The Current

Advocacy News + Updates

UPDATE: On Thursday, August 06, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held an oversight hearing to review the 2015 Trafficking in Persons Report. You can watch the full hearing here.  

"The 2015 report causes me concern. It causes me concern. And I want to get answers today about the 2015 Report. There are upgrades in this report that are hard to understand and I put Malaysia number one on the list." (Senator Cardin, D-MD, Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee)

Keep reading for our take on this year's Trafficking in Persons Report, from IJM's Vice President of Government Relations and Advocacy, Holly Burkhalter. This was published on the day the report was released.

Secretary of State John Kerry today released the State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report. This is a hugely important event for anti-slavery activists everywhere in the world.  The Report has historically been the gold standard for the truth about trafficking and slavery and promoting the cause of freedom in 188 countries around the world. Unfortunately, this year the Report upgrades one country, Malaysia, undeservedly.

The graduation of Malaysia from its former status as Tier 3 – a failing grade – to Tier 2 Watch List reflects the White House’s desire to include Malaysia in its Transpacific Partnership trade agreement.  

There are many ways the U.S. Government can promote its trade policy goals, but inflating the tier rankings in the TIP Report shouldn’t be one of them. 

The TIP Report rankings are meant to reflect countries’ progress – or lack of progress – in complying with minimum standards for eradicating slavery and trafficking.

The minimum standards, by the way, aren’t just somebody’s good idea. They were enunciated in the legislation passed by Congress in 2000, which created the State Department Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking (JTIP) and mandated the annual TIP Report. The law reflects the international standard, contained in United Nations’ Palermo Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons.

Tier rankings matter to every country in the world, including our own. They matter because they are a public record of a government’s efforts – or lack of effort – in addressing the crime against humanity that is slavery. That’s why we at IJM and our friends in the anti-slavery movement care so much about maintaining the independence and integrity of the TIP Report. As we see in the case of Malaysia, there is sometimes a tendency within the State Department to want to downplay criticism of our allies’ anti-slavery records, or to soften criticism when there are other U.S. foreign policy interests at stake.

By the same token, it’s vitally important that the TIP Report acknowledges progress and upgrades countries – whether they are friends or foes – accordingly. This year, the JTIP Office missed the boat on a country that has made extraordinary progress in confronting child sex trafficking: Cambodia. Cambodia has been on the Tier 2 Watch List for the past two years and was assigned to the Watch List again this year. We think Cambodia’s low rankings for much of the following decade were deserved. In the early 2000’s, for example, children were estimated at 15 to 30% percent of the total number of those exploited in the commercial sex industry! But IJM’s most recent prevalence study showed the percentage of children available for exploitation had fallen to 2.2% of the total.

Cambodia’s problems aren’t over. The government and its NGO partners need to remain hyper-vigilant in protecting children from predators. There are still dozens of cases, and every one of them must be carefully prosecuted and abusers given serious prison terms. But Cambodia is no longer “ground zero” for child exploitation. The Cambodian government has rescued over 1,000 children from commercial sexual exploitation and apprehended and prosecuted hundreds of traffickers, pimps and pedophiles. Thanks to these efforts, the crime of sex trafficking has been reduced dramatically.

This year, to our dismay, the State Department compromised the TIP Report and the tier rankings in two different ways: they upgraded a poorly performing country – Malaysia – and they downgraded a country that has made great strides – Cambodia. Both those decisions are a discouragement to anti-slavery advocates at home and abroad. Though we take exception with the tier rankings for Cambodia and Malaysia, the TIP Report, overall, is an extraordinarily powerful portrayal of modern-day slavery in 188 countries. The fact that slavery and trafficking are alive and well in this day and age is an indictment of the world’s donor nation and development institutions. That’s why IJM is supporting legislation that would provide the resources to build justice systems to free slaves and imprison slave owners and traffickers.

We'd love your help! Many papers will cover the release of the Trafficking in Persons Report, and this is a great opportunity to respond. Policy makers pay special attention to Letters to the Editor—one of the most read sections of the paper—so they are an important advocacy tool. Help to elevate the conversation about human trafficking and modern-day slavery in your community and show your members of Congress that this is something their constituents care about. We've provided all the resources you need to write your Letter to the Editor: access them here or by clicking on the link below.

Help educate your community and raise awareness about human trafficking. Here are the resources you need to write a Letter to the Editor today>>

Access the 2015 Trafficking in Persons Report here.

How is human trafficking being addressed by governments around the world? The 2015 TIP Report is here.