Yesterday, the State Department released the 2015 Trafficking in Persons Report. You may have heard it mentioned on the news. You may have heard some controversy about Malaysia’s rating, or Cuba’s. You may have seen a link to it posted on the Courtney’s House social media pages. (Hint hint… please follow us! Links at the top of the page.)
But what is it, really? Why should we care about this hefty tome the TIP office releases every year? It’s just another government report, right? What could possibly be the point?
I’m so glad you asked. Here are four things this year’s report strives to do. After reading it, I think it achieved them:
I bet you’ve heard words like “domestic servitude,” “labor trafficking,” “sex trafficking,” “child soldiers,” “debt bondage,” etc. in the discussion about human trafficking. They’re all used to describe kinds of trafficking, but what do they all mean? How are they different? Why do the differences matter? It’s all in there, along with stories of real people who’ve been through it.
Also, why is human smuggling not the same as trafficking? How is child labor different from forced child labor, and why is that distinction important? I tell ya, there’s some interesting information in there.
2. It focuses on supply chains.
In this day and age, we care about where our products come from. With the popularity of notions like Fair Trade, locally grown organic everything, and the debate about GMOs, we’ve come to care about where we get our stuff and what goes into it. So don’t you think it’s important to know if your favorite chocolate started with beans being harvested by forced labor? Or how your cigarettes got stuffed with tobacco? Or who made your clothes, carpets, and shoes? Or who mined the ore that made the parts that went into your car/computer/home, etc.?
This year’s report discusses the importance of supply chains, and it challenges businesses to take responsibility for the people involved in producing their products, right from the raw material. We have become a deeply interconnected global society and this report recognizes those connections. I like that.
3. It explains what the relevant laws and treaties are.
I know at least 20% of you just rolled your eyes and went, “Ugh, boring.” I get that. BUT, this part explains the why about this. It answers questions like:
- Why are they producing this report? (Spoiler alert: it was called for in the TVPA. I’m not going to define that. Google it for yourself.)
- What are the Palermo Protocols? (They’re as important to this issue as the Geneva Conventions are to warfare.)
- Why does the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child matter for child soldiers? (Here’s a bonus thing for you to look up: which two countries in the world haven’t ratified the UN CRC? You may be surprised at the answer to that.)
You may not care about all the legal details, but the point is this: the international community is making laws and treaties to combat trafficking. This is the big-deal, high-level, global-scale substance of what is being done in the world to fight trafficking, and that’s pretty interesting.
4. It applauds successes.
The report honors eight people from around the world who are working to fight trafficking, highlights community efforts and advocacy groups, and tells stories about real life. That’s good, right?
And that’s all in the first 45 pages!
After that, there are over 300 pages of country reports, each a page or two or three. Obviously, you don’t have to read all of these, but they’re there if you want. Pick two or three countries you’re interested in. Maybe start with the one where you live, and then the one you’d like to visit on your next vacation. Then perhaps one you’ve heard about in the news. Or one you’ve never heard of before. (Me: Comoros. Sorry, Comoros. I didn’t know you existed. This is a good example of how you can learn something from this report.) See how they’re doing, what efforts they’ve taken, what they could improve on, and where they land in the scheme of things.
Now, the report isn’t perfect. I think it did a good job with those four things, but there are two major drawbacks we need to be aware of:
1. Some of the ratings are controversial.
I mentioned Malaysia and Cuba above. I am not an expert in foreign policy or in the trafficking situations in either of those countries, so I really don’t have any wisdom on this. Here are three links to articles if you’d like to read up on it.
Vice on Malaysia
Reuters on Malaysia and Cuba
Commentary from our friends at Free the Slaves
The TL:DR version: some say Malaysia got upgraded to Tier 2 because of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal. Some argue that the reason for that is the TPP will help Malaysia to increase anti-trafficking efforts in the future. Some say Malaysia is legitimately doing better. Others argue that it was a political move so the deal would work. I don’t have the answer, but it’s worth recognizing that this report wasn’t written in a vacuum. It comes in the midst of all the complexities of international relations. It’s never going to be perfect, but it can be pretty thorough.
2. It’s (mostly) not data-driven.
There are some numbers in it – data about prosecutions, convictions, victims identified, and new/amended legislation. (See charts on pages 48 and 55-60.) But the tier ratings for each country weren’t decided that way. The TIP Office staff are dedicated people and they did their due diligence, but this isn’t an exact science. A lot of human trafficking isn’t caught or reported, so it can’t be captured in the data. I say take it for what it is: lots of information that is well-organized and aims to both educate the public and incentivize improvement worldwide. I’m all for that.
So there you have it, my take on the TIP Report. Some ups, some downs. It’s a lot of information, and not everyone is going to read it, but this is our government’s tool to track the human trafficking situation worldwide. If fighting trafficking is an interest of yours (and if you read this much of my blog, it must be), then you definitely want to have a look at this report.
Director of Operations