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One Year Later: Did President Obama's Actions Live Up To His Words?
Exactly one year ago today, President Obama made a historic speech about modern slavery at the Clinton Global Initiative—perhaps the most important presidential speech on slavery since the Emancipation Proclamation. Human rights groups were thrilled by the attention he gave to this intractable crime, and hopeful about his commitment to make the United States a leader in the fight against what he called a “debasement of our common humanity.”
The President got specific in that speech, announcing several initiatives his administration would undertake to fight human trafficking. He used powerful words to explain his intent to improve services for trafficking survivors, eradicate trafficking in US government contracts, fund the fight to end slavery and improve interagency coordination.
A year later, we must ask whether his actions have been as bold as his promises.
The Department of State took a big step forward in June when it released a credible Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report. The TIP Report is only as good as it is honest, and we were pleased to see a fact-based analysis that did not reflect concern for sensitive geopolitical relationships when the State Department downgraded Russia, Uzbekistan and China.
Moving forward, we hope that President Obama will take advantage of opportunities like his upcoming visit to Malaysia – a country on the Tier 2 Watch List with a deplorable record in human trafficking, and one that the State Department will have to upgrade or downgrade in next year’s TIP Report – to draw the world’s attention to modern day slavery. In addition, it will be critical to actually enforce sanctions on countries that were given Tier 3 rankings in the report.
Improved Services for Trafficking Victims
In April, the administration released its Strategic Action Plan to Strengthen Services for Trafficking Victims (SAP) for public comment. In it, they set forth a plan that aimed to:
- Increase coordination and collaboration between federal agencies and the public and private sectors in order to develop comprehensive, trauma-informed services for human trafficking survivors.
- Increase awareness and understanding of human trafficking among the US government, community leaders, and the public.
- Increase victim identification and expand the delivery of services for all survivors of human trafficking in order to improve outcomes for survivors overall.
If done correctly, the SAP could set a gold standard in developing and executing a long-term victims’ services strategy. But, the administration must listen to feedback they’ve received from advocacy organizations and especially from trafficking survivors and service providers, who obviously have the greatest insight into some of the challenges.
Eradicating Trafficking in US Government Contracts
Earlier this year, the Administration issued an executive order called “Strengthening Protections Against Trafficking In Persons In Federal Contracts” designed to ensure that federal government supply chains are not tainted by human trafficking. In a March meeting that launched the official comment period, ATEST offered written and verbal guidance to the Federal Acquisition Regulatory (FAR) Council on how best to implement that order. Draft regulations are due out this year, and the Administration has an opportunity to set the gold standard on this front as well.
It will be imperative that the FAR Council prioritize transparency in the federal recruitment process, prohibit recruiters from charging workers recruitment fees, and require independent verification that the government contractors are complying with these rules. These provisions are important because they will help establish a stronger anti-trafficking framework and set a high standard for businesses and governments around the world.
Funding the Fight to End Slavery and Improving Interagency Coordination
The President’s budget included increases in funding for anti-trafficking programs, but the current budget crisis threatens to undermine a $20 million increase for trafficking victims in the United States. President Obama and Congress need to ensure this funding increase is reflected in the final 2014 funding bills in order to provide critical resources to prevent trafficking and to meet the needs of all trafficking victims in the United States – whether foreign or domestic, adult or child, sex or labor.
Finally, we are excited about Partnership for Freedom’s recently announced initiative, Reimagine: Opportunity. This partnership is a great example of the meaningful strides that can happen when government agencies collaborate with one another and with NGOs.
In conclusion, the Administration is to be commended for following through on many of President Obama’s promises. However, the fight to end modern day slavery is so far from over, and will require greater resources, sustained will and calls for accountability by the anti-trafficking advocacy community.