Last week, the 2021 US Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP) was released. The TIP Report is the United States government’s principal diplomatic tool to engage foreign governments on human trafficking. Although other trafficking reports exist around the world, the TIP Report is considered the most comprehensive resource of governments’ effort to combat human trafficking.
Annually, the TIP Report “ranks” each country’s efforts to comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking found in Section 108 of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. The Tier system is defined by three rankings, or “tiers,” with the first being the highest. Tier 1 indicates that a government fully meets the TVPA’s minimum standards. Tier 2 ranking reflects countries whose governments do not fully comply with the TVPA’s minimum standards, but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance. The Tier 2 Watch List, a provisionary ranking given to countries between the Tier 2 and 3 rankings, gives governments a two-year period to make efforts to address the problem and meet minimum standards. Tier 3 is given to countries whose governments do not fully comply with the minimum standards and are not making significant efforts to do so. Restrictions on foreign assistance can be imposed on governments with a Tier 3 ranking.
The Trafficking in Persons Report continued to overemphasize prosecution and underemphasize prevention when determining tier rankings, praising governments for increasing prosecutions and convictions without analysis as to the quality of those cases or whether due process was respected. As Anne Gallagher, a 2012 TIP hero, warned “[p]ressuring underdeveloped, often corrupt states to improve their dismal prosecution rates (as is official US policy) contributes directly to serious miscarriages of justice. This is not progress; it is a charade.”
The Seafood Working Group, a coalition of 26 human rights, labor rights, and environmental NGOs, recommended that Taiwan be downgraded to Tier 2. Nevertheless, Taiwan remained on Tier 1 even though the report acknowledges failures with respect to preventative measures. The first sentence explaining why the Tier 1 ranking was earned related to law enforcement efforts: “investigating and sentencing more traffickers to significant prison terms.”
Other tier rankings that garnered criticism from the NGO community were the continued Tier 1 ranking of Bahrain and the upgrade to Tier 2 for Saudi Arabia. In both countries, migrant workers continue to face abysmal conditions.
We were pleased that the U.S. narrative included information about forced labor in immigration detention centers and prisons, and acknowledged that advocates are calling for the elimination of the punishment exception, the language in the thirteenth amendment that allows for slavery or involuntary servitude as punishment for those convicted of a crime. Human Trafficking Search has conducted research on prison labor and advocates for amending the Constitution to remove the punishment exception. Senator Merkley and Representative Williams introduced the Abolition Amendment ahead of Juneteenth which, if passed, would accomplish that.
While we do not agree with every ranking, the information in the TIP Report is a valuable resource in the fight against human trafficking.