Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, traffickers continue to operate to ensure victims are not free to choose where they live, how they work, or who has access to their bodies. Economic uncertainty, movement restrictions, lockdowns, and disruptions to state services have made the most vulnerable more vulnerable. Traffickers are capitalizing on the chaos of the pandemic, finding ways to increase their exploitation. As government and philanthropic efforts and resources are stretched to respond to the pandemic, financial support for anti-trafficking efforts is limited. The TIP Office is dedicated to supporting efforts to combat human trafficking, taking into account the everyday challenges in combating human trafficking due to the impacts of COVID-19 and government measures to counter it.
On April 23, 2020, the TIP Office hosted a global webinar with TIP Office grantees to address concerns on the impacts of COVID-19 on trafficking in persons around the world. The discussion addressed a myriad of topics including the impact of the virus on residential shelters, governments redirecting anti-trafficking resources to COVID-19 response, the impact of the economic downturn, the effects of border closures, and changes in the types of exploitation occurring with COVID-19 restrictions. This initial webinar has led to continued discussions with current grantees to work on how to address the impacts of COVID-19 on human trafficking.
The TIP Office is working with current grantees and other anti-trafficking stakeholders in a number of ways to address the impacts of the virus on human trafficking. Below are just a few examples of how TIP Office project implementing partners are having an impact in their communities:
- In the Balkans (Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro), Terres des Hommes is increasing the access to comprehensive services for victims of trafficking. Building on the efforts of this project, Terres des Hommes is providing essential food packages, housing/rent payments, health, family cash assistance support, clothes, and IT equipment to address economic and psycho-social needs during COVID-19.
- In Zimbabwe, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) is enhancing the Government of Zimbabwe and civil society efforts to coordinate anti-trafficking responses and protect victims of trafficking. Under this project, IOM is able to provide personal protective equipment to victims of trafficking and services providers.
- Globally, the British Institute of International and Comparative Law (BIICL) is analyzing the ability of national and international legal frameworks to respond to the changing nature of human trafficking and help identify solutions; and developing a strong evidence base on the impact of COVID-19 on anti-trafficking efforts and of the public health emergency as a determinant of anti-trafficking policies. To launch these efforts, BIICL convened a webinar in July 2020, link: https://www.biicl.org/projects/covid-19-impacts-on-efforts-to-combat-human-trafficking .
- Globally, China Labor Watch (CLW) will work directly with overseas Chinese migrant workers most affected by forced labor in various Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) countries, many of whom have been stranded in BRI projects abroad amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The project will neither support nor promote the BRI, and instead will provide services to victims who worked or are working as part of the BRI. Furthermore, this project will raise awareness of China’s escalated human trafficking, and particularly forced labor operations, in BRI projects during the COVID-19 pandemic. CLW will provide training to trafficking victims, provide guidance on securing healthcare and COVID-19 vaccines, collaborate with the media to expose the trafficking crimes in BRI projects, and help labor trafficking victims to escape from exploiters, regaining their freedom. Funding for this project will enable CLW to collect evidence through two on-site visits to meet with victims and conduct groundbreaking research to better understand the extent and impact of forced labor along the Belt and Road Initiative.
- In Laos, Village Focus International will directly increase the capacity of front-line Laotian stakeholders by establishing COVID-19 Task Force Committees at the Quarantine Centers. More than 200,000 migrants have returned from Thailand due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite border closures, thousands of migrants continue to make the trek home to Laos each day. Upon returning, migrants are processed through under-resourced governmental Quarantine Centers, which lack both the capacity to identify victims of trafficking and the resources to provide support to survivors. At least 270 Health Care officials, Labor and Social Welfare officials, Immigration Police, Soldiers, and other key officials will be trained in human trafficking victim identification, data documentation, and service referral strategies.
- In Nepal, Terre des Hommes (TdH) in partnership with two Nepal-based organizations, is working to ensure children at-risk of and child victims of human trafficking in the border regions of Nepal have increased access to responsive protection services. Government officials and anti-trafficking stakeholders expressed alarm at the sharp spike of human trafficking cases despite COVID-19 lockdowns, especially for children. There have been 900,000 more calls to the National Childline for Distress Calls between March and August 2020 than the same period in 2019 and an increase in reports of high psychosocial distress in child survivors. TdH is strengthening the capacity of government officials, civil society organizations, and service providers on identification and referral measures as well as psychosocial support for child victims.
- In Nigeria, Pathfinders Justice Initiative will provide economic recovery, basic needs, and mental health support to at least 60 survivors of sex trafficking, and other individuals vulnerable to trafficking due to the pandemic, over the next two years. COVID-19 lockdowns, quarantine, travel restrictions and a collapse in oil prices have triggered the worst recession in four decades. This economic calamity has exacerbated the pandemic’s impact on human trafficking, particularly on women and young girls who are vulnerable to domestic violence, more likely to be excluded from the formal education system, and at-risk of sexual exploitation. This project will utilize a survivor-led, trauma-informed approach that will connect survivor advocates with at-risk women.
- In Sudan, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) will support implementation of the Juba Peace Agreement and the Constitutional Declaration by assisting the Government of Sudan to fulfill its commitment to protect human rights and strengthen the rule of law to combat trafficking in persons. IOM will support the Government of Sudan to respond to COVID-19 impacts on human trafficking through policy-oriented research, trainings on victim identification for frontline government officials and migrant community leaders, and the direct provision of critical protection services for victims of trafficking.
The TIP Office recognizes the pressures governments and civil society organizations are under to combat human trafficking and manage the impacts of COVID-19. To continue efforts to address the needs of organizations to combat trafficking in persons, the TIP Office announced an Annual Program Statement to address the impacts of COVID-19 on efforts to combat human trafficking and support government measures to counter human trafficking. Organizations interested in applying for funding under this initiative should review the information available on the TIP Office Website, the State Assistance Management System (SAMS Domestic), or grants.gov.
Organizations that have questions on the TIP Office’s response to address the impacts of COVID-19 on human trafficking or wishing to provide information on changes in the local context should email JTIPGrants@state.gov.
Sources of Information on COVID-19:
For the most up-to-date information and guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, please visit:
The World Health Organization also has a website that includes travel guidance, technical guidance, and news on disease outbreaks, including COVID-19:
https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019 (link is external)
For the most up-to-date information from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration within the U.S. Department of Labor, please visit:
For the most up-to-date information on overseas travel from the U.S. Department of State, please visit:
Redirecting Resources to Respond to COVID-19:
- Implementing partners should not undertake any new work or change approved work plans without consulting their Program Officer(s) and Grants Officer(s) and receiving written authorization to do so.
Disruptions to Implementation:
- If partners anticipate, or are experiencing, disruptions to the implementation of a TIP Office-funded program, whether because of health/safety issues, quarantine actions, travel restrictions, or logistical concerns (such as supply-chain interruptions), they should inform their PO(s), who will then consult with the cognizant GO(s) and provide guidance.
- In the event any TIP Office implementing partner (whether under a cooperative agreement or grant) needs to modify or suspend the implementation of a previously agreed-to work plan, it must first notify its PO, who, in turn, will coordinate with the cognizant GO for approval.
Allowability of Costs Related to COVID-19:
- The TIP Office understands that, as a result of the outbreak, some of our implementing partners might find themselves incurring additional implementation costs not originally envisioned, principally related to safety measures and the protection of staff.
- The TIP Office will consider any additional proposed costs on a case-by-case basis, provided that such costs are “allowable, allocable, and reasonable.”
— To be allowable, costs must be allocable and reasonable:
• The standard for what is “reasonable”” is what a prudent person would do under the circumstances that were prevailing at the time the decision was made to incur the cost. See Section 200.404 of Title 2 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR).
• GOs will consider all justifications for expenses:
– They will be particularly inclined to view as prudent, and thus reasonable and allowable, those expenses incurred based on U.S. Government actions or directives.
— At this time, reasonable costs in relation to safety measures are generally allowable.
- The TIP Office recognizes that if the outbreak of COVID-19 results in staff being temporarily unable to report to work, it could be prudent to maintain readiness–that is, continue to incur operating costs–to be able to restart activities immediately if circumstances or instructions change.
- Before incurring any additional costs relating to COVID-19, partners must contact their POR(s) and GO(s) for approval, when required:
— Please note that these costs are subject to audit.
- All costs, including incurred costs, must not exceed the obligated amount of the award.