The Global Fight Against Human Trafficking: Ten Years After Palermo
Ambassador-at-Large, Office To Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons
Hello and thank you for the warm welcome. Special thanks to Rector Tarrach for hosting us here at the University. Madam Ambassador, members of the diplomatic community, it is an honor to join you today.
I am Lou de Baca, the Ambassador charged with directing the U.S. Department of State’s efforts to combat human trafficking and coordinating the Obama Administration’s interagency response to this global phenomenon. Perhaps more important, I am the son of Mary Marchino de Baca, who lived here in Luxembourg in the 1950s as part of the International 4-H Youth Exchange, which linked students from farm communities around the world. The warmth and generosity of the people of Luxembourg and the beauty of this country have stayed with us, and our connections with her Luxembourg host families – the Meyers, the Lommels, the Bourgs, and the Magens – have flourished over the decades and into subsequent generations.
Now as you know, in diplomatic circles protocol is everything, so I’d like to share a quick protocol story about my mother’s time in Luxembourg. Excited and nervous about the prospect of meeting Archbishop Leo Lommel, my mother practiced over and over what his nieces had told her was the proper way of addressing such an important person in Letzeburgesch. So upon being presented to him at his mansion, she introduced herself, looked him squarely in the eye, and said to him in her most polite accent “Du bass geckeg” (“you are crazy”). Needless to say, this important phrase has had a place of honor in our family ever since!
International friendships and partnerships are important in cementing relationships and shared values. Today I would like to address the critical topic of human trafficking – a modern form of slavery that affects us all and that violates our core values. Today, I will focus on what we have learned about modern slavery, what we have achieved in our struggle over the last decade, and where we need to go in the future through global partnership.
American and European ties run deep, and the United States is committed to fighting the scourge of human trafficking in concert with our closest allies. We share the same values: that every person should be able to live free from tyranny, exploitation, and enslavement. And the struggle against these evils marks our common history. From the time of the Nazi occupation, Luxembourgers know the pain of loved ones taken for forced labor or forced military service. America struggled for almost a century after independence to reconcile the contradiction of a country founded on the ideal of freedom that tolerated the enslavement of millions.
But sadly, we know that this evil persists in the world today. We see people bought and sold in prostitution; held in involuntary servitude in factories, farms, fishing vessels, and homes; and captured to serve as child soldiers. This crime persists because it is a fluid phenomenon that responds to market demand and operates in zones of impunity that are created by vulnerabilities in laws, natural disasters, and economic instability. It is a crime that impairs human rights, degrades public health, corrupts government officials, and weakens rule of law. And it seems that each generation needs to fight back against this ancient scourge.
Human trafficking occurs both within countries and across international borders. It is not limited to one gender, faith, or geographic area, but it impacts individuals and societies across the globe. Its full impact is often hidden from us.
Take the situation of a South-Korean-flagged fishing vessel, licensed to import seafood to Europe, found recently off the coast of West Africa with crew members from China, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Sierra Leone. Men who were working in slave-like conditions. Sharing a tiny windowless and cockroach-infested area of a fish hold with four cardboard "bunks", the crew took turns sleeping and sorting and packing fish for the European market. They were not paid with money but rather with the damaged seafood to eat. If anyone complained, threats were made to abandon them on the nearest beach.
The United States itself is not exempt. Just last month, six people were indicted in Hawaii for a human trafficking conspiracy case for exploiting 400 Thai farm workers who were enticed to come to the United States with false promises of lucrative jobs, and then held at farms in the states of Washington and Hawaii through threats of serious economic harm and confiscation of their passports.
In examining these situations, we not only see the incredible human rights abuses inflicted on these individuals but also realize that European and American consumers would likely have no idea that what they were eating was tainted by slave labor. Similarly, women in prostitution are all too often dismissed as unworthy of sympathy. If foreign nationals, they are jailed and deported. If citizens, in many countries they are punished while their clients walk freely. Rather than asking if they might be victims of a crime, society turns its gaze away.
Many people ask me how we can end slavery in the modern era, and I increasingly feel it is by transparency. By confronting the reality. By not being able to turn our gaze to a more comfortable topic or hide our response behind euphemisms that shield us from the horrible reality of people held in compelled service.
In order to pierce that veil, and recognizing the global intersection of this crime, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton released the tenth annual Trafficking in Persons Report this June. The Report highlights new trafficking trends, maps progress, and outlines future challenges. Not long ago, trafficking in persons was a little-understood crime that was perpetrated in the shadows. If people thought of it at all, they thought of women and children from the former Soviet Union being tricked by false advertisements for work, only to find themselves trapped in brothels and strip clubs in Western Europe. And sexual slavery continues to be a crisis that demands action. But we know so much more about this crime than we did in the year 2000.
Ten years later, our laws and responses have improved to combat the many ways in which men, women, and children are trafficked in the twenty-first century. We now have a better understanding of this crime, and our knowledge base has grown. We have come to understand that men comprise a significant number of trafficking victims. At the same time, we have seen the feminization of modern slavery, with women making up a majority of those trapped in commercial sex as well as in forced labor situations. We have found women held in modern slavery through deceit and force, picking cotton, mining conflict minerals, toiling as domestic workers, dancing in nightclubs, and offered for commercial sex. We have come to understand the unique vulnerabilities of those who work in the home. This feminization of modern slavery has been aided by growing numbers of women migrating for work, and the increasingly unscrupulous and coercive nature of labor recruiting.
Fraudulent recruitment practices affect both men and women. These practices include: work offers that misrepresent conditions, excessive recruitment fees, written contracts that workers cannot understand, and the switching of terms of employment after the original contract has been signed. Traffickers are also changing their methods of control: they are using more female recruiters, more subtle forms of exploitation, and greater psychological abuse. And a growing number of cases demonstrate how interconnected sex and labor trafficking are, as more and more prosecutions are being brought involving the sexual abuse – both in prostitution and by their bosses – of women who migrated legally on work visas.
While it may seem easy to become discouraged when hearing a litany such as this, we are heartened by the positive developments since the promulgation of the United National Protocol to Prevent, Suppress, and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (the “Palermo Protocol”) in 2000. One hundred and forty-one countries have become parties to the Palermo Protocol and 116 countries have enacted legislation prohibiting all forms of trafficking in persons. I commend the Government of Luxembourg on their adoption last year of a law to improve protections for victims of trafficking.
Overall, across the globe, we have seen results translated through an increase in rescues and perpetrators brought to justice. Last year saw more victims identified, more services provided, and more traffickers convicted than any year in history. This year, we added the United States to the 177 countries that are ranked in our annual Trafficking in Persons Report. The inclusion of the United States in this year’s report is a testament to Secretary Clinton’s insistence on partnership – to hold ourselves accountable to the same standards we expect of our foreign counterparts.
We are proud of our partnership with our European colleagues, and proud that the Council of Europe Convention, European national legislation such as the Luxembourg law of 2009, and our own trafficking law share a victim-centered approach to the crime. The U.S. and European governments and civil service experts have shared information and “promising practices” both in person through conferences and through technology utilizing Digital Video conferences. We continue to learn from one another. For example, I was particularly pleased to learn from Italian law enforcement that police at the local level are enhancing training, victim screening, and identification to find more victims of this hidden crime. Strengthening local understanding of human trafficking is an important practice. In the United States, we have seen that it is often easier to enhance anti-trafficking training at the Federal level than at the local level given our size, yet we know that such training must occur at all levels of police and social workers.
We have also noted other positive developments in Europe. We have been pleased to note a significant uptick in trafficking victim identification in Albania thanks to proactive implementation of their National Referral Mechanism. Bosnia and Herzegovina also stands out as a particular success story. Bosnia, supported by the United States, Europe, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), has evolved from a country with widespread sex slavery and abuse problems during the Balkan wars of the 1990s to a country with improved penalties for convicted traffickers and victim protection partnerships with NGOs.
So what is the path forward?
We aim to further strengthen our engagement with the European Union and the OSCE, ensuring that human trafficking is a regular item of discussion because we know that we face common challenges. Collectively, we must redouble our efforts to find victims of this concealed crime, and to ensure that they are not summarily deported. We must enhance penalties for the crime of human trafficking. We must increase recognition of forced labor and domestic servitude, ensuring that legal protections for domestic workers are put in place.
And it is not just for governments to make this change. We must continue to press businesses to monitor and evaluate their supply chains to ensure their products are not made with slave labor while we encourage consumers to demand more from companies and from themselves. Consumers must take an active interest in the clothes they are wearing, the foods they are eating, and the household products they are buying to ensure they are not inadvertently supporting slavery. Men must understand the impact on women of the demand for commercial sex – a demand that is so often met by traffickers who use coercion to control the women under their power.
In short, as nations and individuals, we must dedicate ourselves to this effort, the victims, and to each other. We can only confront this scourge as colleagues. Fighting in concert for freedom is nothing new for Luxembourgers and Americans. My Mother’s time here as a student and the spirit of unity is not the only commitment that our family has made to that end. During the Battle of the Bulge, her cousin Donald Stangle was killed when he was shot down over the Mosel. He rests here in the American cemetery, and we know that he is among friends. As so often is the case, freedom comes at a formidable price.
The American leader Frederick Douglass made this point when arguing for abolition of slavery over 150 years ago. He said: “Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning…This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle.”
The promise of freedom is therefore a promise to undertake the struggle. It is a promise written in the blood of all who fought and died for freedom, and all who lived under the yoke of slavery – whether on an American plantation, a Nazi labor camp, or in a brothel or a factory in twenty-first century Europe. To honor their sacrifice, President Obama has challenged us to envision a world without slavery, and to make that vision a reality by reinvigorating partnerships among government, law enforcement, the Church, and non-governmental agencies.
Mindful of each trafficked man, woman, and child around the world, we must act together with a fierce urgency to find new and innovative solutions to tackle this age-old crime. In government, in the academy, in civil society, in our personal lives, we all have a role to play. We are committed to being allies in this battle, as in so many before.