The U.S. Department of State has released its “Trafficking in Persons Report 2018.” The in-depth 486 page report outlines many facets of human trafficking, from the general business practices of local crimes of opportunity (like an abusive boyfriend selling his girlfriend‘s body for money), all the way up to larger, illicit organizations that traffic people for both sex and labor all over the world. It discusses the ways people are combatting human trafficking throughout various countries, as well as global efforts where nations work together (or in many cases, do not).

In the opening of the report, Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, said that, “Modern slavery has no place in the world, and I intend to ensure, through diplomatic engagement and increased action, that the United States government’s leadership in combating this global threat is sustained in the years to come.”

The State Department defines human trafficking as such:

  • [S]ex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age; or
  • the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.

They make an important clarification after this definition, one that might clear up a misconception many have about human trafficking: “A victim need not be physically transported from one location to another for the crime to fall within this definition.”

Read the report in its entirety here (PDF).

As the report is coming from the United States government, it is writing from that perspective but it is also speaking on a global scale. It sheds light on the importance of task forces, how it allows governments or law enforcement agencies within countries to continue to do their jobs, while simultaneously helping one another’s work with shared information and cooperation. This includes training at a local level, agency level, inter-agency level, and international level — coordination, proper responses, handling victims, handling perpetrators and distinguishing them from the victims, are just a few of the many facets involved in these sorts of operations.

It also includes community awareness. It goes on to show how some countries abroad have seen successful movements against local trafficking in their communities. It makes this interesting point that is as relevant to a farmer in Myanmar as it is to a middle class American:

In many cases, human trafficking is hidden by the appearance of regularity. In particular, adult victims often interact with others and may even engage in routine transactions in the course of their victimization, yet their compelled service may be imperceptible to the general observer. This is true for both sex trafficking and labor trafficking. Traffickers rely on these conditions, which enable them to control victims even when they interact with others.”

One might have to keep a watchful eye and a listening ear in order to uncover someone who has been trafficked.

Other parts of the report discuss international aid organizations and peacekeepers, what they can do, and also the relevant international conventions on the topic.

Shyima Hall, 19, discusses her domestic enslavement Tuesday, Sept. 16, 2008, in Beaumont, Calif. Shyima was 10 when a wealthy Egyptian couple brought her from a poor village in Northern Egypt to work in their California home. She awoke before dawn and often worked past midnight to iron their clothes, mop the marble floors and dust the family’s crystal. She earned $45 a month working up to 20 hours a day. The trafficking of children for domestic labor in the United States is an extension of an illegal but common practice among the upper class in Africa. | AP Photo/Ric Francis

The report (essentially a textbook), goes through the various types of trafficking: slavery for labor, child soldiers, sex trafficking, any of the above but involving children — and it addresses and tackles these issues one by one, citing examples from all around the globe.

The bulk of it explores each country, what it’s problems with trafficking are in general, and its efforts to combat these issues. It divides the countries up into “tiers.” These tiers are a bit misleading, as they denote the amount of effort that countries put into combating human trafficking, but that could still mean that those efforts are failing and that human trafficking is still alive and well. For example, Thailand and Brazil are two Tier 2 countries, and yet both are notorious destinations for sex tourism. And just because a country is Tier 1, by no means does that mean that human trafficking is anywhere close to being eradicated.

The report ends with a closing note, that sums up the entire thing quite well:

In this age of interconnected markets, mobile workforces, and digital communication, human traffickers are developing newer and more sophisticated ways to exploit their victims. Traffickers are particularly skilled at identifying and cultivating vulnerability in those they exploit, taking advantage of difficult circumstances and instability, and exploiting government policies and activities in unexpected ways. No matter how effective national policies are in fulfilling their intended goals, governments should continuously examine and test their policies to ensure they do not enable traffickers or otherwise contribute to human trafficking.

For example, governments around the world spend billions of dollars to procure goods and services. Unfortunately, procurement policies can be blind to conditions that workers in the supply chain face, including those that may be indicative of human trafficking, such as contract fraud, unpaid wages, and passport confiscation. Governments should assess their procurement frameworks; bring together procurement, human trafficking, and labor rights experts; and implement policies that protect workers on government contracts. Governments should also enact policies that clearly prohibit human trafficking by government contractors and subcontractors, and prohibit activities, including those in the recruitment process, known to contribute to the risk of human trafficking, such as charging workers recruitment fees that create vulnerabilities to debt bondage.

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Similarly, many governments prohibit labor migration to countries that pose particular risks as a means to protect their citizens from exploitation. While well intended, such policies not only restrict freedom of movement, but may also drive some individuals to take risks to circumvent the policy. More effective alternatives to prohibiting labor migration to countries include educating citizens of their rights and the specific risks posed in such destination countries; working with governments in destination countries to address vulnerabilities to exploitation and conduct joint investigations of abuse; and providing overseas officials the mandate and tools required to serve and protect their citizens abroad.

Some governments’ pursuit of national security and regional stability may also indirectly enable human trafficking. At times, government support for and operational coordination with armed services and groups can unintentionally empower them to exploit people through forcible recruitment into armed groups, recruitment and use of children, or sexual exploitation. Governments that support militaries and armed groups should ensure they understand the full scope of such organizations’ activities and how they put government resources to action. Governments should encourage the public to report abuses, establish transparent processes by which to review accusations, and take appropriate action including to hold perpetrators accountable and ultimately to end support and coordination with such groups.

These are only a few examples of how some government policies, even if made with good intentions, can leave individuals more vulnerable and give traffickers an advantage. It is incumbent on governments to assess and adapt to the specific dynamics of human trafficking. In enacting new policies and reviewing existing ones, governments should strive to understand the inadvertent yet potentially harmful effects they may have on individuals vulnerable to trafficking.”

Featured image:  Rohingya Muslim women, who crossed over from Myanmar into Bangladesh, stretch their arms out to collect sanitary products distributed by aid agencies near Balukhali refugee camp, Bangladesh. Thailand’s military government is praising the U.S. State Department’s decision to upgrade the country in its annual report on efforts to fight human trafficking. | AP Photo/Dar Yasin, File