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U.S. Works to Prevent Human Trafficking at Major Sporting Events
January 31, 2014

A crowd of people in front of the Olympics logo
The United States worked with Great Britain to prevent traffickers from taking advantage of the 2012 Summer Olympic Games. Shown here is crowded Olympic Park in London. (AP Images)

By Jane Morse

Washington — Olympic Games, World Cups and other major sporting events offer fun, excitement, and economic opportunities. They also attract the crime of human trafficking, says Luis CdeBaca, the ambassador-at-large for the U.S. State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons.

Major sporting events often require massive capital improvement and infrastructure projects, creating a huge demand for cost-effective labor and materials, CdeBaca told the House of Representatives’ Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organization at a January 27 hearing. In regions with sizable migrant populations, he said, much of this labor force will cross at least one border to reach the job site.

This raises questions for governments that host these events, CdeBaca said. What protections exist for these laborers? What methods are being used to screen migrant workers who may be victims of trafficking, including through debt bondage that resulted from paying hefty recruitment fees in their home countries?

Once events are underway, the locations become massive destinations for travel and tourism, he said, creating opportunities for human trafficking for sex.

Addressing those risks means putting safeguards in place every step of the way, CdeBaca said.

In recent years, the U.S. State Department has worked with governments and nongovernmental organizations in South Africa as they prepared for the 2010 FIFA World Cup and in the United Kingdom leading up to the 2012 Olympics, CdeBaca told the subcommittee. “We’ve collaborated on efforts to prevent trafficking surrounding these events and kept a close eye on reports that followed them. And if there’s an overarching lesson that we’ve taken away from these cases, it’s that efforts to respond to modern slavery need to be sustainable and comprehensive, targeting all forms of trafficking,” CdeBaca said.

The ambassador lauded the efforts of partners in the transportation industry like the nonprofit group Airline Ambassadors International and Delta Airlines, which, he said, are helping to make fighting trafficking part of the way air carriers do business.

In the corporate hospitality sector, Carlson and Hilton Hotels and Resorts long have been leaders in private-sector action to combat human trafficking, the ambassador said.

“One of the biggest challenges we face in the struggle against modern slavery is the relative lack of public data and research on this issue,” CdeBaca said. He urged more comprehensive crime-information gathering at major sporting events both in the United States and abroad.

Human trafficking, CdeBaca said, takes place every day in every country in the world, victimizing an estimated 27 million men, women and children. Despite the scope of this crime, around the world roughly only 40,000 victims of trafficking are being identified each year, he said.

“Every single person living under the yoke of modern slavery is the victim of a kind of exploitation that has no place in the 21st century,” CdeBaca said. “And every single victim deserves our focus and our attention.”

“So in cases where we suspect there may be a heightened risk of trafficking — whether relating to a particular industry or migration route or major event — we need to ramp up efforts to prevent this crime and root it out,” CdeBaca said. “We need not only to build on established best practices, but to develop fresh ideas for identifying victims, investigating trafficking cases and enforcing trafficking laws.”