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USUN Statement on the 2015 Trafficking in Persons Report
December 14, 2015

Susan Coppedge
Ambassador-at-Large, Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons

Remarks at the United States Mission to the United Nations
New York City,

November 6, 2015

As Prepared for Delivery

Thank you, Ambassador Mendelson, for that warm welcome. I would also like to extend a special thanks both to USUN for hosting today’s event and to Peggy Kerry for making sure that we continue the tradition of holding this briefing each year.

I am glad to be here today to talk about the 2015 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report. We very much value this sort of dialogue with key stakeholders not only to raise awareness, but also to better understand what is happening on the ground and hear your ideas on how governments, including the United States, can improve the way they respond to this crime.

The TIP Report is the United States’ principal diplomatic tool to engage with foreign governments and advance global efforts to combat trafficking in persons.

The U.S. government uses “trafficking in persons” as an umbrella term for all of the conduct involved in reducing a person to, or maintaining a person in, a state of compelled service for sex or labor. This approach is consistent with the U.N. standards in the Palermo Protocol as it embraces the “3P” paradigm of prosecuting traffickers, protecting victims, and preventing the crime from happening in the first place.

I strongly believe in addressing this crime holistically. Although my experience was in prosecution, I learned that when governments and NGOs work together they can better stabilize and protect victims. I could not have brought successful criminal cases without partnering with providers of essential victim services. I also worked to train law enforcement offices and communities to recognize trafficking. This not only helps to identify victims more effectively, but may also be instrumental in preventing the crime, as well.

Because human trafficking is a crime, governments have a responsibility to respond to it. In 2000, Congress passed the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), which mandates that the State Department publish an annual report outlining the progress of governments’ efforts around the world to fight modern slavery. With this mandate comes a set of minimum standards against which government efforts world-wide are ranked.

The 2015 TIP Report ranks 188 countries and territories, including the United States. The Report provides detailed narratives about the anti-trafficking efforts of each of these governments and offers recommendations to strengthen their responses to the crime. In addition, it assists my office in targeting our foreign assistance efforts in those countries where the Report has indicated the political will to improve, but a lack of the necessary resources to do so.

I should note that the minimum standards are just that – the minimum. Just because a country is ranked Tier 1, does not mean that government has done everything it can to combat trafficking. We can all do more to address this global problem. A Tier 1 ranking means a country is meeting the minimum standards in the TVPA.

Countries that are not yet in full compliance with the minimum standards, but are making significant efforts to meet them, are placed on Tier 2. And countries that are making significant efforts but, for example, have not increased their anti-trafficking efforts compared to the previous year, are placed on what’s called the Tier 2 Watch List.

Finally, Tier 3 is reserved for those governments that aren’t making significant efforts. Those countries are subject to certain foreign assistance restrictions, unless waived by the President.

Each year, the assessments that underlie the Tier rankings are made after thorough and careful analysis of a wide range of data. Our reports officers gather information from: U.S. embassies, government officials, NGOs, international organizations, published reports, news articles, academic studies, research trips to every region of the world, and information submitted to our office.

Of the 188 countries and territories assessed in this year’s Report, 18 countries were upgraded. Unfortunately, government efforts fell short in 18 countries, which were downgraded in the Report.

We also saw this year that there were more prosecutions, but fewer convictions (4,443 down from 5,776 in the 2014 Report); while the number of victims identified remained about the same – almost 45,000. When the number of victims identified is so much lower than the number of victims estimated globally – more than 20 million – it starkly illustrates that we all must do more to address the problem.

This is why every single TIP Report narrative includes recommendations for what governments can be doing better to tackle this problem across the 3Ps – whether by enacting effective anti-trafficking laws, establishing specialized law enforcement units, setting up trafficking victim assistance mechanisms, or launching public awareness campaigns.

Another notable aspect of the 2015 Trafficking in Persons Report is the theme this year: Preventing Human Trafficking in Global Supply Chains. The Introduction highlights the risks that many individuals, especially migrants, face when seeking employment; and it addresses the role governments, the private sector, and civil society can play in mitigating those risks. Some of the details explored are noteworthy. I’ll share just a few:

  • First, global supply chains are long, complex, and multinational. And, they are not transparent. Human trafficking can take place along any part of these supply chains – in the extraction of raw materials, in the component manufacturing stage, or in the production stage.
  • Second, the risks of human trafficking are also present in the service sector – businesses must be concerned not only with the products they source but with the labor of those who work in the industry.
  • Third, human trafficking is more prevalent in industries that rely on low-skilled labor for jobs that are considered dirty, dangerous, and difficult; there are higher risks in industries of a seasonal nature or where turn-around time for production is short, and in industries that rely on labor contractors to hire employees. Fierce competition that leads to cost-cutting also can negatively affect the treatment of workers.
  • Fourth, practices that facilitate human trafficking often occur in the recruitment process. These practices typically include charging recruitment fees to workers, contract switching, document confiscation, and abuse of the legal process.
  • Fifth, sex trafficking can also be prevalent in certain industries where populations of workers are in isolated locations, such as logging, agriculture, and extractive industries – where non-renewable raw materials such as oil, gas, metals, and minerals are removed from the earth. Forced labor in such industries has been well-documented; but the connection to sex trafficking is increasingly an issue of grave concern among governments and advocates alike. Sex trafficking often occurs with impunity in these areas, because they can be difficult to access and lack meaningful government presence. It is also difficult to find information on victim identification and law enforcement efforts in these industries.
  • Sixth, governments can lead by example by prohibiting trafficking in persons in their own supply chains and by encouraging dialogue and partnerships to bring businesses and anti-trafficking experts together.
  • Finally, businesses have a big role to play. Executive buy-in at the highest levels is needed to craft strong anti-trafficking policies and send a clear message – to employees, business partners, investors, and consumers – that the practices that lead to human trafficking will not be tolerated. Businesses should map their entire supply chains, down to the level of raw materials, to gain a better understanding of risks and gaps in transparency. They should monitor those areas in their supply chains most at risk and ensure that policies are being enforced. Additional steps include implementing comprehensive anti-trafficking training for all employees, developing remediation plans, and providing effective grievance mechanisms.

In addition, topics of special interest included in this year’s Report look at how to overcome harmful cultural norms; preventing domestic servitude in diplomatic households; a victim centered-approach to victim-witness testimony; and modern slavery as a tactic in armed conflict.

Finally, the Report marks the 15th anniversary of the U.N. Palermo Protocol. Today, there are 168 States that have become party to the Protocol – 2 more (Singapore and Sri Lanka) than since we issued this year’sReport. Many of these countries have implemented the “3P” paradigm of prosecuting traffickers, protecting victims, and preventing the crime through the passage and implementation of national anti-trafficking laws.

And countries continue to update their legal framework to better address this crime. In 2014, Haiti enacted the Law to Combat Trafficking in Persons. Burundi also enacted its first anti-trafficking law in 2014. In March 2015, the United Kingdom enacted the Modern Slavery Act to refine the country’s legal framework. These are only a few examples.

As many of you know, we are also celebrating 15 years of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act in the United States. As I highlighted in my blog on the anniversary last week, we have many challenges ahead of us as well. One of my priorities as Ambassador of the TIP Office will be to address the wrongful prosecution of trafficking victims for crimes committed as a direct result of their victimization. This is a persistent and pressing issue both here in the United States and around the world.

Victims of trafficking should not be held liable for their involvement in unlawful activities that are a direct consequence of their victimization. Trafficked individuals who are forced to commit a crime are commonly mistaken for criminals – rather than being identified as victims – and therefore treated as such by law enforcement and judicial officials. Many victims of trafficking remain undetected among those who have committed crimes because of a lack of proper victim identification and screening. This can mean:

  • a child victim of sex trafficking, as well as an adult survivor of sex trafficking who cannot get a job because of prior arrests for prostitution, or
  • a foreign domestic worker who has fled her abusive household and needs protection, but instead is penalized for violating U.S. immigration laws, or
  • children and migrants coerced by organized criminal groups to work as assassins or in the production, transportation, and sale of drugs.

We must do our utmost to ensure these individuals are treated as survivors of human trafficking and afforded the dignity of being assisted, not harmed. This is at the heart of the victim-centered approach to combating trafficking.

As governments around the world work to improve their anti-trafficking efforts, it is critical that officials – including police, prosecutors, judges, immigration officials, and social services staff – be trained to distinguish trafficking victims from criminals and to prevent further victimization and start the process of recovery as soon as possible.

While a government institution will never be able to reverse the trauma of human trafficking, governments can aid an individual’s recovery by providing support to each victim on their journey toward becoming a survivor. Identifying the victim is also critical to understanding and prosecuting the true crime that has taken place, and ensuring adequate care and support to trafficking victims facilitates their ability to provide testimony in the prosecution of offenders.

The U.N. has recognized that this is an important issue. Principle 7 of the Recommended Principles and Guidelines on Human Rights and Human Trafficking issued by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights provides that:

“[t]rafficked persons shall not be detained, charged or prosecuted for the illegality of their entry into or residence in countries of transit and destination, or for their involvement in unlawful activities to the extent that such involvement is a direct consequence of their situation as trafficked persons.”

Likewise, every TIP Report narrative addresses whether or not governments ensure that trafficking victims are not punished for crimes they committed as a direct result of being trafficked.

That’s why this will be one of my top priorities as Ambassador. I have already asked my staff to work in collaboration with their counterparts in the Department and at other agencies to seek to address the wrongful criminalization of trafficking victims.

I look forward to continuing to work with all of you as we strengthen our combined efforts to combat human trafficking. Thank you for your commitment, and I would be happy to answer any questions you might have.

(end remarks)