Storm clouds on the horizon for U.S. human trafficking rankings

Storm clouds on the horizon for U.S. human trafficking rankings

Storm clouds on the horizon for U.S. human trafficking rankings

Each June, the United States releases the annual Trafficking in Persons Report (“TIP Report”), setting forth each country’s response to forced labor and sex trafficking. Mandated by the U.S. Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 and reflecting the ethos of the United Nations Protocol of that same year, the 2020 TIP Report is a strong document that commemorates and builds on the legacy of the last two decades while not flinching from facts that demonstrate just how far we have to go in this centuries-old fight.

The Report celebrates the work of anti-trafficking heroes from around the globe and highlights such important topics as trauma bonding, peacekeepers, athletic recruitment, and addiction.

Read over time, TIP Reports reflect each country’s development from initial awareness and legislation to implementation and improvement. They don’t just tell about successes, but expose stagnation and obstacles.

Assembled by a dedicated team under the challenges of COVID-19 lockdowns, this year’s Report, though it commemorates the 20th Anniversary of the modern anti-trafficking movement, should be read not as a triumphalist document but as a warning of storm clouds on the horizon:

The 3Ps, and Governmental leadership, are under strain.  The Report analyzes countries’ efforts under the “3P” approach (holding that Prevention, Protection, and Prosecution should be co-equal, as opposed to deferring to States’ security interests and prostitution policies over human rights and labor rights in vulnerable communities). But the 2020 Report shows a weakening of victim protections even in countries which were considered models, a seeming lack of urgency on the part of governments to get real results, and a reversion by countries to an almost exclusive focus on sex trafficking. Consumer activism, corporate engagement, and private lawsuits are exciting — that energy needs to be reflected in governments’ pursuit of victim identification and protection, prosecution, and prevention. If these troubling trends emerge from a Report based primarily on the situation pre-COVID, what will be the fallout as governments take an increasingly authoritarian turn in the pandemic?

What happened to labor trafficking? Bringing sex trafficking under the human rights basis of anti-slavery laws and treaties was meant to extend protection to those victims, not to shift enforcement entirely to sexual exploitation. But this year’s data (admittedly problematic, but a rough guide to countries’ priorities) suggest that carceral and security-based sex trafficking responses predominate, with the fewest number of labor trafficking cases identified in the history of the Report. There were apparently only 28 labor cases brought in the entire Western Hemisphere, with the U.S. appearing to have brought 21 of them. When unscrupulous labor brokers and abusive bosses have nothing to fear from government, it undercuts workers’ ability to organize and protect themselves.

Read more here.