By Tom Strode
WASHINGTON (BP) — A nearly equal number of countries received upgrades and downgrades regarding their efforts against human trafficking in the last year, the U.S. State Department said in its annual Trafficking in Persons Report.
The State Department’s report, which was released June 25, graded 22 governments higher than the previous year but demoted 23 in its tier system of categorizing how 188 countries performed in preventing trafficking, protecting victims, and prosecuting traffickers. An estimated 25 million adults and children are victims of sex trafficking or forced labor, according to the State Department.
The 20th annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report “helps us to see just how much work there is yet to do in helping vulnerable people escape the trap of these predators and predatory networks,” Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), said in written remarks. “That 25 million people are enslaved around the world is an indictment of our age. That many ignore this reality is an even further indictment. God created human beings in His image and never gave human beings dominion or ownership over other image bearers.
“The Scriptures tell us that those who traffic in human beings are in rebellion against God’s justice (1 Timothy 1:10).”
In introducing the report, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said, “[D]esecration of the inherent value and immeasurable worth of human beings, each of us created in the image of God, makes human trafficking a truly wicked act.”
The United States joined 33 other countries in Tier 1, a category reserved for governments that fully comply with the minimum standards to eliminate trafficking.
Meanwhile, China and Russia were among 19 countries in Tier 3, which is for governments that “do not fully meet” minimum standards and “are not making significant efforts to do so,” according to the report. Under federal law, President Trump will have 90 days to determine whether to eliminate non-humanitarian, non-trade-related foreign aid to governments in Tier 3.
Among the country upgrades and downgrades, Namibia and Singapore moved up one level to Tier 1, while Japan fell from Tier 1 to Tier 2. Afghanistan, Algeria, Lesotho, and Nicaragua fell from the Tier 2 Watch List to Tier 3. Bhutan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, The Gambia, Mauritania, and Saudi Arabia moved from Tier 3 to the Tier 2 Watch List.
Tier 2 is for countries that do not fully satisfy minimum requirements but “are making significant efforts,” while the separate Tier 2 Watch List is reserved for countries that do not comply with minimum standards and are experiencing increased numbers of victims and failing to demonstrate efforts to combat trafficking.
Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., a leader in the anti-trafficking effort in Congress, described the report as “tough but fair.”
“Friends are taken to task,” he said. “It appears to call balls and strikes accurately. … The TIP report takes modern day slavery head-on, providing a measuring stick for progress – or for regression, and sanction.”
Smith’s original anti-trafficking bill, which became law in 2000, established the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons and required an annual report. He also has authored four more anti-trafficking laws since then.
The report said the U.S. efforts that enabled it to remain in Tier 1 included “increasing the number of investigations, increasing the amount of funding for victim services, and increasing enforcement of the prohibition of imports made wholly or in part by forced labor.”
Yet, it also said the U.S. “prosecuted fewer cases and secured convictions against fewer traffickers [than the previous year], issued fewer victims trafficking-specific immigration benefits, and did not adequately screen vulnerable populations for human trafficking indicators.”
The Polaris Project, which describes itself as “a data hub for the anti-human trafficking field,” said in its assessment of the TIP Report, “There is not enough work being done federally to investigate labor trafficking and hold businesses accountable for labor trafficking abuses.” Polaris said the report shows that only about five percent of federal convictions and prosecutions of human trafficking are labor related.
Joining the United States in Tier 1 were Argentina, Australia, Austria, The Bahamas, Bahrain, Belgium, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Guyana, Israel, South Korea, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Namibia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, the Philippines, Portugal, Singapore, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan and the United Kingdom.
In addition to China and Russia, Tier 3 consisted of Afghanistan, Algeria, Belarus, Burma, Burundi, Comoros, Cuba, Eritrea, Iran, Lesotho, Nicaragua, North Korea, Papua New Guinea, South Sudan, Syria, Turkmenistan, and Venezuela.
Last year, Trump limited specific kinds of aid to the governments of 15 countries in Tier 3, according to Pompeo. In other anti-trafficking acts by the administration this year, the president hosted a White House Summit on Human Trafficking and signed an executive order to fight trafficking, and online child exploitation in this country, Pompeo said.
Upon the TIP Report’s release, John Richmond, ambassador-at-large over the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, said the “report and the United States have made a positive difference.” He said since the United States enacted the original anti-trafficking measure, the United Nations has adopted a protocol against trafficking, and 154 countries have approved comprehensive anti-trafficking bills.
“The call of the 20th anniversary is clear,” Richmond said. “We must commit ourselves to our goal of freedom. What traffickers are doing is an affront to the dignity of every human life, and we can stop traffickers, protect victims, and work to prevent this crime.”
The report, which covers April 2019 through March 2020, is available online at the U.S. State Department’s website.
Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.