December 01, 2012

Human Rights Commission addresses trafficking

The 112th Congress failed to reauthorize the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, but the ongoing crisis of human trafficking and forced labor is still a subject of discussion on Capitol Hill.    

Last month, Reps. James McGovern (D-Mass.) and Frank Wolf (R-Va.), who co-chair the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, called a hearing Nov. 28 to examine trafficking and exploitation as it affects all countries. The commission, created in 2008 after the death of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus Co-Founder Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), is tasked with promoting, defending, and advocating for international human rights.

The International Labour Organization estimates that more than 21 million people were victims of forced labor this year, dramatically higher than the 12.3 million victims reported in 2005. 

Witnesses at the hearing spoke about the emotional and physical toll of forced or bonded labor and described the fear many victims feel while trying to support their families under insurmountable debt. They testified that the anti-trafficking community at large has called for more openness about the issue in business and federal contracting.

Mary C. Ellison, director of policy for the Polaris Project, a nonprofit organizations dedicated to creating a world without slavery, said that international human trafficking and forced labor affect every country in the world and the United States is a leading destination country for trafficking of foreign nationals in addition to having internal trafficking within the country. She said that given the staggering dimensions of the problem, she welcomed the growing momentum building to address the issue.

Other witnesses appearing at the hearing included representatives from the Protection Project at Johns Hopkins University, the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, and the AFL-CIO Solidarity Center.

President Obama recently called the practice of  human trafficking “barbaric” and “evil” and said “it has no place in the civilized world.” In September, the president signed an executive order to strengthen the protections against trafficking in persons in federal contracting. The executive order requires federal contracting regulations to expressly prohibit contractors and subcontractors from engaging in specific trafficking-related activities and requires contractors whose work abroad exceeds $500,000 to maintain compliance plans that address trafficking. In addition, the executive order establishes a process to identify industries and sectors that have a history of human trafficking and enhances compliance on domestic contracts as well as augmenting training to help agencies detect trafficking violations. The president also called for a comprehensive plan for future action on strengthening services for trafficking victims.

At the ABA, President Laurel G. Bellows has created a Task Force on Human Trafficking. Calling trafficking a “silent crime” that is “a scourge that has to be eradicated,” she has made the issue one of her top priorities.

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