The State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Human Trafficking issued the 2013 edition of its annual Trafficking in Human Persons Report on Wednesday. The report found that while efforts to combat trafficking are on the rise, the overall number of people in captivity remains obscenely high. An estimated 27 million people around the world are currently forced laborers or held in bondage, a global enormity the department has referred to as “modern slavery.”
Of that number, only about 46,000 victims were fully identified and provided the help needed to free them in the past year, according to the report. The number of convictions of traffickers and slavers jumped 20 percent over the same time period.
The State Department’s ranking system orders states places states in a three-tier ranking based on how much effort they devote to addressing human trafficking within their borders. Those states at Tier 1 — including the United States itself — have shown a commitment to combating human trafficking, such as making compelled service a serious crime, while also providing protections for victims both domestic and foreign. Those on the Tier 2 Watch List are putting little effort into anti-trafficking enforcement, Tier 3 states show a chronic disinclination to fight the practice.
Three countries — Iraq, Azerbaijan, and the Republic of the Congo — were lifted off of the watch-list and into Tier 1 due to recent improvements. Three others, however, became the first states penalized under a provision in the Trafficking Victims Protection Act Reauthorization of 2008 that automatically downgrades states who spend two years on the Watch List into Tier 3. While waivers are available, these three states — Russia, China, and Uzbekistan — have run out of chances.
In a briefing with reporters, the State Department’s Ambassador-at-Large for Human Trafficking Luis CdeBaca explained that while China is making some small progress in combating trafficking, its action plan was both too little and too late to matter for this year’s report. Russia, by contrast, is actively using forced labor to construct the venues required for the 2014 Winter Olympics to be held in Sochii, according to Human Rights Watch. The report also makes clear that while the Russian authorities receive training in handling trafficking abuses, investigation into complaints is rare. CdeBaca also informed the assembled journalists that, next year, another six countries will no longer be eligible for waivers: Afghanistan, Barbados, Chad, Malaysia, the Maldives, and Thailand.
The key to fighting this trafficking, CdeBaca said, is eliminating the “zone of impunity” traffickers feel they operate in. These zones come in a variety of forms, he explained, including “being out past the 12 mile limit and so feeling like you can operate without any police or coast guard oversight, …a zone of impunity because the victims are, say for instance, illegal immigrants from Burma or Cambodia, or are members of ethnic minorities like those hill tribes girls, or…corruption.”
President Obama outlined his commitment to fighting against human trafficking in a speech at the Clinton Global Initiative last September. In his remarks, Obama laid out the reasons for the world to stand behind efforts to fight trafficking. “It ought to concern every person, because it is a debasement of our common humanity,” Obama said . “It ought to concern every community, because it tears at our social fabric. It ought to concern every business, because it distorts markets. It ought to concern every nation, because it endangers public health and fuels violence and organized crime. I’m talking about the injustice, the outrage, of human trafficking, which must be called by its true name — modern slavery.”