Ending Modern Slavery

According to recent estimates, almost 21 million people worldwide are victims of forced labor, including 11.4 million women and girls and 9.5 million men and boys. The International Labor Organization has identified forced labor as a particularly acute problem in the domestic work, agriculture, construction, manufacturing, and entertainment sectors. People who suffer from violence and discrimination, particularly women and ethnic minorities, are at greater risk of being manipulated by unscrupulous recruiters and employers to work in foreign lands, subjected to debt bondage, trafficked into the sex trade, forced into marriage, or forced by repressive regimes to work in labor camps. This is modern slavery, and while this scourge is particularly acute in countries that are unable or unwilling to protect the human rights of their citizens and residents, it exists in every nation in the world.


InterAction Recognizes

  • When displaced populations cannot access legal and formal work, livelihoods programming, and/or cash-transfers, they are more vulnerable to being trafficked or enslaved. Refugees and internally displaced persons often face legal obstacles that prevent them from finding safe, legal, and legitimate work. Host governments frequently deny them the right to work. They may also lack or be denied proper identifying documentation. Under these conditions, exploitative labor is far more common—especially for children—and people are too afraid to come forward to report abuse because they have been denied state protection. Without the full protection of labor laws, this exploitation may also drive down prevailing wages and labor standards for the broader population of a country or region.

  • Children and adolescents are frequently targeted by modern slavery. Children under the age of 18 account for 44% of the forced laborers who are moved internally or internationally; and this movement is heavily associated with forced sexual exploitation. The recent influx of unaccompanied children into the United States illustrates that this is not just a problem in developing countries. It also highlights the need to provide better access to services and legal protections for vulnerable children both domestically and internationally.

  • The measurements, methodologies, definitions, and indicators used to develop data on human trafficking and other forms of forced labor are still in desperate need of improvement. The United States government must work with international partners to develop stronger indicators, investigative mechanisms (including questions to be asked of recipients of assistance), and information sharing to generate more robust, accurate, and comprehensive assessments of modern slavery. For example, sharing data between national hotlines regionally or along trafficking routes can increase coordination, provide tactical insights and better understanding of victim vulnerabilities, and identify trafficking hotspots and high-risk industries.

  • Flexible and multifaceted approaches to finding and providing assistance to hidden recipients will give implementing agencies and partners the ability to tailor their programming to the contexts they operate in. In certain cultures, the issue of human trafficking may not be easy to raise. Therefore, the process of addressing the issue in a particular place must take into account specific, local social norms. For example, in China, one nongovernmental organization had to fold its work on this issue into other programming.


Upcoming Opportunities

  • Reauthorization of the Trafficking Victims Protection Authorization Act [Expires in 2017]. Key priorities include taking up a discussion of how USAID can better integrate counter-trafficking programming into its humanitarian and development assistance. Existing programming may be leveraged to widen awareness of trafficking. For example, counter-trafficking programming can be better integrated directly into humanitarian assistance (particularly community-based protection and child protection programming). A second priority area of focus is on the need for a strategy to address the root causes of vulnerability to human trafficking. For example, workers who can exercise their collective voice are much less likely to be trafficked or otherwise exploited. The United States’ international programming and assistance can work to continually increase the number of workers—host country nationals and immigrants—in the formal and informal economies who are covered by strong labor law protections and effective labor inspection regimes.

  • The creation of a comprehensive interagency plan to enforce the legal prohibition on importing to the U.S. goods made with forced labor [Ongoing]. Congress acted decisively in 2016 to close a legal loophole known as the consumptive demand clause which allowed the U.S. to import goods known to be made with forced labor. A comprehensive interagency plan is the next logical step to fully implement this change in the law. While the Department of Homeland Security can and should initiate investigations to prevent such goods from entering the United States, there must also be coordination—with agencies such as the Departments of State, Labor, Justice, and Health and Human Services, as well as with civil society actors, such as labor unions and worker rights organizations that monitor supply chains—to ensure enforcement looks at the origin of such goods and continues even if such goods slip through and make it into the United States. The strategy should also identify areas of overlap with other relevant policies and enforcement mechanisms such as Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) prohibitions on trafficking in persons-related activities in federal contracts.

  • Address the federal supply chain problems highlighted by the Government Accounting Office and the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan [Ongoing]. The United States can better advance transparent and slave-free supply chains by assuring that federal contractors and subcontractors are clear about the origin of their goods and services procured by the federal government. While updates to the FAR in 2015 were an important first step to address these problems, a comprehensive approach to federal supply chains is necessary to ensure that taxpayer money does not support the procurement of goods and services made under conditions of forced labor. Current rulemaking to clarify a definition of recruitment fees in federal contracts should be expedited so federal policy is more protective of potential victims of trafficking.

  • Incorporate counter-trafficking programming into the transition from humanitarian relief to development assistance [Ongoing]. One area where international actors frequently fail vulnerable populations is when a crisis ends and recovery begins. In this context, resources needed for humanitarian protection and support often disappear. More coordinated and effective programming that spans the gap between relief and development could help countries and communities build their own capacity to combat modern slavery over time.


Additional Materials

  • Collateral Damage, 2007, bit.ly/2d6KiS8

  • Testimony of Shawna Bader-Blau, Executive Director, Solidarity Center, before United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, 2015, bit.ly/2d6H1Cw

  • Trafficking in Persons, 2016, bit.ly/2d6IVD9

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