in the United States. Back in 1995, the Thai CDC led a group of NGOs assisting 72 individuals in escaping from a secret sweatshop in El Monte, California. Many of the workers had been held under armed guard for seven years while being forced to work up to 18 hours a day for virtually no pay.
The Thai CDC has – had never worked with trafficking survivors before, but the approach they pioneered became a model for efforts for decades to come. The organization provided the victims with treatment for trauma; legal aid as they fought to stay in the United States and to be reunited with their families; and support as they built new lives, from finding places to live to providing training on how to start their own businesses.
In the more than 25 years since, the organization has worked on several more human trafficking cases, accompanying more than 500 victims.
Beyond these cases, the Thai CDC’s advocacy was instrumental to the passage of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. It led to reforms in the garment industry, broadened the definition of human trafficking to include practices like debt bondage.
The organization’s formal citation reads, and I quote: “For its unending support in the fight against human trafficking and for bringing a greater awareness of the issue to the Thai community in an effort to see an end to human trafficking.”
So please join me in congratulating them, to congratulating Tanya, for what has literally been and remains life-changing work. Thank you. (Applause.)
So thanks again to our awardees. Thanks for the recognition that everyone is giving them. And now, to move on with the agenda, I’d now like to ask our senior official, Kari Johnstone, to give us an update on the interagency efforts of the Senior Policy Operating Group.
Kari, over to you.
MS JOHNSTONE: Thank you so much Secretary Blinken and Vice President Harris. It is an honor to be with such an esteemed group of leaders committed to combating human trafficking. We know successful strategies to combat human trafficking require a whole-of-government approach that prioritizes meaningful engagement with survivors.
The 20 federal agencies that constitute the Senior Policy Operating Group coordinate with each other and with our partners, including the U.S. Advisory Council on Human Trafficking, to strengthen government policies and practices and effectively marshal anti-trafficking resources. I would like to acknowledge the invaluable contributions of the U.S. Advisory Council on Human Trafficking, particularly for your insightful 2021 report. Your expertise and talent continue to strengthen our federal anti-trafficking strategies. I am grateful for your dedication, particularly during a global pandemic, and wish we could thank you and applaud your efforts in person.
Over the past year, the Senior Policy Operating Group has accomplished a great deal, including on implementing key aspects of the updated National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking. I would like to share some of these achievements with you today.
Last year, the Senior Policy Operating Group established two working groups – one to analyze the rights and protections granted to temporary employment-based visa holders and develop solutions for addressing gaps in those protections; and the other to develop best practices in implementing screening forms and protocols for federal officials who may encounter a human trafficking victim in the course of their regular duties.
In addition, the National Action Plan recognizes an effective anti-trafficking response must embed racial justice and equity into its policies and programs. To this end, the Senior Policy Operating Group is working on an implementation plan to integrate racial equity throughout its anti-trafficking efforts and aims to release it later this year. The implementation plan will support the group’s and agency’s work to carry out the Executive Order on Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities through the Federal Government, and it will highlight the importance of an intersectional approach. It will also complement agencies’ individual work to implement the Executive Order on Diversity, Inclusion, Equity, and Accessibility in the Federal Workforce.
In March 2021, the Procurement and Supply Chains Committee formed a subgroup to create a coordinated U.S. government voice in relation to increasing corporate compliance in combating forced labor in global supply chains. The subgroup is a place to implement a priority of the National Action Plan that calls for the development of initiatives to provide information about forced labor in product supply chains and highlight federal resources to key private sector partners, including proactive outreach to convene industry leaders.
It has been a privilege to participate in the SPOG’s efforts to combat human trafficking. Thank you for the opportunity to share our recent accomplishments and recommit ourselves to this important and necessary work.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Kari, thank you very much, not just for today but for your leadership in this effort every single day. We’re grateful for it.
Before getting to colleagues and hearing from them, there’s more person that I would like to call on, and that is Suleman Masood. He is a member of the U.S. Advisory Council on Human Trafficking and will provide an update on its behalf. And just, Suleman, before turning it over to you, I want to say how grateful we are to the Council for the consistent engagement, for the insights to improve our government’s efforts, for making sure that perspectives and expertise of those with lived experience are at the heart of everything we do, and for being such fierce champions for the victims and survivors everywhere. Over to you.
MR MASOOD: Thank you for the introduction, Secretary Blinken. Good afternoon. My name is Suleman Masood, and I serve as Council Chair for the United States Advisory Council on Human Trafficking. On behalf of the Council, I’d like to extend our gratitude to the White House and Department of State for their continued support and partnership with the Council. I’d also like to thank each agency for its tireless efforts to address, inform, and prevent human trafficking, domestically and abroad.
To quote the late Nelson Mandela, “For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” Each of us here today share a similar vision. Bestowed upon us are responsibilities to empower survivors of all backgrounds and identities, be equitable and inclusive, and nurture and protect the communities we serve.
Since the adoption of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, we have made tremendous strides to evolve our programming and advocacy to ensure meaningful engagement with survivors. I am proud to share that this Council released its most recent report at the end of 2021. Our report contains 19 recommendations informed by meetings with numerous PITF agencies.
The report is organized by the Council’s two committees: the Underserved Populations Committee and the Committee on the Administration of Justice. The Underserved Populations Committee has focused on meeting the needs of and promoting equity for marginalized, underserved populations. In our 2021 report, we called upon agencies to improve the quality of and access to resources and services without prejudice or bias and address the cultural and root causes of human trafficking among underserved populations.
The Committee on Administration of Justice has sought to strengthen accountability efforts. In our 2021 report, we called upon law enforcement agencies to collaborate with survivors through a multidisciplinary approach, uphold the Victims’ Bill of Rights to support victims and their families, and promote promising practices to increase prosecutions of various forms of trafficking.
Our 2021 report and the updated National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking share an essential theme in common: partnership. Simply put, addressing human trafficking requires a multidisciplinary effort. Addressing human trafficking requires meaningful communication. Addressing human trafficking requires transparent accountability. And finally, addressing human trafficking requires that as this crime evolves, so must we in our responses and our partnership strategies.
As the Council looks to its 2022 report, we hope to increase awareness about the critical issues facing the anti-trafficking movement we raised in our 2021 report and support PITF agencies in implementing those recommendations. I am grateful for the opportunity to speak to you all, and I look forward to prioritizing our partnership in the future. Thank you for your time.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Suleman, thank you very, very much, and really, it’s hard to imagine better partners in this endeavor than the members of the Council, so thank you so much for the work that we’re doing together every day.
Okay. So now I am going to kick off hearing from all of our colleagues from all of the departments and agencies represented here. I take off my moderator hat and putting on my State Department hat just to start off by sharing four of the State Department’s anti-trafficking priorities and then I’ll turn it over to all of our colleagues.
So, first, the State Department is continuing to work to integrate trauma and survivor-informed approaches across all of our anti-trafficking efforts.
And as we’re doing this, we are drawing not only on the U.S. Advisory Council on Human Trafficking, but also State Department’s Human Trafficking Expert Consultant Network, which is made up of survivors and other experts. Later this year, we plan to launch an online training on “Understanding Trauma and Trauma-Informed Approaches,” which was developed in collaboration with the Network and will provide a practical guide for everyone who has a stake in these efforts.
Second, given the disproportionate impact of human trafficking on vulnerable and underserved individuals, we are bringing and the Vice President alluded to this an equity-based approach to our anti-trafficking work. For the 2022 Trafficking in Persons Report, we expanded the data we gather on the impact of government efforts and programs on underserved populations.
Third, we’re revitalizing and expanding our anti-trafficking collaboration with our neighbors, with Canada and Mexico. At the recent North American Leaders’ Summit in November, we agreed to restart a Trilateral Working Group on Trafficking in Persons and also to redouble our efforts to combat transnational organized crime. And we’re working with partners across the Western Hemisphere to promote legal pathways to encourage orderly, safe, and humane migration in ways that do not create or worsen vulnerabilities among migrants that traffickers can exploit.
Fourth, we’re looking at new ways to use visa restrictions, financial sanctions to hold human traffickers to account and to freeze their illicit profits. We have been working very closely with Treasury on this, exploring whether we can nominate human traffickers for sanctions, building on the foreign assistance restrictions that we’ve pursued for governments that we identify in the TIP Report as the worst abusers in this space.
Across these efforts, we continue to adapt our work to the ongoing impact of COVID-19, which made more people more vulnerable to trafficking – from school closures to the tens of millions of people the pandemic has pushed into extreme poverty. And that means looking systemically and systematically across our efforts and asking: What do we have to change in light of the pandemic? Where have new gaps, new vulnerabilities emerged that we have to address?
And just to close out by giving a couple of examples, we are now checking on the welfare of domestic workers employed by foreign mission and international organization personnel here in the United States by phone and video rather than meeting with them in person. We aim to restart in-person registration this year, expanding coverage nationwide so long as the health conditions permit. And we’re supporting anti-trafficking groups as they grapple with new challenges that have arisen or been worsened by COVID-19, like the program in Bangladesh to respond to the massive increase in online sexual exploitation that’s come with greater travel restrictions and lockdowns. So these are just some of the ways that we are focusing our efforts in addressing these challenges.
Having said that, it is now a great pleasure to give everyone a chance to give a brief update on what your respective agencies or departments have planned for the coming year. And with that, let me turn it over to my friend and colleague Xavier Becerra to start us off.
SECRETARY BECERRA: Secretary Blinken, thank you very much, and to everyone who has been part of this effort, I congratulate all of us for this effort and everyone who is going to be working with us on this.
At HHS, we continue to implement the ambitious plans of the National Action Plan overall. We are bringing our full weight to strengthen the health and well-being of individuals, families, and communities impacted by human trafficking. Today I’m announcing the establishment of the HHS Task Force to Prevent Human Trafficking, which will increase our coordination and collaboration across our various agencies in the department. The task force will scale prevention, it will expand access to services, and it will build scientific understanding.
On prevention, we will release the department’s first human trafficking prevention action plan, incorporating lessons learned from the implementation of the Human Trafficking Prevention Education Demonstration Program.
We’ll incorporate gender and racial equity principles in the development of new public awareness and outreach strategies to better reach and reflect the diverse communities experiencing human trafficking.
We will establish a technical working group to prevent forced labor in health care supply chains, to hold industry listening sessions to prevent human trafficking in direct care services, such as childcare and eldercare, and we will publish information resources.
On access, we will publish several funding opportunities with a strengthen –a strengthened equity focus program design, including new grant awards focused on gaps in services for survivors of labor trafficking, child trafficking, and those in the Pacific region. We will coordinate with state, federal, and nongovernmental organizations to further strengthen support for unaccompanied children at risk of human trafficking, and we will implement regional initiatives to increase access to key gaps in services, particularly substance use and mental health, housing, and economic mobility services.
On building scientific understanding, we will release a supplemental issue of the Surgeon General’s Public Health Reports on what we have learned after 20 years of public health progress on human trafficking. We will issue a call for papers on the impact of COVID-19 on human trafficking and intersecting forms of violence, and implement research on demand and other underlying factors of human trafficking. And we will identify opportunities to open more data on human trafficking from relevant HHS programs and will continue to modernize HHS’s system for collecting data on human trafficking. We do all of this, hoping to add to this opportunity to really tackle this issue of human trafficking.
So, in closing, we look forward to working with our federal and external partners to respond to human trafficking through a preventative approach that promotes innovation and advances equity in reducing structural barriers. Thank you.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Xavier, thank you so much. Thanks for that comprehensive laydown and thank you for the extraordinary leadership that you’re showing on this.
It’s my pleasure now to turn to the Secretary of the Treasury. Janet, over to you.
SECRETARY YELLEN: Thank you, Tony. It’s a pleasure to speak about Treasury’s role in combating human trafficking. As many of you know, when federal agencies train people to recognize the signs of trafficking, they often give them very clear pictures – a person with very few belongings, for instance, who may be living with their employer and is unable to speak to you alone. The idea is there are identifiable signs of human trafficking, and if we’re vigilant as we move about the everyday world, we can stop it.
Well, the same holds true for the more arcane and numbers-driven world of the financial system. We can recognize the patterns of human trafficking there too. The fact that human traffickers launder their money through shell companies or cryptocurrencies, or even traditional banks is not the worst aspect of their crime, but it is often the most effective way to catch them. One of the best strategies we have for ending modern-day slavery is following the money.
At Treasury, we’ve spent the last six years developing the tradecraft to do just that, the expertise to recognize the patterns of human trafficking in money flows. In the past, we have worked with various financial institutions, hundreds of banks, pooling our information and piecing together which accounts belong to traffickers. This way, we could lock them out of the financial system and expose their crimes.
We’ve continued that work this year in a few important ways. We’ve partnered with DOJ, DHS, and the gaming industry, for instance, training employees at more than 400 casinos to recognize when a human trafficker is trying to launder their money. We’ve also begun the important process of exposing who owns certain shell companies in this country. In some states, almost anyone can establish a company without disclosing the beneficial or actual owner, and this gives cover to all sorts of criminals, including human traffickers, to hide their illegal gains. And until recently, it would’ve been very hard to stop them.
But in 2020, Congress passed the Corporate Transparency Act, which Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, or FINCEN, is now beginning to implement. The law allows us to build a national database of who owns what shell company, something that will let us better expose and deter human trafficking.
There’s one final point I want to make: I think we have an obligation not just to go after the perpetrators of modern-day slavery but to help the victims of it as well, and this is something we’re thinking about at Treasury. We know one of the first things these traffickers do is strip their victims of their phones and IDs, which means that when they finally gain their freedom, trafficking survivors emerge into the world with little ability to navigate it. They can’t get a driver’s license; they can’t get a bank account.
There are broad policies we’re promoting to break down these barriers. Digital ID is one, but we also have flexibility in our regulatory framework, which has allowed various banks to set up processes so that victims of human trafficking can get bank accounts and restart their lives. And I’m hopeful that when we participate in this meeting next year, we’ll have more to share with you on this front. So thank you again, and I look forward to working with all of you on this crucial issue.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Janet, thank you so much, and it’s I think remarkable that Treasury is bringing to bear its incredibly sophisticated tools in trying to take down traffickers, but I think equally compelling and moving to hear you talk about the other side of the coin, the victims and what you’re doing to try to help them as they emerge from trafficking. So thank you so much for sharing that.
Mr. Attorney General, Merrick.
ATTORNEY GENERAL GARLAND: Thanks, Tony, and good afternoon to everyone. Human trafficking is an insidious crime. Traffickers exploit some of the most vulnerable members of our society and cause their victims unimaginable horror and trauma. Combating human trafficking demands, as everyone has said, a whole-of-government approach, and that’s why the Justice Department was pleased to support the development of the President’s National Action Plan.
This week, I will be submitting to Congress two annual trafficking in persons reports, required under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act for Fiscal Years 2019 and ’20 that were unfortunately not submitted by the prior administration. These important reports detail activities and programs across the U.S. Government to combat human trafficking.
Soon after issuing those two reports, the Justice Department will be issuing its new national anti-human trafficking strategy. Our strategy is aligned with the foundational pillars of the President’s National Action Plan, namely, prevention of human trafficking; prosecution of human trafficking cases; protection of human trafficking victims and survivors; and partnership at every level of government.
Today, I would like to highlight three areas of our focus.
First, we are expanding our capacity to prevent human trafficking. Prevention requires a trauma-informed, culturally responsive approach. To this end, we’re developing a victim screening protocol to identify potential trafficking victims and encourage victims to share important information. We are also working together with federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial law enforcement partners to develop prevention strategies and conduct advance trainings.
Second, we are expanding our capacity to prosecute perpetrators of human trafficking crimes. Human trafficking cases are complex, and successfully investigating and prosecuting them requires partnership across all levels of government. Last year, we established Joint Task Force Alpha in partnership with DHS. Its mission is to work within the United States and with our foreign partners in the Northern Triangle and Mexico to dismantle criminal networks that endanger, abuse, and exploit migrants and engage in human trafficking.
In addition, as part of our commitment to ending forced labor, DOJ’s Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit will launch a forced labor initiative in collaboration with the FBI and DHS. Meanwhile, our law enforcement components are stepping up their efforts to investigate human trafficking crimes. For one example, the FBI’s Child Exploitation and Human Trafficking Task Forces operate within nearly every one of the FBI’s 56 field offices, recover victims and investigate traffickers at the state and federal level.
And just last weekend, the FBI’s Los Angeles field office worked with its local law enforcement partners to announce a major recovery effort of missing children and trafficking victims. As another example, at the end of 2021, the U.S. Marshals Service announced that it had assisted with the recovery of 950 critically missing children, a 145 percent increase over the previous year.
Finally, we are focused on providing protection and trauma-informed assistance to victims and survivors of human trafficking. Last year, DOJ awarded more than $85 million in funding to combat human trafficking. In the year ahead, our Office for Victims of Crime, which manages the largest amount of federal funding dedicated to supporting victims of human trafficking, will continue to award funding to combat trafficking and support victim services. This will include access to safe, stable housing options.
The Justice Department remains committed to our shared goals of preventing human trafficking, detecting human trafficking, prosecuting the perpetrators of human trafficking crimes, and prosecuting – and empowering survivors. Thank you very much.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Merrick, thank you very much for sharing that and for the important work that you’re doing.
It is now a pleasure to turn the floor to the Secretary of Homeland Secretary. Secretary Mayorkas, Ale, over to you.
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: Secretary Blinken, Tony, thank you so much for leading this effort on all of our behalves.
In early 2019, the Baltimore County Policy Department requested help from special agents of our department’s Homeland Security Investigations. The police were investigating a local robbery that led them to a very dangerous perpetrator of sex trafficking and drug distribution. The suspect was creating and using drug dependency as a tool of coercion and manipulation, forcing his victims into the sex trade, from which he profited. Our federal agents worked with the local police, trapped the offender, interviewed witnesses, and executed electronic search warrants on social media platforms. Eight victims were identified, all of whom struggled with the drug dependencies their trafficker had cultivated.
We built the case together. As we did so, our victim assistance specialists provided support to the victims. They connected them with addiction services, coordinated appearances at trial, arranged for their testimony, and communicated with the families. Two months ago, the trafficker was convicted and sentenced to 30 years in prison. Our team continues to work with the survivors to move them into a safe, secure, and stable living environment. We did this all in partnership with the Department of Justice, the Department of Health and Human Services, and our other federal and community partners.
I’m very proud to be a part of today’s event and to work in support of the task force, representing the dedicated public servants across the Department of Homeland Security, who, in partnership with all of you, commit themselves to combating human trafficking every day. We do so because we understand profoundly that the dignity of every individual must be protected, and every individual deserves safety.
Tony, once again, thank you for your leadership, and we’re grateful for the President’s leadership and direction, including through his creation of our Interagency Task Force.
We in the Department of Homeland Security do a lot to fight against human trafficking. During this past year, ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations made more than 2,360 human trafficking arrests and assisted more than 728 victims. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services approved 559 T visas for victims of trafficking. Customs and Border Protection seized more than 1,550 shipments containing nearly $500 million in merchandise linked to forced labor overseas, a ninefold increase over the previous year.
Just yesterday, in our role as lead agency of the Forced Labor Enforcement Task Force, the department launched implementation of the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, calling for public input on how to best ensure that goods produced in whole or in part by forced labor in Xinjiang and elsewhere in China are not imported into the United States. Earlier today, I designated a senior accountable official to prevent human trafficking in all DHS contracts and acquisitions.
All of these efforts speak to two foundational principles. First is the importance of combating human trafficking using a victim-centered approach across our policies, programs, and activities. This is not only the right thing to do, it also enables law enforcement to better detect, investigate, and prosecute the traffickers. The second principle is partnership. DHS is fundamentally a department of partnerships. This is certainly true in our fight against human trafficking. As we saw in Baltimore, we collaborate with state and local law enforcement who share our commitment. Through the DHS Blue Campaign, we deepen these partnerships with state, local, tribal, and territorial governments. Every day we work directly with victims and nongovernmental organizations, and we’re proud to partner with all of you.
Tony, thank you again.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Ale, thank you very, very much and thank you for making this really a whole-of-DHS effort, as we’re hearing from what you’ve shared with us today.
To the Interior. Deb.
SECRETARY HAALAND: Thank you so much. Really happy to be here and appreciate the opportunity to join. I appreciate you hosting this U.S. task force meeting, Secretary Blinken, to highlight this Administration’s work to combat human trafficking, and most importantly, to help elevate the voices of survivors. I’m excited to find new pathways to get the critical resources that survivors need most.
This Administration has made public safety a top priority across all sectors, including human trafficking. I’m particularly pleased with the focus on the missing and murdered indigenous peoples crisis, where there has been a historical lack of resources and attention and where human trafficking is prevalent. As stated in the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights’ Broken Promises report, Native Americans suffer from one of the nation’s highest rates of crime and victimization, in large part due to the structural and jurisdictional barriers that criminal justice systems face in Indian country.
This is why as one of my first actions I launched the Missing and Murdered Unit in the Bureau of Indian Affairs. This unit is focused on marshaling federal law enforcement resources to resolve cases of missing and murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives by working directly with tribes and the Justice Department to enhance data and evidence collection.
At Interior, we have also prioritized implementation of the Not Invisible Act. This is an issue close to my heart. I know what it’s like to worry if my sister’s friends and relatives would go missing without a trace. I was a champion for this legislation in Congress and now have the honor of implementing this law with the help of Attorney General Garland as we establish the Not Invisible Act Commission. This commission will bolster intragovernmental coordination to identify and combat violent crime against Native Americans by establishing an advisory committee composed of law enforcement, tribal leaders, federal partners, service providers, and most importantly, survivors. The Not Invisible Act Commission will develop final recommendations and best practices for this Administration to improve federal coordination, help resolve jurisdictional complexities, and find lasting solutions to missing persons in human trafficking cases that disproportionately impact Indigenous people.
With the support of the entire Biden-Harris Administration, we can address this crisis. We don’t just need resources, we need federal leadership across all agencies to elevate a crisis response to help locate missing and murdered and indigenous peoples who have been trafficked. We also need to prioritize victim resources for all communities, because if we’re serious about ending cycles of abuse, we must invest in tools that prevent survivors from being victimized again.
I’m proud to serve in this Administration and on this task force. Thank you all for your commitment to center the voices of those who have been left behind. We must ensure that we do everything we can to address human trafficking and bring women and children home regardless of their age, race, or economic background. Thank you so much again, Secretary Blinken.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Secretary Haaland, thank you and thank you for the special focus that you’re bringing so effectively to Native Americans.
Now over to the Department of Agriculture. Secretary Vilsack, Tom.
Tom, I think you may be muted. We are still not, still not hearing. At least I’m not.
SECRETARY VILSACK: Try it one more time. There we go. Sorry about that.
I want to thank you, Tony, for this opportunity to be here today, and certainly we are honored to be part of the President’s Interagency Task Force as we seek at USDA to strengthen our efforts together in combating human trafficking. Certainly want to thank the President and Vice President for their leadership, and to acknowledge the extraordinary work of my colleagues on the Cabinet as has been outlined here today, and especially that of the State Department.
I’d like to highlight two ways in which we at USDA are involved in this whole-of-government mission to put an end to this devastating trafficking in persons. First, USDA is incredibly proud to be partnering with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to help encourage eligible individuals to naturalize and become U.S. citizens. Immigrants are a vital part of the fabric of this country, and for USDA, they play a very important role in the food supply chain. We also know that victims are less likely to go to the police if they are undocumented; that’s why citizenship is so incredibly important.
USDA’s national programs connect with communities in both rural and urban environments and present a unique opportunity to reach many more immigrant communities, inviting them to fully participate in civic life as new U.S. citizens. In 2021, we launched pilot projects to help the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services better connect with agricultural workers in four key regions around the country: in the Imperial Valley in California, the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, central Florida, and in central Pennsylvania. And we’re looking to expand significantly that effort in counties across the United States in 2022.
Additionally, USDA is providing four deliverables as part of the overall U.S. strategy for addressing the root causes of migration in Central America, focusing on economic insecurity and inequality. As part of this strategy, we are building resilience to address climate change and food insecurity, in particular by increasing the number of communities and farmers served in Guatemala specifically. We’re fostering a business-enabling environment for inclusive agricultural growth through the Cochran Fellowship Program for Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras.
We’re enhancing workforce development, health, and education services, notably through an extension and expansion of the USDA McGovern-Dole school feeding program. This $45 million investment will increase the number of communities and schoolchildren served via these programs in Guatemala and Honduras, and indirectly impacting the flow of migration by providing school meals and literacy education that reduces food insecurity. And we’re enhancing school-based agricultural education and youth extension in Guatemala, helping to meet food needs through USDA’s International Agriculture Education Fellowship Program.
So I’m pleased to share our shared commitment across all federal departments to do our part along with our fellow colleagues. It will take all of us, Tony, as you well know, in working together to address the deep, systemic, and underlying causes that lead to the tragic occurrences of human trafficking in our country and transnationally. Thank you for the opportunity to participate today.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Tom, thank you very much. And I think, you know, as we’re hearing from colleagues, and as Tom just underscored, it is, I think, increasingly evident why this has to be and is, thankfully, a whole-of-government effort, because there are so many different angles to this and to dealing with trafficking effectively that really do call on the particular competencies and expertise that virtually all of our agencies and departments bring to bear on this. And we’re hearing that I think very vividly this afternoon, so thank you, Tom.
Over to the Secretary of Transportation. Pete.
SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG: Well, thanks, Secretary Blinken. Good afternoon and congratulations to the honorees and thank you to all of my colleagues across the Administration working together on this.
Around the world, millions of people are trafficked through transportation systems. Victims are trafficked aboard airplanes, on buses, subways, trains, taxis, ships, private vehicles, and those who escape are often relying on transportation networks to get away. So we recognize that transportation has a vital role to play in the fight against human trafficking.
This year, we’re continuing our work with over 500 transportation leaders who have signed our pledge against human trafficking to train more than 1.3 million employees across all of the modes of transportation just as we regularly train our 55,000 employees here at DOT. And we’re continuing to encourage transportation stakeholders to sign up if they haven’t already – anyone following this conversation right now can do so – at transportation.gov/stophumantrafficking.
We’re also rolling out new training and public awareness tools that we’ve developed with input from survivors themselves to help transportation employees and the traveling public learn how to recognize and report suspected cases. Through our annual Combating Human Trafficking in Transportation Impact Award, we are recognizing innovative solutions to the problem, and our Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration will continue requiring every state to permanently ban drivers convicted of trafficking from operating commercial vehicles.
On the aviation side, we are partnering with Secretary Mayorkas and the Department of Homeland Security to expand the Blue Lightning Initiative, which is a training program that has already trained over 200,000 frontline aviation workers; and with ICAO, the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organization, we’re working on a comprehensive strategy to combat trafficking in aviation. And we’re hoping to advance similar efforts with the IMO, the International Maritime Organization.
Finally, I want to mention that under the bipartisan infrastructure law, we are re-establishing DOT’s Advisory Committee on Human Trafficking, which is going to work with the Attorney General’s office to provide regular reports and information with best practices, recommendations, and analysis of human trafficking violations that involve commercial motor vehicles. We know that stopping human trafficking is the responsibility of every transportation leader at every level of our many transportation systems in the U.S. and every member of the traveling public. And with the training, resources, and will, we know that we can save so many people from the scourge of human trafficking across the many modes of transportation.
Thank you again, and back over to you, Secretary.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Pete, thank you very, very much, and greatly appreciate the work that DOT is doing both here at home and internationally to tackle this problem. Over to the Director of National Intelligence, Avril.
MS HAINES: Thanks so much, Tony. Really appreciate you doing this. And we in the Intelligence Community are very focused on this issue, and I’m really grateful to have an opportunity to talk about our work and the role that we play alongside our colleagues.
Global human trafficking, whether forced labor or sex trafficking, is a serious threat to U.S. national security. And we’re committed to supporting the federal government’s efforts in this area, including implementing the National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking that you’ve discussed. Human trafficking, in addition to the heinous toll it takes on human beings, provides a reliable source of revenue and support to illicit actors and governments engaging in forced labor. And the scale and severity of global human trafficking is moreover affected by increased migration, displacement resulting from conflicts, economic crises, and environmental change.
And these issues, along with cyber-based trafficking and the corrupt actors and networks involved in global human trafficking are all matters that the Intelligence Community is committed to monitoring, understanding, and ultimately providing information on to those who can hold traffickers accountable as well as those who are looking to reduce the vulnerability of communities who are otherwise vulnerable to human trafficking.
And not only do we see the way in which human trafficking fuels the growth of transnational organized crime and deprives people of human rights and freedoms, but also how it negatively affects global health, with long standing psychological and (inaudible) individuals, families, and communities, and the disproportionate impact it has on historically marginalized and underserved communities mentioned earlier by the Vice President. The Intelligence Community works closely with other government agencies to improve information-sharing on trafficking, along with the impact of trafficking between intelligence elements and federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement. And we are working to improve those efforts.
I’ll just give two examples of our recent work that highlights how we’re implementing the National Action Plan. In July of last year, the Intelligence Community and law enforcement agencies published the first law enforcement intelligence assessment, which characterized significant and sustained human trafficking threats with a nexus to the United States, and furthermore, identified key human trafficking threats, the enabling factors that facilitate those threats, and how such threats are evolving.
And then this year, we partnered with the Department of State – with, Tony, your folks, and Ale’s folks at the Department of Homeland Security – really to establish an information-sharing platform for the intelligence and law enforcement communities that consolidates federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement in one location. And the IC will continue to leverage these partnerships and outreach efforts to better enable our law enforcement and international partners to disrupt and dismantle trafficking networks around the globe.
So thanks very much for what you’re doing, and really appreciate all the work we get to do with our colleagues on this issue.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thanks, Avril, so much. And yes, this partnership is critical to our own efforts around the world, and we’re really grateful for it. So thank you.
Now to the single most important person on this call for all of our efforts because the resources necessary to undertake them – Shalanda, Office of Management and Budget, over to you.
MS YOUNG: Thank you, Secretary Blinken, for bringing this group together. It’s my pleasure, honor. Thank you for having OMB as a part of this presentation. I want to thank the staff at OMB and all of your staffs across the government on their work on this important issue.
The Office of Management and Budget serves a key coordinating role in the Executive Branch. You heard Secretary Blinken talk about our budget functions, but we also set procurement policies across the government and we’re here to ensure that those procurement dollars are effectively used to combat trafficking and where appropriate, bring agencies together to coordinate efforts. OMB also establishes the government’s acquisition policy, and our procurement team is working to ensure that taxpayer funds are never used to support trafficking in persons in any way, shape, or form.
In accordance with the priority action in the National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking, OMB will facilitate increased dialogue within the federal government, as well as with the contractor community and NGOs, to better align government efforts to combat trafficking in federal procurement. OMB’s Office of Federal Procurement Policy works with our federal agency colleagues to identify areas that increase risks of trafficking and best integrate best practices to reduce the risk of forced labor in our supply chain. Our team has also recently updated the combating trafficking in persons course to better equip the government workforce to recognize not only signs of forced labor, but also the practices closely associated with trafficking, which are prohibited in all federal contracts.
Finally, OMB will continue to work with the agencies to ensure they bring an equity lens to anti-trafficking work, done through the Senior Policy Operating Group. I know my team looks forward to continuing our partnership with this task force and to working together with federal contractors to combat human trafficking.
And thank you, Secretary Blinken, for bringing us together on this important issue.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Shalanda, thank you very much. Greatly appreciate all of these efforts and the important coordinating role as well that you’ve been playing in this. Over to the U.S. Trade Representative, Katherine.
AMBASSADOR TAI: Thank you so much, Tony. It’s a pleasure to be with you. Good afternoon. I’m very glad to be with all of you today as we discuss our Administration’s commitment to this extremely important issue. At USTR, we are committed to using trade policy to support and empower workers in the United States and around the world. That perspective and expertise is important as we advance the Biden-Harris Administration’s National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking, especially in the fight to eradicate forced labor.
We know that we can achieve more durable and lasting change if our trading partners also commit to these principles and incorporate them into their practices, and that is why the President fought to include forced labor on the agenda at the G7 Leaders’ Summit in Cornwall in June of last year. The G7 Trade Ministers’ forced labor statement from October underscores that forced labor has no place in the global trading system. It also lays out a shared vision for tackling forced labor in global supply chains. Eradicating forced labor is not just a moral imperative. It also is critical to protecting U.S. workers from unfair competition and raises global labor standards.
As the United States continues to be a global leader in this effort, I am pleased to announce that USTR will develop our first-ever trade strategy to combat forced labor. The development of this strategy will include a thorough interagency review of our existing trade policies and tools used to combat forced labor, including forced child labor, to determine areas that may need strengthening and gaps that need to be filled. We will use this analysis to establish objectives, priorities, new tools, and key action items to advance our goals. We will also create an inclusive process that maximizes input from stakeholders, including labor organizations, civil society, survivors, and the private sector.
Finally, we will continue to advance this work in our trade engagements around the world. This will include continued work through the World Trade Organization’s fisheries subsidies negotiations to address the prevalent use of forced labor on fishing vessels, using the Trade and Technology Council to develop concrete actions for the United States and the European Union to coordinate on combating forced and child labor, monitoring and upholding our strong forced labor obligations under the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement to prohibit the importation of goods produced by forced labor, and finally, contributing our expertise on global supply chains in the implementation of the Uyghur Forced Labor Protection Act.
By working with our trading partners, including those in the Indo-Pacific, we will demonstrate that we can raise global labor standards and provide an example for the rest of the world to follow. I look forward to continuing to work with all of you as we develop and implement the strategy. Thank you.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Katherine, thank you very much, and thanks for the partnership on this. And it’s really good to hear about the upcoming trade strategy to combat forced labor, so we’re looking forward to seeing that. Thank you.
And now to Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. Linda.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Thank you, Secretary Blinken. Last year, we worked with our allies and partners across the UN to ensure that combating human trafficking was a top priority in Vienna, in Geneva, here in New York, and throughout the UN system. At the 2021 Commission on the Status of Women and during the UN General Assembly, we fought for strong language in all of our resolutions and high-level declarations, and underscored the importance of accountability mechanisms to counter human trafficking. We also actively participated in the UN’s high-level meeting for the appraisal of the UN Plan of Action to Combat Human Trafficking held in this past November. We stressed the importance of implementing the Palermo Protocol and the Global Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons.
I have also personally met with survivors whose painful and powerful stories remind us that this work is urgent as it is crucially important. In 2022, we will use our status as a member of the Human Rights Council to advance our priorities and draw greater attention to the scourge of human trafficking. We will propose anti-trafficking language in resolutions, political declarations, and other negotiated texts wherever we can, especially during the Commission on Social Development in February, the Commission on the Status of Women in March, and the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in April. Next fall, we will work with the Philippines to advance our priorities in its biannual anti-trafficking resolution, and we will continue to fight for robust anti-trafficking language during the UN General Assembly, both in country-specific and relevant thematic resolutions.
Our fight to elevate this issue will simultaneously require us to engage with vigor on issues like early and forced child marriage and violence against women and girls. The COVID-19 pandemic has led not only to higher rates of forced and early marriage, but also spiking rates of gender-based violence. The pandemic has taken a devastating toll on vulnerable and marginalized populations, particularly those who are often targeted for labor and sexual trafficking.
Here at the UN, we will continue to bring a spotlight to this issue and to engage vigorously to fight trafficking across the globe. Thank you again to President Biden, Vice President Harris, and particularly to you, Secretary Blinken, for your leadership on this important issue. Thank you.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Linda, my thanks to you, and I think the global platform that you have could not be more important and your voice in particular could not be more important in bringing countries together to make this a common cause. So thank you for that leadership.
Over to Kath Hicks, the Deputy Secretary of Defense. Kath.
Kath, I think you’re on mute.
MS HICKS: Great. Hopefully you can hear me now – good. Good afternoon, Secretary Blinken. It’s my pleasure to be representing the Department of Defense today on this important topic.
At DoD we’ve been actively engaged in monitoring and combating trafficking in persons through a dedicated office of Combating Trafficking in Persons. The department has already released both a combating trafficking in persons student guide and a companion parent resource guide. These are designed for military-connected high school students and their families to help them learn about human trafficking and how to prevent it through near-peer stories, survivor stories, and interactive quizzes.
DoD has also developed the Survivor Voices webpage on its countering – or combating, excuse me – trafficking in persons website. Through video and written narratives, this page features insights from survivors of trafficking, and it contains information to help others in similar situations. This year we plan to add six to eight more stories to the Survivor Voices webpage.
More generally this year, we are focused on furthering our lines of effort: prevention through awareness training and outreach, addressing demand reduction, and engaging survivors. To date, we’ve already undertaken a number of activities to advance these priorities. Just this month, for instance, as part of National Human Trafficking Prevention Month, we’ve had two survivors speak at our quarterly Combating Trafficking in Persons task force meeting.
In assisting DoD’s Northern and Indo-Pacific Commands in their work with Afghan refugees on designated U.S. installations, the department has prepared materials focused specifically on human trafficking in the Afghan refugee population. We’ve provided background information describing common types of trafficking in Afghanistan in English, Dari, and Pashto. Additionally, we’ve had materials prepared that provide the signs and indicators of trafficking as well as specialized screening tools for interviewers.
Looking ahead, we’re working to develop a resource kit for all DoD personnel involved in contracting and procurement activities. This resource kit will be a user-friendly set of job aids, including one-pagers, short desk guides, checklists, case studies, and other resources, divided into five platforms that follow the contracting process. Each platform has a narrator to guide acquisition personnel through the platform. And our Combating Trafficking in Persons office also has sponsored three U.S. Air Force contracting officers for their naval postgraduate school Master of Business Administration research project. Their work focused on identifying gaps in human trafficking awareness in DoD acquisition. DoD will now work to implement their recommendations relating to workforce training and creating an online tool for filtering procurement data.
In short, through initiatives such as these, we at the Department of Defense will continue to do our part in monitoring and combating trafficking in persons. Thank you so much, Tony.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Kath, thank you very much for sharing that and for the leadership that DoD is showing on this.
Now we go to the Department of Commerce, Don Graves.
MR GRAVES: Well, Mr. Secretary, thank you for the opportunity to join my colleagues across government to speak today about the Department of Commerce’s contributions to the Administration’s efforts to combat this scourge of human trafficking.
Tony, as you and everyone else on this task force knows, protecting global human rights is central to our values as Americans. We have a responsibility to address violations, particularly against the most vulnerable populations. While the Commerce Department is relatively new to this task force, our agency plays a unique and important role, particularly in addressing the abhorrent use of forced labor.
Using its export control authority, Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security contributes to these efforts by restricting exports of certain items to entities found to engage in activities that are counter to the national security or the foreign policy of the U.S., including the protection of human rights. BIS has added 15 commercial and government entities to the entity list because of their implication in human rights violations, and specifically the use of forced labor. All 15 of these entities were found to be involved in the use of forced labor of Muslim minorities in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and are now subject to comprehensive export controls.
Our efforts to combat human trafficking also relies on the immense expertise of the International Trade Administration. American businesses both here and abroad are some of our best resources against the use of forced labor in global supply chains. ITA’s deep knowledge of supply chains in various industries allows us to provide insight to our private sector partners to assist in identifying and addressing the use of forced labor. ITA is implementing one of the nation – excuse me – the National Action Plan’s priority actions by leading a robust interagency effort to develop guidance and direct industry to critical information that will allow businesses to establish their own policies and procedures to prevent the use of goods and services made with forced labor.
One of the key industries that has historically been plagued by illegal and unjust labor practices is the seafood sector. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s expertise with the seafood supply chain is critical in our work to identify potential forced labor practices on fishing vessels as well as seafood products that may have been produced using forced labor. NOAA’s contributions include strengthening existing initiatives to develop due diligence standards and market-based solutions, to eliminate economic incentives to forced labor in the fishing industry, as well as partnering with likeminded countries to promote safe and decent working conditions.
Looking ahead, Commerce will continue to fully utilize its resources in advancing our commitment to protecting human rights and promoting our American values. I look forward to partnering with you on this important work. So thank you for your leadership, Tony, for the great work that’s being done across the Administration, and thank you again for the opportunity to speak this afternoon.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Tony, we couldn’t hear you. You’re on mute.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: I’m sorry. My apologies. I think I was on mute this time. I was just thanking Don for the vital role that Commerce is playing.
And now to another very critical player in these efforts. Julie, over to you and the work of the Department of Labor.
MS SU: Thank you so much, Secretary Blinken. It is great to be with all of you today. I actually worked on trafficking-related cases for a long time as an attorney, and human trafficking, including with today’s honoree (inaudible) brave garment workers trafficked from Thailand and forced to work behind barbed wire and under armed guard in an apartment complex outside of Los Angeles was something I saw and was inspired by firsthand. That case was one of the catalysts for the federal law establishing this task force, and I carry the lessons learned and the sense of urgency from that case to my position in this Administration.
In my time as the Deputy Secretary of Labor, I have already seen some terrible cases of human trafficking, and I’m grateful for the Vice President’s acknowledgement of the fact that these abuses are not limited to any one industry or geographic area or community. The Department of Labor is often the first government authority to witness and report abusive labor practices. Whether it is in farms, hotels, factories, or restaurants, we work with sister agencies across federal and local authorities so traffickers are brought to justice.
A recent case, Operation Blooming Onion, was an interagency effort that uncovered Central American migrant workers being forced to dig onions with their hands at gunpoint on farms in Georgia. These types of abuses have no place in our labor market or global supply chains. In addition to ramping up our referrals over the coming year, we will also continue to work to ensure that all trafficking victims in the United States receive the back wages that they’re entitled to under the law.
We know that in the U.S., trafficked migrant workers are often reluctant to come forward, as others have already said, fearing deportation. Under Secretary Walsh’s leadership, the Department of Labor is exploring ways to expand protections for victims who have employment-based nonimmigrant visas and those without legal immigration status. Our Wage and Hour Division plans to issue new guidance on the certification of U and T nonimmigrant visa applications to our staff so we can protect survivors of human trafficking and encourage them to come forward. We will also work more closely with foreign governments to ensure that the recruitment of overseas workers for U.S. jobs is fair and free of exploitation.
To better equip the department’s investigators to combat trafficking, this year, we’re providing internal training to our investigators on the issue of trafficking and on taking action that is (inaudible). As the Vice President (inaudible) said, trauma-informed and survivor-centered.
We will step up our engagement with local human trafficking task forces and partners who have relationships with communities (inaudible) Department of Labor’s role. Additional resources in identifying both forced labor (inaudible) identifying those goods. In the coming year, we will be looking closely at abuses (inaudible) research in September 2022 along with our (inaudible).
My experience in this space has shown that the more we vilify or discount immigrants and workers, the more invisible and vulnerable we make them. Secretary Walsh and I and the entire Department of Labor look forward to continuing to work with our interagency partners and other key allies in the United States and abroad and all of our colleagues on this task force to combat and end the egregious form of worker abuse that is human trafficking.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Julie, thank you very, very much, including for that all-too evocative example of the operation that you were working on.
Over now to the Department of Education, the Deputy Secretary Cindy Marten.
MS MARTEN: Thank you very much, Secretary Blinken. Like my colleague Julie just said, as a teacher and a vice principal and a principal and then superintendent most recently in San Diego, I saw firsthand the risks that our students faced in our city, San Diego being a border city and a major port, commerce, and entertainment city. So I cannot understate the importance of identifying, preventing, responding to human trafficking as an issue that I personally take very seriously, seeing the impacts of our students – on our students.
And then I know the entire education community and the ecosystem can see how important that our role is so that we can prevent and protect, and we do it with the evidence-based practices that are going to help with awareness, identification, and response to incidents. Just a small fact that human trafficking, from recent accounts in San Diego alone, was an $810 million industry, and it put it, it put San Diego as one of the top 13 cities in the U.S. for human trafficking. That’s just at that scale. I know cities all around the country are grappling with this reality, and the roles that our schools and institutions can play in response can’t be understated. There are solutions that we can build together, and we do it through this really powerful interagency collaboration and a laser focus. Because I saw firsthand, when we do that, I saw it as a local leader taking that understanding along with the partnerships with local law enforcement, community organizations, how it helped us come up with real solutions on the ground that made a real difference for students.
I want to mention that Secretary Cardona and I are committed that the Department of Education is going to continue to do our part so we can raise the awareness around human trafficking in school communities across the country and offer the helpful resources that administrators, teachers, school counselors, food service workers, bus drivers, custodians, nurses, all the specialized instructional support, parents, caregivers, everybody can come together and combat human sex and labor trafficking.
So with that in mind, I want to share that at the Department of Ed, we have several activities that are planned right here and now for Fiscal Year 2022 around this important topic.
First of all, we have a three-part human trafficking professional development webinar series that’s designed specifically and targeted for educators so that they can recognize the risk, they can see the risk factors, and they can see signs and respond to suspicious activity. Once they see the risks, there are real actions that they can take. Through these webinars, we will expand the field of knowledge so people can take real action. The webinars will be distributed broadly as a part of the Department of Education’s efforts to recognize January as Human Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month.
Second, we have a series of six webinars for Fiscal Year 2022 also to share information, and all the resources on the sub-topics that are related to labor and sex trafficking, including things like cyber trafficking, which we all know has become prevalent during this pandemic. And then we have the development of some really easy-to-use communication tools that we know states and district localities need, resources to get out to the schools and to the districts that will support their local efforts at trafficking prevention and intervention efforts. And these are in really easy-to-use forms – posters and easy-to-carry palm cards – that allow the conversation to happen, that allow intervention and protection to take place.
And I just have to end by saying I’m very proud and excited that the department’s nominee – the Department of Ed nominated for the Presidential Award for Extraordinary Efforts to Combat Human Trafficking, as you mentioned earlier today, Tanya Gould has been selected to receive the important award. And that was the Department of Ed’s nominee. Ms. Gould has supported our department’s efforts to combat human trafficking. There is nothing more powerful than a story and her personal experience, being able to share that and help the field understand and inform administrators and educators and personnel across the country. We thank her for her efforts and for being recognized today. Thank you very much and congratulations to Tanya.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Cindy, thanks so much, and thank you for highlighting Tanya’s extraordinary work, but also thank you for bringing your own personal experience with you and that focus that you already had to this effort to Ed right now.
So now, really to in so many ways the front lines of this effort, to the Administrator of USAID Samantha Power, because the men and women of AID are really quite literally on the front lines every day.
Samantha, over to you.
MS POWER: Thank you so much, Secretary Blinken. Of course, right with our State Department colleagues, our Justice colleagues, all the people we’ve heard from today, it is a whole-of-government frontline effort more and more. It’s been really inspiring and extra-motivating to hear from so many colleagues and agencies about all that they are doing, and especially to hear the extent to which this work clearly stems from deep personal commitments as well as the leadership of President Biden and Vice President Harris, which, as you noted, Secretary Blinken, also itself follows the leadership in a bipartisan manner now over several decades.
As many have said today, human trafficking, the second-largest criminal industry in the world after the drug trade, affects 25 million people each year. Today I want to just start by talking about one person who has given us permission to share his story, Saiful Islam. Saiful was the youngest of seven children born to a poor family in northeast Bangladesh. Despite his modest upbringing, he earned a bachelor’s degree, found temporary work at a rural solar company, and married and had a daughter.
But when Saiful’s short-term work contract expired, he was unable to find another job. A local recruiter offered him an attractive job as an electrician in Singapore with a decent salary. Saiful sold the little land he had inherited to pay the $7,000 for his airfare and fees. But – and we all know where this story goes – when he arrived in Singapore, his world began to unravel. He was told he would work as a mason, not an electrician, for half of what he was originally promised, and even that proved a lie. In the end, he got no pay and barely enough to eat.
After a year of fund-raising by his wife, he was finally able to afford a ticket home, having lost his land and his money. And he had no better prospects than he had had before. Then he heard about an event sponsored by USAID to counter human trafficking. Through the program, he received counseling for his trauma, but also entrepreneurship training. Soon after, he opened a market stall to sell electronics, bringing in not only enough income to support his family, but enough to create a fund to support other survivors of human trafficking.
I use that word very intentionally, “survivor.” For decades, the human trafficking community had come to see people who experienced the horrors of forced labor, sexual exploitation, or violence as victims. Through President Biden’s National Action Plan and USAID’s newly updated Counter-Trafficking in Persons policy released in December, we’ve recognized that trafficking survivors need to be leading the change that we seek in the world. For 20 years, USAID has contributed to the U.S. government’s global anti-trafficking effort, providing more than $340 million in assistance in 83 countries. Our new policy builds on that legacy and works to empower survivors, creating programs that aren’t just focused on them but that are led by them.
The policy also identifies key priorities that serve to implement the National Action Plan. The first is a focus on marginalized populations. As Vice President Harris noted, marginalized populations are frequently the target of human traffickers. By some reports, women and girls account for 99 percent of all victims in the commercial sex industry and 58 percent in other forced labor sectors. Through our global labor initiatives, we are fighting gender-based violence and harassment in workplaces, facilitating stronger female representation in labor organizations and unions, and increasing dignified work opportunities for women and other marginalized populations.
Second, we are elevating the importance of migration and forced labor that is hidden in the global supply chain as they relate to human trafficking. Others have spoken to this, but as our world grows more interconnected, criminal enterprises are taking advantage of these flows of people and goods to subject millions to the hell of trafficking. We’re working with global labor leaders to shed light on dark corners of the supply chain like the cotton trade in Xinjiang or the fishing industry off the coast of Thailand. And we are working to tackle the root causes of migration like climate shocks, local violence, and a lack of jobs in order to keep desperate people from making desperate choices to trust their fates to duplicitous criminals.
Finally, we are prioritizing partnerships with local organizations in the countries in which we work, organizations like the one Saiful established to counter trafficking and protect survivors on the frontlines of this fight. By supporting these local organizations, we can help raise local awareness about trafficking, improve identifications and investigations, and strengthen the data collection and sharing about trafficking that helps others caught up in these criminal networks. Today Saiful, in addition to supporting survivors of trafficking financially, also counsels families through visits and phone calls. As he put it: As long as I’m alive, I will try my best to help them.
I want to thank President Biden and Vice President Harris and the strong bipartisan support of our allies on Capitol Hill for their leadership in empowering voices like Saiful’s. And I want to thank all of you for the collective efforts you’re making to end the horror of trafficking. Thank you so much.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Sam, thank you so much to you. Thanks for sharing that remarkable story of Saiful’s, and especially the ending, or at least the remaining chapters now to be written in a positive way thanks to the incredible work of USAID and your colleagues. It’s incredibly inspiring.
So I have now on my list – and with great gratitude for sticking things out – Mr. Director, the director of the FBI, Chris Wray.
MR WRAY: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. Needless to say, of all the many things that the FBI investigates, I think we feel – and I felt this way since I was a line prosecutor – that human trafficking is one of the most horrific. And I certainly agree with the sentiments and observations that have already been expressed, that we’re talking about a vicious and appalling cycle in which victims of human trafficking are held against their will, often beaten or starved, and coerced to perform sex work or forced labor under threats of blackmail or violence. What makes this so much worse and even more heartbreaking is that scores and scores of these victims are children.
And as has been said, human trafficking is of course a global scourge, but it’s everywhere, including right here in our backyard in the United States, which is of course our principal focus. At the FBI, we’re working hard with our partners both in law enforcement and nonprofits to fight back. And together, we’re sending the message that if you harm the most vulnerable among us, you will forfeit your right to live freely in this country.
At the FBI, we investigate all forms of human trafficking regardless of the victim’s age, gender, or nationality. I should say that on our end, about 95 percent of our human trafficking cases involve sex trafficking, while about 5 percent involve labor trafficking, recognizing that many who’ve already spoken focus more on the labor side. Our overall human trafficking caseload has increased significantly in the past several years. Every single one of our 56 field offices has encountered human trafficking in their areas, which tells you a lot about how pervasive this is even right here in the United States. And last fiscal year, the FBI arrested 786 traffickers. That’s 786 traffickers, each with scores of victims, in one year. And as of this month, we have more than 1,700 active human trafficking investigations.
In addition to our investigative and law enforcement work, a big part of our work also focuses on victims. We find them, rescue them, and our victim specialists work to get them the help they need to recover and rebuild their lives. That includes helping them with everything from getting access to food, clothing, housing, translation services, and support throughout the legal proceedings, which can in their own right be incredibly stressful. We also have child and adolescent forensic interviewers who are specially trained to account in our interviews for the development, potential trauma, and mental health of young victims.
Going forward, we’re of course going to be doing our part to carry out the National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking. We’re going to continue to work human trafficking cases across our entire enterprise, ensuring that we follow a – as you said, Mr. Secretary, a victim-centric, trauma-informed approach. And we’re going to keep doing all of that working hand in hand with our partners to continuously update our training, strengthen our investigations and prosecutions, and develop more effective strategies to combat these horrific crimes and make those who perpetrate them pay the price, not only by holding them accountable through criminal conviction and punishment, but also by seizing the proceeds of trafficking and seizing – seeking forfeiture of their assets.
Our mission at the FBI is to protect the American people and protecting kids in particular – the most vulnerable among us – is what drives so many in the FBI to join in the first place. It’s work that inspires us and drives us and we’re proud to do it, and we’re thankful for the help of our many partners, and we’re going to keep doing this work for as long as it takes, so thank you, Mr. Secretary.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Director, thank you. Thank you for the vital work that the bureau does. Thanks for putting the spotlight as well on the children, on the youngest survivors of trafficking, and all the focus you’re bringing to that.
So over now to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and its chair, Charlotte Burrows. Charlotte, thanks for sticking things out as well.
And Charlotte, I think you’re on mute.
MS BURROWS: I apologize. Well, thank you so much for the State Department’s vital role in coordinating this important work. I am so delighted to join the distinguished members of this task force to discuss the Administration’s critically important work to monitor and combat human trafficking. I’d like to thank President Biden and Vice President Harris for their incredible leadership on this issue.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is grateful to be part of the President’s Interagency Task Force, and as part of our efforts to protect the human and civil rights of all workers in the United States, the EEOC has an important role in the fight to end human trafficking through its litigation, outreach, and external partnerships. And I’d like to recognize the very hard work of the EEOC investigators and attorneys who have led the agency in unprecedented efforts to fight human trafficking, including several of our regional attorneys across the country as well as their teams.
We have at the EEOC recognized that all workers have a right to dignity and respect, including workers from immigrant, migrant, and other vulnerable communities, who are disproportionately affected by human trafficking, ensuring that right benefits all of us – our society and our economy. And human trafficking violates our most common values and really lowers the bar for all. So when traffickers and employers use force or fraud or coercion to exploit workers, those actions actually may violate the federal laws that we enforce, in particular the laws prohibiting employment discrimination based on race, national origin, sex, or disability.
For example, this past May, the EEOC collected $4.8 million on behalf of a class of Thai workers who were subjected to egregious trafficking and discrimination based on their race and national origin. These vulnerable workers were subjected to physical violence, harassment, and constant threats of deportation as well as arrest while being forced to live in horrible, deplorable, substandard conditions. And in support of this Administration’s priorities on gender and racial equity, workers’ rights, and aid to underserved communities, EEOC is working to fulfill its role in the national plan to combat human trafficking.
So in addition to our enforcement work, we’re engaged in interagency efforts to develop screening tools and training to help our frontline staff recognize the signs of human trafficking. We’re continuing our outreach to educate the public about EEOC’s role in trafficking issues and, in fact, over the last fiscal year held over 71 – over 70 agency events on trafficking that helped more than 35 attendees learn about our work. We’re expanding partnerships with federal agencies, nongovernmental organizations, and international partners so that we can help stakeholders understand when trafficking violates employment laws and how to get relief for victims.
And finally, we’re planning to roll out new materials on trafficking for our Youth@Work training program for high schoolers who are entering their very first jobs. So I thank you for the opportunity to share EEOC’s ongoing efforts to combat and prevent labor trafficking, and I look forward to the work ahead.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Charlotte, thanks very much for sharing the important work that EEOC is doing. We’re grateful for it.
And finally, I turn the floor over to Jen Klein, the co-chair of the White House Gender Policy Council, and I believe also to Liz Sherwood-Randall, for the White House’s perspective on this. Jen, Liz.
MS KLEIN: Thank you, Tony, Secretary Blinken. I’d like to start by congratulating the 2022 award recipients and thank —
SECRETARY BLINKEN: I think —
MS KLEIN: okay now? All you missed was that I thanked you. (Laughter.) I’d also like to thank the 2022 award recipients and all of you who presented on the efforts you’re leading across the federal government to combat human trafficking, a major security, human rights, and civil rights issue.
At the Gender Policy Council, we are focused on advancing gender equity and equality both domestically and globally. We recognize the effect of human trafficking on the most vulnerable members of our society, as well as the ways in which underlying social and economic circumstances can increase vulnerability for marginalized groups, including for women and girls, LGBTQI+ individuals, people of color, individuals with disabilities, migrants, and other members of underserved communities, as you’ve heard already today.
The executive order that created the Gender Policy Council called for the development of the first ever gender – National Strategy on Gender Equity and Equality to help guide a whole-of-government approach to advancing our commitments. In the National Gender Strategy released this past October, we identify 10 interconnected priorities and highlight the importance of taking an intersectional approach across our work. The National Gender Strategy underscores that our commitment to combating human trafficking is intertwined with our commitment to advancing equity. It also recognizes that trafficking is a multifaceted issue and must be tackled through a broad range of tools and interventions. The priorities outlined in the national strategy – including advancing women’s economic security, preventing and responding to gender-based violence, and promoting gender equity in our justice and immigration systems, and advancing human rights at home and abroad – are critical elements of this fight.
The National Gender Strategy also reinforces the government-wide approach the Administration is taking that you’ve heard about today to prevent and address human trafficking, outlined in the revised National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking. And it underscores that to make progress toward ending this scourge, we must address related issues. This includes efforts to address economic insecurity and mitigate the disproportionate risks facing low-wage workers, such as restaurant and janitorial workers; migrant workers, including farm workers; and those who work in conditions of isolation, including domestic workers and home health aides.
It also includes our efforts to address the impact of trafficking on missing and murdered Indigenous people. We will have an opportunity to highlight and expand our work around this particular issue later this year when the United States hosts the fourth trilateral working group on Ending Violence Against Indigenous Women and Girls with the governments of Mexico and Canada.
Throughout our work, we’re grateful for the leadership of survivors and the dedication of all of those who are on the frontlines every day providing services and support for survivors of human trafficking. In particular, we want to thank the members of the U.S. Advisory Council on Human Trafficking for your service and contributions.
And now I’m pleased to turn it over to Liz Sherwood-Randall, the National Homeland Security Advisor, to outline the way forward.
MS SHERWOOD-RANDALL: Thank you very much, Jen, and thank you so much to Secretary Blinken, my friend Tony, for hosting this extremely meaningful event. In addition to congratulating the recipients of the presidential award, I also want to thank each of you because this has been such an inspiring discussion to hear about the strength of our team in countering this incredibly pernicious phenomenon and in marshaling all of the resources that we can bring to the fight. I’m grateful for the opportunity to speak at the end of this gathering, and I’m only sorry that we aren’t able to do this together in person.
Human trafficking is evil, pure and simple. It is a terrifying tragedy for those who endure it, and it violates fundamental rights that we cherish as Americans. Over the last two decades, we have taken important steps to counter the spread of human trafficking and to support survivors, including through the vital work of the President’s Interagency Task Force. That progress includes prohibiting the importation of $500 million of goods made with forced labor in 2021, and increasing the resources available for human trafficking survivors. But the current situation in the world shows just how persistent the crime of human trafficking is, and by extension, how sustained and intensive our efforts have to be to counter it.
First, COVID-19, as has been mentioned, has compounded economic distress across the globe and is making individuals who are already at risk even more vulnerable to exploitative labor practices. Second, as a result of the pandemic, many people have shifted to conducting business online, including human traffickers, leading to an increase in online sex trafficking and the distribution of child sexual abuse material. Third, the increasingly complex global supply chain makes it harder to detect when goods are being made with forced labor. And fourth, transnational criminal organizations are increasingly operating as flatter and more nimble entities without the traditional hierarchical structure of cartels from the past, which makes disrupting their activities a multi-dimensional challenge.
Taken together, this means we need to do even more if we’re going to meet the challenges that we are facing. As you know, our Administration is seized with the human trafficking challenge, and the all-star team of leaders across the federal enterprise who have spoken today have demonstrated how seriously we’re taking this problem and have spoken about the ingenuity with which everyone is approaching it. To put an end to human trafficking, we do need a multinational approach at home and abroad. Guided by the National Action Plan that we released in December, we will prioritize new and expanded initiative through – initiatives through four lines of effort: prevention, protection, prosecution, and partnership.
For prevention, we are focused on enhancing outreach and education to increase the understanding of human trafficking’s root causes. We will also pioneer new strategies to help communities and individuals counteract traffickers’ recruitment tactics and their techniques, both at home and abroad.
For protection, we’re focused on increasing our support to survivors of human trafficking by ensuring that they have the full access they need to survivor-centered services.
For prosecution, we are focused on effectively leveraging all of our law enforcement tools to hold those who abuse their power and exploit vulnerable populations accountable. As part of these efforts, we will work to implement a new executive order signed just a few weeks ago that will bolster our capabilities against transnational criminal organizations engaged in human trafficking and other activities.
For partnerships, we’re focused on leveraging our domestic and international relationships with foreign governments, with NGOs, and with associations of state, local, tribal, and territorial officials to identify new threats and vulnerabilities and trends, and then to develop collaborative implementation plans so that together, we can increase our effectiveness in countering human trafficking.
Human trafficking obviously doesn’t happen in a vacuum. In addition to our targeted efforts that have been outlined today by various departments and agencies, we will also be linking our anti-trafficking initiatives to our wider efforts to counter transnational organized crime and illicit financing, to counter mis- and disinformation, to advance gender and racial equity, to expand the rights and dignity of working people, and to promote safe, orderly, and humane migration.
In sum, we recognize how big the problem is and will tackle it in a big way. As we look to the year ahead, we will continue to work with each of your departments and agencies to implement the updated National Action Plan and to translate our ideas into action. And with that, let me thank you again and turn this back to Secretary Blinken for closing remarks.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Liz, thank you so much for really wrapping things up in a very effective way, and also pointing us – pointing us forward. Let me just say to all of our colleagues across the government, to our expert partners, to our awardees, to everyone who has logged on and listened in today: Thank you. Thank you for joining us. Thank you for the work that so many are doing every single day to help the survivors, to hold traffickers accountable, to make our institutions and our communities better at preventing this crime. And I especially want to thank the teams behind those of us who are on screen today, because even as we come together today in this one afternoon, we know that every single day the women and men that we have working with us are doing the job, getting it done, helping us make progress. So I want to thank each and every one of them for the work that they’re doing.
I don’t think there’s a goal that is more worthy of our time, our ongoing efforts, or more aligned with our values as Americans than helping to give back to people a sense that they matter, as Tanya has put it; that they are imbued like all of us with innate dignity, with the right to be free. And that’s what this anti-trafficking work is all about, and simply put, thanks to each and every one of you for your part in doing it, and we look forward to the work ahead and to getting even more results, to being more effective, to delivering for those who have survived and to making sure we’re doing everything we can to prevent this scourge from moving forward.
So thanks to everyone. Appreciate all the time and we’ll see you in the days and weeks ahead. Thank you.