“We cannot ask other nations to do what we are not doing ourselves.”
With this statement during his speech Tuesday at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York City, the President of the United States, Barack Obama, announced an even stronger commitment to fight against human trafficking.
The revamped US Government’s zero-tolerance policy on trafficking in persons comes in the form of an Executive Order signed by the president.
The order aims to strengthen protections against “modern slavery” in federal contracting. In other words, it will be more difficult for US companies to cut corners, whether abroad or in the US.
“As the largest single purchaser of goods and services in the world, the US Government has a responsibility to combat human trafficking at home and abroad, and to ensure American tax dollars do not contribute to this affront to human dignity,” Obama told attendees, including world leaders, business executives, and celebrity philanthropists.
More than 20 million men, women, and children worldwide are victims of human trafficking. Obama insisted that slavery is happening not only in developing countries but in the US, as well. Ima Matul, in attendence, “grew up in Indonesia, and at 17 was given the opportunity to work as a nanny here in the United States,” said Obama. “But when she arrived, it turned out to be a nightmare. Cooking, cleaning — 18-hour days, seven days a week. One beating was so bad it sent her to the emergency room. And finally, she escaped. And with the help from a group that cared, today Ima has a stable job. She’s an advocate — she’s even testified before Congress.”
Forced labor is a form of human trafficking. Companies around the world are taking steps to eliminate the potential for trafficked labor in their operations and supply chains, but – experts and Obama say – more needs to be done worldwide.
“Human trafficking is not a business model. It’s a crime,” added Obama in his speech referring to companies that take advantage of vulnerable people to produce goods or services.
“When a man, desperate for work, finds himself in a factory or on a fishing boat or in a field, working, toiling, for little or no pay, and beaten if he tries to escape — that is slavery,” explained the US president. “When a woman is locked in a sweatshop, or trapped in a home as a domestic servant, alone and abused and incapable of leaving — that’s slavery.
When a little boy is kidnapped, turned into a child soldier, forced to kill or be killed — that’s slavery. When a little girl is sold by her impoverished family — girls my daughters’ age — runs away from home, or is lured by the false promises of a better life, and then imprisoned in a brothel and tortured if she resists — that’s slavery.”
The additional commitment of the United States against “modern slavery”, takes form by directing the Federal Acquisition Regulatory (FAR) Council to amend the federal contracting regulations to stop trafficking-related activities.
Federal contractors, subcontractors, and their employees will be accountable for actions such as misleading or fraudulent recruitment practices; charging employees recruitment fees; and destroying or confiscating an employee’s identity documents.
For work over $500,000 that is performed abroad, federal contractors and subcontractors must guarantee plans that include, for example, an employee awareness program, a process for employees to report trafficking violations without fear of retaliation, recruitment and housing plans.
These contractors and subcontractors must also certify that they are not engaged in trafficking-related activities.
In addition, industries and sectors that have a history of human trafficking will be identified. This will enhance compliance on domestic contracts. Appropriate guidance for contracting agencies will be provided. The goal is to improve monitoring of and compliance with actions to prevent trafficking.
Improved training for the federal acquisition workforce on policies and procedures for combating trafficking will be also implemented.
Obama underlined the importance of modern technology to fight modern slavery. Just as traffickers “are now using technology and the Internet to exploit their victims, we’re going to harness technology to stop them.” Companies and students are invited to develop tools to keep people away from trafficking.
At the same time, Obama said the United States are “increasing access to services to help survivors become self-sufficient. We’re working to simplify visa procedures for “T” visas so that innocent victims from other countries can stay here as they help us prosecute their traffickers.”
Nations, businesses, citizens have to work together, concluded Obama, to seek changes and to make clear that nobody, in the United States or abroad, is for sale.