Human Trafficking Spotlighted In Senate Hearing

By Ean Marshall

One of today’s most pressing yet underreported global issues has been the rise of human trafficking, whether it is companies engaging in forced labor, women being sold into sexual slavery, or forced child marriages. This was the topic of discussion for the Foreign Relations Committee last Wednesday afternoon, specifically how the United States can assume a ole of leadership in combating human trafficking through the State Department and through cooperation with other countries.

Ranking Member Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) said that the problem of human trafficking “should be a global cry for justice. But as Benjamin Franklin said ‘Justice will not be served until those of us who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.’ “ Menendez then cited figures from the State Department that out of the world’s 50 million refugees, the highest number since World War II, 21 million have been victims of human trafficking, and that the human trafficking trade is the second most profitable source of income for criminals after the drug trade.” Menendez was also outraged with “the scourge of diplomats who themselves have trafficked in domestic workers, bringing them to work for embassies” as was the case in New Jersey.

Testifying before the committee was Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights Sarah Seawall. Seawall, a former professor at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government who also serves as a Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues, spoke about her role in both preventing and combating human trafficking, declaring, “Solving this problem is a priority of mine. It harms people and communities, it corrupts labor markets and global supply chains, it undermines the rule of law and stability. And in today’s global community, as citizens and consumers, we are all impacted by slavery even if we do not realize it.” Citing a survey from SlaveryFootprint.org, she realized “that many of the products I use on a daily basis, like the batteries in my cell phone, the chocolate that I eat, the cotton clothes that I wear, may have been produced by slaves.”

Seawall commented that awareness of slavery and human trafficking has increased over the last 15 years, “moving from a misunderstood side issue to an international priority” noting that over 100 countries have passed anti-trafficking laws, and that some of them have developed special units to deal with human trafficking cases. But despite this, Sewall said that there was much work to be done, citing the State Department’s annual Trafficking In Persons (TIP) Report’s note that fewer than 45,000 trafficking victims have been identified by governments in the year 2014. In addition, “Convictions of traffickers remain woefully low” according to Seawall.

She then launched into detail about the programs that the US has implemented in fighting human trafficking, like the State Department’s TIP office, which oversees 98 projects in 71 countries. Seawall said that these projects work by implementing “what is known as the three P paradigms: prevention, protection of victims, and prosecution of suspected traffickers.” One of the successful projects Seawall was in Jordan, where the United States Agency of International Development (USAID) integrated counter-trafficking activities to a wider human rights program against gender violence and forced labor amongst Syrian refugees. She also proudly announced that he State Department’s Child Protection Complex Program (CPC) had partnered with Ghana to prevent child labor there.

Sewall was then questioned by members of the Foreign Relations Committee on a number of issues surrounding human trafficking. When asked by Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) about the involvement of the other bureaus of the state department in combatting this issue, Sewall used the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) and the International Law Enforcement Academies (ILEAS) use of anti-trafficking training for their employees.

Senator Menendez, who has expressed concerns about the US’s move toward opening diplomatic and trade relations with Cuba (due to being the son of Cuban immigrants), questioned Sewall about Cuba’s commitment to fighting human trafficking, claiming that “according to the State Department’s TIP Report, the government of Cuba does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the implementation of anti-trafficking laws.” Mendez said that not only was the country a source destination “for adults and children subjected to sex trafficking”, but that the Cuban government sent doctors and medical personnel to “work in conditions that could be described as forced labor, the number one source of income for the Castro regime.” Sewall replied that with the US government opening up talks with the Cubans, she hoped to “make progress with combating human trafficking.”

Though she acknowledged that the fight against human trafficking was a long and arduous one, Sewall commended the government’s leadership in “elevating the profile of this issue, and helping individuals escaped from modern slavery to galvanize the work of others.”

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