The U.S. State Department has blacklisted 23 countries for failing to even try to meet minimum standards in fighting human trafficking, giving President Obama authority to bar them from U.S. non-humanitarian aid and key trade initiatives.
The countries’ failures are summarized in the State Department’s 2015 Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP). The report ranks 188 countries on their efforts to fight human trafficking, dividing them into four categories used to hold countries accountable for their policies and actions. Rankings range from the most favorable Tier 1, and fall to Tier 2, the Tier 2 Watch List and Tier 3, when judged by standards established by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA).
Blacklisted by the State Department are Algeria, Belarus, Belize, Burundi, the Central African Republic, Comoros, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, The Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Iran, North Korea, Kuwait, Libya, the Marshall Islands, Mauritania, Russia, South Sudan, Syria, Thailand, Yemen, Venezuela and Zimbabwe. Human rights activists and politicians have criticized the State Department for removing from the blacklist Cuba and Malaysia, two countries with increasing economic ties with the U.S.
Cuba and Malaysia are now eligible for participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement the Obama administration is negotiating with Pacific Rim nations. The two countries were elevated to the Tier 2 Watch List, joining 42 other nations that don’t fully comply with minimum TVPA standards to fight human trafficking, but “are making significant efforts” to bring themselves into compliance with those standards.
The Obama administration is accused of overlooking human trafficking in Malaysia and Cuba for the sake of trade.
While the removal of the two countries is distressing, victory over human trafficking will extend beyond diplomacy, Southern Baptist abolitionist and New York pastor Raleigh Sadler told Baptist Press.
“We would be wise to remember that at the end of the day, no one leader will ever possess the power to end human trafficking through geo-political deals alone. Quite frankly, this is impossible because the problem of human trafficking is not a mere political problem; it’s a heart problem,” Sadler said. “Therefore the only leader who can permanently change the situation is the only leader who can take our hearts of stone and make them hearts of flesh. As Christians, who are passionate about seeing modern day slavery come to an end, let us not forget that ultimately our faith is in an eternal king not an earthly president.”
The report is helpful in fighting human trafficking, Sadler said, as blacklisted countries might find it more economically feasible to deter human trafficking than suffer economically.
“Rather than solely addressing each country concerning the morality of exploitation, the TIP report addresses human trafficking from an economic perspective. By rating each country according to a tier,” Sadler said, “the report serves to pressure countries who are failing to meet the minimal standards contained within the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, the goal being to motivate each country to actually address the human trafficking occurring within their borders or face economic sanctions.”
Estimates of human trafficking victims worldwide range from 21 million by the State Department to 35.8 million by the Walk Free Foundation’s 2014 Global Slavery Index. According to the State Department, 10,051 people were prosecuted worldwide for human trafficking in 2014, leading to 4,443 convictions and involving 44,462 victims. Of the total cases identified, 418 were related to labor trafficking.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry defends the report as a key diplomatic tool in the nation’s fight against human trafficking globally.
“This year’s report places a special emphasis on human trafficking in the global marketplace. It highlights the hidden risks that workers may encounter when seeking employment and the steps that governments and businesses can take to prevent trafficking, including a demand for transparency in global supply chains,” Kerry said upon the report’s release in July. “The bottom line is that this is no time for complacency. Right now, across the globe, victims of human trafficking are daring to imagine the possibility of escape, the chance for a life without fear, and the opportunity to earn a living wage.”
The U.S. is among 31 nations that received the highest ranking, indicating they have met TVPA minimum standards and continue to make progress in fighting human trafficking. Still, the report identifies the U.S. as a source, transit and destination country for U.S. citizens and foreign nationals subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor, and made 12 recommendations for improvement.
TIP, available at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/, relies on information gathered April 2014 through March 2015, from U.S. embassies, government officials, nongovernmental and international organizations, published reports, news articles, academic studies, onsite research and information submitted to [email protected].
Overall, 18 countries moved up in tier rankings, while 18 others moved down. In addition to rankings already enumerated in this article, 89 countries received the Tier 2 ranking, indicating an effort to bring themselves into TVPA compliance. One country, Somalia, was listed as a “special case” for the 13th consecutive year, due in part on an inability to obtain credible data.
The Southern Baptist Convention has adopted two measures against human trafficking, including the 2013 resolution on human trafficking and the 2000 resolution condemning sex trafficking, both urging Southern Baptists to pray for victims and work through ministry, legislation, the medical profession and other outreaches to fight human trafficking locally and globally.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)