Editor’s Note: Maurice I. Middleberg is executive director of Free the Slaves. The views expressed in this commentary are solely his.
Budget proposals would cut funding to key US anti-trafficking initiatives
"US must be either freedom's champion or slavery's accomplice," writes Maurice Middleberg
The United States has been the world leader in fighting human trafficking and modern slavery. But that leadership is now at risk. There is no middle ground in the struggle against slavery. American history commands commitment to slavery eradication. The US must be either freedom’s champion or slavery’s accomplice.
Fine speeches Tuesday by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Presidential Adviser Ivanka Trump during the release of this year’s Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report must be matched by deeds.
President Trump has promised to devote more resources to the anti-slavery cause.
But the president’s proposed 2018 budget does not include an allocation for the Program to End Modern Slavery, which was singled out for praise by Secretary Tillerson.
The budget terminates grants offered by the International Labor Affairs Bureau at the Labor Department that support governments and communities around the world in their efforts to combat child labor and forced labor.
The State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development, which both combat trafficking and its root causes through their many programs, are facing radical budget reductions.
A shared agenda
Even in periods of ferocious partisanship and bitter divisions, human trafficking has been one of the few issues on which there has been near universal agreement, without regard to party or ideology. Presidents and members of Congress of both parties have, for many years, demonstrated leadership and shared an agenda for eradicating slavery. That fine tradition should be sustained.
Stopping the bottomless cruelty of human trafficking is more than a moral issue. It is also in our national interest.
As documented by the International Bar Association, human trafficking fosters corruption and undermines the rule of law.
Transnational criminal organizations reap huge gains from trafficking rings. Religious extremists such as ISIS give sex slaves as prizes to motivate their acolytes.
According to the International Labor Organization, human traffickers derive $150 billion per year in profits from their crimes.
Moreover, slavery undermines efforts to spur development in low income nations; Harvard University researchers have found that reduced trafficking yields a freedom dividend in the form of better schooling, healthcare and household assets.
Affirming US leadership
We urge the president and Congress to boldly affirm US leadership on human trafficking by pursuing a constructive, feasible agenda.
Begin by reauthorizing the expiring Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), which is the foundation of US anti-trafficking policy, and do so on the basis of the evidence as to what works. There is a huge gap between the effort to foil human traffickers and the profits they reap from crime. Provide adequate funding for a global campaign against slavery. We propose that the United States work with allies to mobilize one penny for every dollar in profits accruing to traffickers and slaveholders.
In Tillerson’s speech he said that the Program to End Modern Slavery will set about raising commitments of $1.5 billion in support from other governments and private donors – but there was no indication of time frame. The longer it takes to ratchet up resources the longer it will take for the anti-slavery forces to get on an even footing with the traffickers.
Vigorously enforce the regulations mandating that federal contractors and subcontractors take action against slavery in their supply chains. Tax dollars should not subsidize human trafficking.
Use trade policy to encourage forceful action. A country’s policy and practice on slavery has virtually no impact on its ability to export to the US. This puts American companies that don’t employ slave labor at a disadvantage. Insisting on action against forced labor and banning goods produced with forced or child labor serves US interests.
Reward companies that behave ethically. There are exemplary companies and industries that have worked to root out slavery in supply chains. But lax or unethical companies derive an unfair advantage. Public policy should prize diligence and exact costs for negligence or malfeasance. The Conflict Minerals Rule, which has liberated Congolese children from slavery in mines, is an example of constructive public policy.
US diplomacy on slavery must be unequivocal and persistent. Serious engagement by senior officials can drive action by lagging governments. Our foreign assistance to international financial institutions should promote enforcement of anti-trafficking laws.
The integrity of the annual TIP Report, which should serve as a factual basis for US diplomacy, must be protected and not distorted to appease governments that are failing to act against trafficking.
A radical reduction in slavery is achievable, would exemplify American values, serve our national interests and be politically popular.
The world will follow American leadership in a global campaign against trafficking. More importantly, those in shackles will turn their eyes to the United States and see freedom coming.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.