by Marie Damour
“Human trafficking ought to concern every person, because it is a debasement of our common humanity. It ought to concern every community, because it tears at our social fabric.” – President Barack Obama
Under the leadership of President Obama, the United States is dedicated to fighting modern day slavery at home and abroad. Because we recognize that no one country can solve this problem alone, we partner with governments around the world to improve and increase the prosecution of this crime, to prevent the crime from spreading, and to protect the individuals who are victimized by it.
According to the International Labor Organization, 21 million people worldwide are subjected to modern-day slavery. Because that number may be difficult for us to imagine, it helps to think of it in terms of the people affected: people around the world who are forced to work by means of physical threats, physical violence, psychological intimidation, and even actual confinement to ensure their compliance.
Major forms of human trafficking include: forced labor, sex trafficking, bonded labor, debt bondage, involuntary domestic servitude, forced child labor, child soldiers, and child sex trafficking. Trafficking is the 17-year-old girl who thinks she’ll be hired as a nanny, who ends up working 18 hours each day every day, and is beaten if she complains. Trafficking is the man working to feed his family, but ends up paying more for his room and board than he can hope to make on his job.
As regular blog readers know, Trafficking in Persons is a topic that we have written on before. Each year, the Department of State issues a Trafficking in Persons report, which is one of the world’s most comprehensive resources of governmental anti-human trafficking efforts. It reflects the U.S. Government’s commitment to global leadership on this key human rights and law enforcement issue. It represents an updated, global look at the nature and scope of trafficking in persons and the broad range of government actions required to confront and eliminate it.
Worldwide, the report is used by international organizations, foreign governments, and nongovernmental organizations alike as a tool to examine where resources are most needed. Freeing victims, preventing trafficking, and bringing traffickers to justice are the ultimate goals of the report and of the U.S Government’s anti-human trafficking policy.
It’s impossible to for anyone who comes into contact with the anti-TIP fight, even tangentially, not to realize how devastating Trafficking is for the individuals, the communities, and the countries involved. It’s an issue I’ve encountered in every country I’ve served in my diplomatic career.
It was therefore both a personal and professional pleasure to help support the global anti-TIP effort right here in New Zealand. On April 11-12, the U.S. Embassy partnered with the Salvation Army, ECPAT Child ALERT, and the Government of New Zealand to host a major Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Conference in Auckland. Over 100 NGO practitioners, government officials, law enforcement professionals, and academics gathered to share their organizations’ best practices to prevent people trafficking.
We were deeply honored that New Zealand Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse agreed to open the conference. He shared examples of the Government of New Zealand’s on-going commitment to combat human trafficking in his opening address, starting with with ensuring that people understand what trafficking – or modern-day slavery as it is often called — really is.
The Minister gave examples and commented on the significance of changes made in New Zealand’s commercial fishing industry to ensure that workers – no matter where they’re from – are all protected under New Zealand law.
Our conference keynote speaker Dr. Anne Gallagher shared her experiences from the front lines of combating trafficking. As a UN legal adviser and long-time anti-trafficking activist, she challenged the audience by reminding everyone that “today we know who is suffering and who is responsible. We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to end modern day slavery.” She stressed the importance of international cooperation both to protect victims and to prosecute perpetrators. Most important of all, we must remember that victims cannot be treated as criminals.
The conference’s dynamic debates and push for partnerships –- government-to-government, NGO-to-NGO, and civil society-to-government –- demonstrated a collective commitment to working together. We look forward to seeing progress made over this next year, across the globe and right here in New Zealand.
Readers may note that this is a big year for combating modern day slavery. It is the 150th anniversary of President Lincoln’s signing of the Emanicipation Proclamation.
If you are interested in learning more about ways to help, I encourage you to view the State Department’s checklist of 20 Ways You Can Help Fight Human Trafficking. More details about the conference program, photos, and media coverage can be found here.