Women and Foreign Policy Symposium: Human Trafficking - An Overview
8:30 - 10:30 a.m.
Council on Foreign Relations
ISOBEL COLEMAN: Good morning, everybody. If you could please take your seats, we’ll get started.
My name is Isobel Coleman, and I am the director of the U.S. Foreign Policy and Women Program here at the Council on Foreign Relations and also a senior fellow for U.S. foreign policy.
And it is my great pleasure to welcome you all here today for this day of learning on human trafficking. This is the first time in several years that the council has done anything about trafficking, done any programming on it. So we’re very happy to have all of you here.
As you may know, this is the first session in three sessions, three consecutive sessions that we’re having this morning. The first one is an overview session. The second panel, which will take place in a different room—you just walk through the doors and out and to the right; there will be people to direct you, if you’re attending that—is looking more specifically at the intersection of trafficking and health and security. And in the third session, it will be back in this room. It is a lunch with Ambassador Miller from the State Department, who’s the State Department’s point person on trafficking, speaking about U.S. policies on human trafficking.
I just want to note that the title of this day is “Human Trafficking.” I think there’s an explicit reason for that. We want to explore the many different components of trafficking. And I think that there is broad consensus and agreement that trafficking is a terrible thing and needs to be eliminated. There may be some strong disagreements on how we go about doing that, and I know that you will hear those differing opinions from different panelists today and no doubt from people in audience.
But we hope that at the end of this day, we will have shed some light on the different components of trafficking, both from the drivers of trafficking, the demand for trafficking. And at the end of this symposium, the council will be putting together a summary that will be sent out to policymakers around the world, which we will hope will draw increased attention to this very important issue.
I would like to remind all of you to at this point turn off your cell phones, please. And also, this meeting is on the record. Unlike other council meetings, this meeting is very much on the record. Our hope is to increase awareness of these issues. And I know we have several members of the press who are here, and so it will be on the record.
The format for each of the sessions is conversation style.
We have a lot of different speakers, and we ask that they not give prepared comments, but instead the moderator will ask a series of questions, we’ll have a conversation, and then we will open it to questions from the audience. And at that point, I would ask that you stand, identify yourself, wait for the microphone, and please ask a question. We would like to have some give-and-take in this, and we’re not looking for long statements from people. We would really very much like precise, concise questions. And I will hold you to that—so.
I’m only going to give very brief introductions. You have a roster with all of the names of people who are attending for the whole day. So some of the people on this list may not be here right now, but they’re showing up at the lunch or one of the other panels. And in that roster are more complete bios on all of our speakers.
I’m just going to briefly say—I’ll start with Ann Jordan. Ann is the director of the Global Rights Anti-Trafficking Initiative, and she is a lawyer who has been deeply engaged in anti-trafficking legislation for several years.
Neha Misra is the global coordinator for the American Center for International Labor counter-trafficking programs, also known as the Solidarity Center . It’s an organization that is affiliated with the U.S. labor movement.
And Jyoti Sanghera, on the far end, is an adviser on trafficking at the Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva .
And I just also want to note that this day is co-sponsored with the Global Fund for Women. And I thank Kavita Ramdus and the Global Fund for Women for helping put this together.
And I also want to acknowledge that for the past two days, there has been a meeting of many different people involved in different organizations around the world—health organizations, labor organizations—that have come together to examine how all of them intersect and interact on this issue of trafficking, which I think is an unusual thing for them to do because they haven’t really had that conversation explicitly in the past. And we are the benefit of their presence here in New York , and we have about 10 people from that group of 30, who have been here meeting for the past two days, here at our symposium today from different places around the world. So we appreciate your participation.
I’m just going to start out by asking a question of each of our panelists.
Trafficking is often conflated with sex trafficking. And as I said, this symposium is explicitly entitled “Human Trafficking” because it is an issue that has a myriad of different components; one, of course, is sex trafficking, but there are other elements of it. And I would just like each of the panelists to comment on that and give us their perspective on what are those different components and how should we think about this problem.
Actually, I’d like to start with Neha, if that’s okay, since you do work from a labor perspective.
NEHA MISRA: Okay. Great. Thank you very much. First of all, just thank you for having me today. I’m very excited to be here and engage in this conversation. And I also have to tell you I’m extremely honored to be on a panel with these two women.
To begin with, when I give discussions about trafficking to people, I always like to start out with the premise that trafficking at its core is a labor issue, whether someone is trafficked into the sex sector or whether someone is trafficked as a domestic worker, it really starts out as a labor issue. We’re talking about people who are searching for work, and because of the different processes that people have to be involved in, because of the way they have to do that, people become vulnerable to trafficking, they become vulnerable to people taking advantage of them.
One major group that’s involved in this are migrant workers. And because of the way in the world now that we have globalization and we have free trade and free—products moving back and forth, services moving back and forth, we still don’t have free movement of people, and this, in particular, makes workers vulnerable to trafficking.
Whenever somebody leaves their home, they have to figure out a way to get from one place to another, and they have to figure out a way to find a job. And because this is made difficult, it ends up in situations of putting workers at risk and putting them in vulnerable situations.
So just to begin with—and I think—I’ll let you guys answer the rest—but to begin with, I think it’s very important to see trafficking in persons as a labor issue.
ANN JORDAN: Well, I think it’s quite natural in a way that people would conflate what some people call sex trafficking with trafficking in general because the first recognition of this issue came about through women’s organizations that were encountering women who had been trafficked into forced prostitution. So they became very active, and I notice even here at this meeting and many meetings I go to, that the people who are here, you know, are mainly women because we still tend to think that trafficking really is only about prostitution and about the kinds sexual abuse, you know, going into—trafficked into pornography or something.
But we know from experience that there are many, many forms of trafficking. I always call the traffickers equal opportunity exploiters. I mean, they will—you know, if they’re going to traffick, for example, into the Northern Marianas, which they did, they traffick people from Asia into domestic work, factory work, construction work and prostitution, and these were the same kinds of rings that were doing all of it.
So there has been a great recognition in the international community that we have to address all of these abuses of people who are really, as Neha was talking about, that this labor abuse, and trafficking is down here at the far end of the spectrum with its—with forced labor. Obviously, we have forced marriages too, but even in forced marriages—trafficking into forced marriages, there is this component of forced labor. So that we have international recognition now that there are all forms of trafficking, that anyone can be easily put into a position of vulnerability where they can be put into some sort of forced labor where somebody else can benefit. So that now we have a law in the U.S. and at the U.N. level that recognizes it.
So I think what we need to do then is to translate that more into practice and into the media also to get the media more recognize that a lot of times what they think is just abusive exploitation of workers really could be trafficking and force labor, so we can have more of a conversation.
JYOTI SANGHERA: I would also like to say I’m very delighted to be here, and thank you all for having me here.
Coming from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, I have to say that many years ago when this work on trafficking started—and just to echo what Ann said—certainly everybody by and large was looking for trafficked people in the sex sector and particularly women. But I think over the years our experience and our knowledge in the area has shown us that indeed there is trafficking in various sectors, as both—and Neha has said, and in fact, now that reports coming to my office and to colleagues in the office, as well as urgent appeals, as well as the work of several special rapporteurs, is revealing that indeed there’s a lot of trafficking happening of certainly women, girls, but also young boys and men in various sectors.
A recent report by the ILO speaks of 80 percent of trafficking now in the Ukraine and Poland is of men, and in several other countries—definitely Asia, Africa—we see young boys—vulnerable people and young children are indeed vulnerable, including young boys—being trafficked into the agriculture sector, into the informal sectors the industry, into construction work. So while not taking the focus and the limelight away from trafficking of women, girls, men and boys in the sex sector, I think it’s important that we begin to fan out and look at other sectors of the economy into which forced labor, exploitative labor and slavery-like conditions exist.
And as Neha said, definitely the migrant workers and those who are undocumented as migrant workers are a lot more vulnerable.
And we also find that within them, those who—you know, who come from indigenous communities, who come from minorities are even more vulnerable. So there is—how do you say—an intersection of disadvantage and discrimination, which makes a particular person more vulnerable to harmful practices, including trafficking.
COLEMAN: Thank you.
And how big is this problem? The State Department TIP Report from 2005 said that somewhere around—well, they were quite specific—12.3 million people are trafficked in these different capacities, and they talked about forced labor, child labor, the sex trade. They talked about a number of different components. But are we comfortable that there are good statistics on this? Or is this an area where we are still trying to collect data? I mean, it sounds as if the—this recent report that you refer to has opened people’s eyes to the extent that men and boys are being trafficked, particularly into the different components of the forced labor. I mean, how do we size this issue?
And I—we’ll just start right down here.
SANGHERA: I think we need to take all kinds of statistics in this area of trafficking a little cautiously. Because at my office, we’ve come to agree, as well in many agencies in the U.N., that there is really no rigorous and sound methodology to ascertain the number of figures—number of people who are trafficked in a field which is so underground, so invisible and so clandestine.
So what we have is basically projections. And what we are finding out is that, you know, many researchers in many countries, for instance, reconsolate undocumented migrant workers with trafficking or people in the informal sector which is not regulated with trafficking or the number of women and people in the sex industry with trafficking or with those who are—unaccompanied minors with trafficking when it comes to children.
So, you know, a lot of things are being put under the rubric of trafficking. I think—I can’t understand the tendency to ascertain the magnitude of this problem by trying to figure out how many people are trafficked because it does make a difference if they are five or if they’re 5,000. But I think we really, really do need to be cautious about figures.
And just to give you an example, a very personal one, several, several years ago, it seems now, in 1990, I was doing my doctoral work on trafficking in Nepal and in the South Asian region, and that time the figures for trafficked women and girls in the sex industry were 5,000 to 7,000 per month—it was said were being trafficked into the sex industry in India.
In 2005, I was looking at some reports again of how many are trafficked in terms of figures, and the figure remain unchanged. And the same is true also in Bangladesh . So I think there’s also a tendency to, you know—somebody puts out a figure to recycle those and really not to go back and do serious work. But I think serious researchers and people in the U.N. have been alerted to this and are working very hard on developing a methodology, even if it is to project, to project with some rigor and some scientific base.
COLEMAN: Ann, do you want to share anything to that?
JORDAN : Yes. The problem with statistics is enormous. There’s a project in Bangkok which UNESCO—that has tried to verify the statistics in—from all different sources, you know, from the U.S., from the European Union, from U.N. agencies, and they’ve really not been able to verify any of the figures.
In fact, in one of them they traced—what they’ve been doing is tracing back, and they traced back and they found out at one meeting someone—it was at a U.N. meeting—someone mentioned a figure of a million in this particular area, and that became the U.N. figure. So it’s been very, very difficult to really know the scope of the problem.
And it also goes back to the problem that I was raising that people are looking at only a particular sector, only looking at women. So there has been a lot of snowballing research, where people will contact others they know to get figures, and they will contact others. Well, they end up contacting people who are doing similar work and not working with other populations, so that they’re not gathering statistics about, say, you know, trafficking of men and boys in West Africa or in Cambodia. So it’s a real serious issue.
But there has been some attempt. I read recently a piece of research done by a professor in Florida who went into Cambodia trying to verify figures there, and he actually went on the ground with researchers going around looking only at sex sector trafficking and actually counting numbers. So he has a methodology that he has used, going to—I think he went to, like, 50 percent, or a certain number of brothels, anyway, and areas in Phnom Penh . Now, that’s research that somebody else could go out and verify. And there’s very little evidence-based research that is being used out there.
So that also then leads to, you know, how many programs you have, what kind of programs you have, where the funding goes, who gets the funding. And then you end up, because you have these skewed statistics, with a lot of money and energy going to one particular area of the world or one particular form of trafficking, mainly of, you know, trafficking into the sex sector, and the traffickers are free to do whatever they want to in other sectors because people just say, “Oh, well, you know, that’s labor exploitation, and we’re all used to that and we see it every day and it’s not trafficking.”
MISRA: Can I just add also to what Ann was saying that part of the problem too is that people use different definitions of trafficking, and so when they’re doing their research, then they’re not necessarily looking at everything that I would assume encompasses that. And one example of that and, I think, one of the dangers that we get into is trying to decide where—on the spectrum that Ann was talking about earlier, where on the spectrum of exploitation and abuse of workers does it become trafficking. And I think that’s very dangerous to say, “Okay, well this person was just, you know, abused very badly and is not trafficked, but this person is.” And I think that makes it a little bit more difficult.
And just as a quick example, the State Department puts out a report every year, the TIP report, we call it, and—
COLEMAN: Trafficking in persons.
MISRA: Trafficking in Persons report, sorry. And they rank countries around the world, and I think it’s up to about 106 countries—60 countries—around the world. And I’ve done lot of work—I worked in Indonesia for many years and did work about migrant workers being trafficked in Malaysia . And the majority of the cases I saw there were trafficking for forced labor on plantations, for domestic work; it was not trafficking into the sex sector. Yet the TIP report, in about, I think it was, 2002, about Malaysia only talked about trafficking into the sex sector. And I think that was partly because of the questions that the U.S. embassy was asking when they were there. I’m not accusing the TIP office at all that they were trying to ignore the problem. They get their information a lot of the times from the U.S. embassy. And I think it was because of the way they were defining it and the way they were asking the questions.
And I raised this with the TIP office, and I’m pleased to say that, you know, last year the report on Malaysia talks extensively about trafficking for other types of labor. And so again, I just think it’s how people are defining it and how they’re looking at the issue.
COLEMAN: Jyoti, you mentioned in your comments that you were surprised to see the number in India and Nepal being static over a 10, 15-year period. Has the problem gotten worse? There’s an implicit assumption that the problem has gotten much worse, and I’m just wondering what has contributed to that. I mean, it seems as if certainly in the last five, maybe 10 years, there’s been a much greater awareness of the issues and a much greater understanding of some of these different components.
And is it that we now are looking for it and we see it—it’s always been there. Or is it in fact getting worse?
SANGHERA: I think it’s a combination of factors. We’re looking for it, so we see it. We’re looking for it in other sectors, so we see it.
But also, I think—(inaudible)—people are living in very difficult circumstances. For instance, just Nepal . You all know that it’s been caught in conflict over a number of years, and the situation is very, very difficult. Over the last three months, my office, which has a large number of people in Nepal , have said that more than a million young people have fled the country and are in India , just trying to flee and survive, basically survive.
So in some areas, yes, certainly the situation is such that it’s driving people out, whether it’s conflict situation or just economic hardship or erosion of livelihoods. So people are fleeing. That’s why we see that there are many more migrants who are fleeing their borders, their countries. And when borders are becoming barriers in terms of very, very stringent migration and immigration policies, then there is a tendency for people who must leave and are desperate to leave then to resort to clandestine ways of leaving their countries and fleeing their territories. So there is, I would say, common sense sort of logic which tells me that there is an increase in smuggling—and we see such reports coming to us all the time. And there is perhaps an increase in trafficking as well, just because it’s very difficult to move through legal means.
And I think at some level I can understand why it is important to have statistics, because if I’ve been working in this area for—God knows how many years now—I do want to know what is the impact of my work. Is it making a difference? Is trafficking being reduced as a part of what I have been doing? Is it staying static? Is it going up? And if it’s going up, then what is it that I need to do. But it’s very hard to get that impact, assessment in terms of numbers because we don’t really have methodologies. So what we are also trying to do is look at other ways to assess the impact of our work, which entails a lot of qualitative work, which is always very hard, but—you know, sharing that information.
But I would say, just in a nutshell, again to come back to your question, simply, because situations within which people are caught are getting worse, and because legal means to migrate are becoming very restrictive, there is a tendency for traffickers, smugglers, you know, other agents who will facilitate travel for people who cannot travel by legal means, to lead to an increase in trafficking as well.
JORDAN : Well, I want to kind of go both ways. On the one hand we have anecdotal evidence from Central and Eastern Europe that—and maybe there’s reports out there—I haven’t actually come across any—that ask people—originally when people were being trafficked out of countries in Central and Eastern Europe it was because they couldn’t migrate safely. They didn’t know how to migrate illegally, you know, without documents and safely, so that they had to use intermediaries. And so a lot of them ended up trafficked, as we all know, because we’ve all read the reports.
But there’s now anecdotal evidence that a lot of the people who in the past would have been trafficked are able to migrate safely. Whether they end up working legally or not is a different question, but they know where they’re going, they know what they’re doing, they have the networks, they have the routes. And so the difference between being trafficked and smuggled was really safe migration.
On the other hand, we have evidence here in the Americas that, as Jyoti was mentioning, closing borders, as our borders have been closing and walls have been going up at the border in the U.S.—we used to have seasonal migrant workers who would come in and work for a while.
Then they would go back home, and they would invest in their communities, and their families would remain in those communities in Mexico and in Central America .
But now those borders are closed, and it’s very expensive. Where people used to be able to cross on their own—it was very inexpensive to cross, to have somebody carry them across the Rio Grande or whatever—now they have to pay thousands of dollars. And it’s very dangerous—they could die in the Arizona desert; people are dying—so that we end up having people who now come to the United States —first, usually, it’s men on their own, but sometimes with their wives, or it’s now also young women on their own. They do not go back. We no longer have the money that was being made in the U.S. going back to help support families in Mexico and build and have the family community there.
So what you have is, then, the wives start following them. They also stay. They don’t go back. And the new phenomenon—it’s not all that new, but it’s a phenomenon over a number of years—is that these people are leaving their children with relatives or friends in their communities in Central America or Mexico . Those relatives end up maybe migrating themselves. So the kids become teenagers, and they’re not really controllable, and they wander off into communities and work on their own. And then they try to come to the United States with a little piece of paper that has an address of someplace in Los Angeles , and they’re looking for their families. Right?
So they come across the borders into Mexico , and the U.S. is now working with Mexico to tighten up on the border with Guatemala . It is extremely dangerous at that border right now. And these children and young women are coming across the borders, and the smugglers have control of all the routes. So these people end up then being trafficked, right?
So we have the situation where youth are traveling on their own. They’re being trafficking because our border’s closed, and they need to reunite—they’re looking for their families.
A lot of these children are ending up on trains in Mexico , where they get thrown off the trains and they lose limbs. Other women are being caught at the borders in Mexico , and their money is taken away from—they’re all raped. I know somebody who interviewed women in a detention center in Mexico City . I only talked to her after she interviewed 20 of them. Now she’s interviewed a hundred. But all 20 of the women that she interviewed in Central America said that before they left home, they started taking birth control pills because they all knew they were going to be raped on the route.
So we have a situation that if you start looking back to why did this all change, of course there’s instability in the region, but we in our end have a lot of accountability for it. So we have that kind of cause of increase. And then, on the other hand, we see in Central and Eastern Europe , where there’s more safe migration, there’s a decrease in trafficking.
And I’m actually going in a couple weeks to the border with Guatemala and Mexico to try to find out more about what is really happening.
COLEMAN: But Ann, as a solution to this, to say the United States should throw open its borders isn’t going to fly. So how do you try to come up with constructive policies that can address some of these issues?
JORDAN : Well, obviously we all know that there’s this huge migration debate going on in the country right now. I would like this to be included in that debate, right? I would like us, as a country of destination, just as in many other countries of destination, to stop pretending that it is a problem of the countries of origin; that we have got to be spending all of our money overseas to try to educate and train border officials and everybody else how to tell people to stop migrating. That is not a plan that is really going to work. I mean, I think we have to be more willing to look at all of the factors involved, including the situations in our own countries that help create an environment in which people can be made extremely vulnerable and trafficked.
So I don’t myself have a solution. I just want that part of—it be included in this discussion, so we can come up with one.
MISRA: And could I just add to that? I don’t—I’m not advocating for throwing the borders open and letting everybody in. But I am advocating for a realistic immigration policy. I mean, you can’t—there is—it’s not only that—as Ann was saying, it’s not only that there are people who want to supply their labor; there are not only people who need to leave their countries in order to find a job, but there’s a demand also for those jobs in the United States and around the world.
Just a quick example: I’m going to pick on Malaysia today, and I apologize to anybody who is Malaysian. I’m just doing that because of the work that I’ve done. But every few years the Malaysian government decides for political reasons that it’s going to come up with a new immigration law and do mass deportations of everybody who is undocumented in their country. And they did this when I was in Indonesia , and I think it was 2002, 2003. And they set a date, and they said, “If you’re not gone by August 1st, we are going to find you.
We are going to beat you—caning them—and we are going to put you in jail.” And there was no distinction made, by the way, for someone who was an actual trafficking victim or someone who, you know, was just there undocumented, and so everybody was treated as a criminal.
So what that ended up doing was there were massive movements of people over the borders from Malaysia into Indonesia which at first made people even more vulnerable because they all just kind of sat on the Indonesia side and—recruiting agents, and people who wanted to exploit them just kind of swooped in and these people needed a job, they needed a place to go, so that was very easy.
But the other point is is this—it’s extremely unrealistic, and the Malaysian government knows this. The Malaysian government knows that its economy could not function without these workers in the country, and yet, they will not develop an immigration law that makes it easier for workers to come in. I’m saying basically that if you want people to come in and do these jobs or if people are coming in and doing these jobs, make a realistic immigration law to deal with that.
And the employers know it, too. I mean, the employers in Malaysia know that they need this labor, and they couldn’t function without it. And, you know, it’s much easier, I think, for a government to stand up and say, “Well, of course, you know, trafficking of the sex sector is wrong, and we—what happens to these children is awful.” But you don’t very often see governments stand up and say, “What is happening to these workers is awful, and we are creating the situations that allows people to exploit them.” If you give somebody papers, you put them under the labor laws of your country, they’re much, much likely to be trafficked, and so I’m just calling for realistic laws that make sense, given the economic situation.
COLEMAN: In 2000, the U.S. passed some landmark legislation on taking anti-trafficking measures for the first time in modern history in this country, and I believe, Ann, you were quite involved in that legislation. Going back to Jyoti’s question, I mean, are we making progress? You know, you want to know. It’s hard to tell from the statistics. Is it that we’re now seeing more? Or is it that there are factors beyond our control, whether it’s fragile or failed states or all—increase in poverty in different areas that are driving this? Or is it that we’re simply looking for it and finding it more? But what’s happened, in your perspective, since 2000 when the U.S. has passed that legislation? I mean, are we making progress? And in what areas are we making progress? And in what areas are we not making progress?
Maybe we’ll start with Jyoti.
SANGHERA: I think the U.S. legislation contributed to a slew of other international instruments which were—which came up around the same time on the issue of trafficking and on the rise of migrant workers. So in that sense, I think it added its part and the U.S. contributed to raising awareness on the issue to recognizing that this is an international issue, a problem we need to address, and that we need to do it comprehensively.
I also think it did put pressure on some of the countries who were not recognizing it and who were not really—who had sort of—it was not on their radar screen at all, to recognize that they need to look into this area and to figure out what’s happening with their population, with their population’s movement, moving with others coming in and to really deal with the issue.
Now, in terms of responses, what we are finding is that the tiering—the three tiers into which countries are spotted, according to the TIP report—Tier 1 are those who are doing a lot and have a good record on their trafficking work; Tier 2 is the meddling one; and Tier 3 really needs to improve. And then there are watch lists.
I think what we are seeing is that in responding to—graduating from Tier 3 to 2 or 2 to 1, several countries may be putting together very hasty and unthought laws to address their situation and also other initiatives in addition to policies and legislation.
Just to give you an example, in some countries the punitive measures in their legislation for trafficking have been hiked up to life imprisonment and sometimes even to capital punishment. This has led the criminal justice system in those countries—and I would perhaps mention Bangladesh as one of those—to be reticent in meting out such harsh punishments because the evidentiary processes are weak and trafficking is a very hard crime to really—to lay charges on. Evidence is very, very difficult to collect. It requires a lot of cooperation between all the sectors of the criminal justice system.
So this might send the message out, when you have fewer sentences in prosecution that, you know, you can get away with it because the sentencing may have come down. Or on the other side, people may be sentenced for crimes which are not adequately investigated. So that’s one offshoot that we’re looking at.
The other is, recently I was at a meeting of the Asia Pacific countries in Beijing where 52 countries were reporting on several aspects of human rights, including their work on trafficking. And almost all of them across the board said that trafficking was increasing; and two, what were their responses, that they were making their borders much more stringent, tighter, and therefore, movement across would be not possible. So the immigration and migration policies were being made much tighter.
Now, we do know—if there’s one thing we do know, that is that while opening up borders may not address the problem of trafficking, closing borders also does not address the problem of trafficking; in fact, it might contribute to it by precisely by what I said earlier.
So in response to the TIP tiering system, the other thing we are finding is that the migration/immigration policies are becoming far more stringent. So I think it’s important, considering that the U.S. act is only five years old, to really do very serious research on what is the impact of the TVPA and to see in what sectors is it helping in terms of responses, and in what sectors it is not helping, in fact contributing to other problems.
JORDAN : Well, there’s a lot more attention being paid to this issue in countries around the world right now. And I—you know, some of it is due to the U.S. really going out and funding governments and organizations to get more involved. But on the other hand, there is just a lot of work being done in different regions to try to address the issue.
But one of my concerns is—and I have no idea if it’s related to the TIP Report. But what I have seen in many countries, and also in the United States at the state level, where they’re adopting laws, is the approach is simply law enforcement. It’s all about criminalization. So many governments think if they pass a law to criminalize, then that’s all they need to do. And so there’s no safety, no protections for victims. So you have situations in many countries—well, one, also the laws are badly drafted and prosecutors don’t really know what they mean because they have a lot of terms in them that are not well defined.
So you have situations now in many countries where you have a law on the books, but then you also have organizations working to help people. But what happens is the people are pulled out of the situations and then they leave the country. So the traffickers are never really prosecuted because you don’t have a complete system that enables the victims to be able to feel safe and get control over their lives and have safety after they’ve been a witness. I always called it—you know, from a law enforcement perspective, they treat these victims often as disposable witnesses; you know, you use them for the prosecution, if you do prosecute, and then you dispose of them.
And we have another problem that I’ve seen in a number of countries is that even if you have a law enforcement approach only and you do provide some protection, many of these people cannot go back to the countries that they came from, because they are very small. My example would be Bosnia , where I’ve worked. In Bosnia there’s lots of victims, but there’s no safe haven in Bosnia ; it’s too small. So somebody who’s a witness can’t remain there like they could in the U.S. They can’t go back to Moldova because they’re going to be prosecuted and—you know, they’re going to be captured and re- trafficked or killed in Moldova , and there’s no countries that are willing to take them in.
So you have the situation where I guess countries now maybe are on tier one, right?—because they have these laws. But if you go into looking at what is actually happening on the ground, you’ll see that the situation is very, very different, difficult, and sometimes it gets very discouraging because there’s millions and millions and millions of dollars being spent on conferences and meetings and law- drafting committees and everything else. And I ask myself now, okay, I’ve worked in Bosnia, we’ve worked in Cambodia, is the situation now any different than when I worked there however many years ago? I mean, for me, that’s the bottom line.
I don’t care how laws you have. In the U.S. we have no trafficking law. We had prosecutions and we had victim protection even before we had a trafficking law. So I think for all of us the bottom line has got to be what is happening to the victims and are the traffickers being prosecuted under whatever law there is. And I’m not seeing a tremendous amount of progress on that side.
MISRA: Can I just add real quick, Isobel? You know, I think it was wonderful when the trafficking act was passed in 2000, and anything that raised awareness of this issue I think is wonderful. I mean, I have to say, all three of us up here and organizations such as mine, we’ve been working on this issue much longer than six years. And we just weren’t using the word “trafficking”. My organization was calling it “exploitation of workers”, other groups were calling it other things. But the fact that, you know, the U.S. being the U.S. , they are able to put a spotlight on something, and I think that’s what the act did in 2000. And the fact that there’s an office in the State Department dedicated to trafficking I think is wonderful. The problem is, is that it’s—it’s segmented. As Ann was saying earlier, just in the immigration debate that’s going on right now in the U.S. , people aren’t talking about trafficking and exploitation of workers as part of framing that debate.
The same thing in every other arena that you think about. The U.S. negotiates free trade agreements all the time with bilateral regional trade agreements all the time, and yet the impact of those trade agreements on workers, the impact on trafficking of those trade agreements is not discussed in negotiations. Perfect example is in the business section of The New York Times today there’s an article about Bangladeshi workers that were trafficked to work in factories in the formal sector in Jordan in garment factories. And this was a result of the free trade agreement with Jordan . So the U.S. had a free trade agreement with Jordan —fabulous. All these companies want to come in and invest in Jordan —that’s also wonderful, I have no problem with that. But along with that, they did not pass labor standards that went along with that, they did not, you know, work with the Jordanian government to make sure that there were regulations in place to protect workers, they didn’t think about the other things that needed to be put in place. They thought about free trade and how are goods and services going to move, how could investment come in, but they didn’t think about the workers’ side, and it results in trafficking. I can give you 10 other examples of trade agreements where that happened. And I’m not saying we shouldn’t have trade agreements and a trade agreement in Southern Africa or in Africa , AGOA, the African Growth and Opportunities Act. I think it’s wonderful in so many ways. It brought a lot of investment into Africa , but it also increased trafficking for labor exploitation. And that needs to be discussed, and it’s not.
One other quick example, I’m sorry. But the World Trade Organization. You have—you know, all these countries come together at the World Trade Organization to talk about trade, talk about quotas for bras, and you get very technical and specific. But they don’t talk about trafficking. And what happens is there was something called the multifiber arrangement, which was basically an agreement among countries about quotas from different parts of the world about different types of garments. And I said “bras” because that was actually one of them that was part of the multifiber arrangement. And what happened was over a series of years different things got phased out of the quota system, which meant there were no longer quotas and you can make as many of anything you wanted in any particular country. And so that system completely was done away with on January 1st, 2005 .
And what happened when that was completely done away with is literally overnight you saw factories closing in Africa, in Bangladesh, in Central America, overnight closing. So you had hundreds of thousands of workers who were out of a job the next day.
JORDAN : Mostly women.
MISRA: Mostly women. Mostly young women. And these jobs are moving to China , moving to India . And that wasn’t talked about. It wasn’t, you know, something that was discussed in trade negotiations, that all of a sudden you’re going to displace all these women. And I can guarantee you that there was an increase in exploitation in trafficking of these young women workers because of that, and yet it wasn’t addressed.
And now, you know, now I look—you know, the GTIP (sp) office, USAID, we actually have a grant in India to look at the effects of the Multifiber Arrangement phaseout on women workers in Bangladesh . But it’s a little too late. You know, this should have been thought about beforehand. And I think part of the problem is with the TVPA that you have to have all the different factors contributing to it involved in the conversation, and it’s not.
COLEMAN: We’re going to open up to the audience now for questions. And I would like you to please identify yourself, wait for the microphone, and please remember to ask a question. We’ll start here, Nick Kristof.
QUESTIONER: Hi. I’m Nicholas Kristof from The New York Times. I just wanted to ask a definitional question again, which you alluded to, and that has to do with situations where there isn’t such obvious coercion. For example, you know, people in China who will pay $10,000 and promise to pay, say, another—to work—for another $20,000 worth after they arrive in the U.S. If they basically get the kind of work situation in whatever field that they were expecting, but their passport is confiscated, there is some exploitation maybe backed by some threat that they stay in that brothel or factory or whatever, then is that trafficking?
JORDAN : Under U.S. law, yes. I mean, if you look at the U.S. legislation, it talks about debt bondage. I don’t remember exactly—you know, peonage, right? So that’s the definition of it. There’s also a section of the statute that forbids taking away anyone’s passport, which we just found out that there was an order issued by DOD telling organizations like Halliburton that their subcontractors can no longer take away the passports of the immigrant labor that they take into Iraq . So it’s in the U.S. legislation. And it’s obviously trafficking, and they get prosecuted for it.
MISRA: In the situation of debt bondage, I think it’s important—you know, a lot of times people, when they think of trafficking, think of somebody locked in a room and think of somebody who can’t escape. But debt is a way of being locked up, and I think that’s very important and I think it must be included in the definition of trafficking, because if you owe somebody $20,000, they own you and you can’t leave that situation. And that’s a very, very big problem, and I think it’s important that that is included in the definition of trafficking, and I would also call it trafficking.
SANGHERA: And I would say even in the Palermo Protocol, which is supplementing the Convention on Transnational and Organized Crime, it would be—a situation such as that would be defined as trafficking. So I think, while we do think of responses on trafficking, at the same time it’s very important that we look at labor legislation and establishing labor standards in all sites of work so that debt bondage and other kinds of situations of exploitation are simultaneously addressed while we look at trafficking issues.
COLEMAN: I would just add that my regional focus is the Middle East , and I know that in the Gulf countries this has been a new issue that the Arab papers have started talking about. And again, I don’t know whether it’s a new phenomenon. I actually think it’s a phenomenon that’s been going on for decades. But it’s only recently been openly discussed in the press. And you hear all of these tragic stories about bonded labor, in effect, and it’s being driven by the construction boom in the Gulf countries right now in a huge way.
MISRA: And that’s another situation—real quick, I’m sorry— that makes no sense to me. If there’s a job, if you need someone to go work, if an employer needs somebody to go to the Middle East to build a building for them, why should that person have to pay $20,000 in order to do that job? (Just to point that out ?). (Laughter.)
QUESTIONER: I’m Barbara (Cost ?) Haley (sp). It seems as though there are many countries that now have shortages of labor approaching. And how does that play into human trafficking? And how do we change the perceptions because I think there’s a big disconnect.
SANGHERA: I think that’s a very good question. Really there is—there are a large number of job seekers, and then, there are areas where there is a shortage of labor. And it seems only logical, does it not, to connect the job seekers with these sectors where there’s labor shortage. And the problem of trafficking arises because there is precisely this disconnect—this disconnect in connecting labor to the sites of work where work is available and in facilitating their movements in a safe manner to these sites of work. And because there are these two gaps, we have trafficking. And I think for people who are making policy as well as funders, who are, you know, giving funding for anti-trafficking programs, the first place we need to go and look at is precisely these gaps which exist. I think we really—we need a radical shift in our thinking now in our anti-trafficking work in terms of labor exploitation and movement.
JORDAN : Can I just follow up? I just want to say that the emphasis up to date has mainly been on the countries of reception that provide shelters and services for victims, which is very good, right? But I always talk—think that, you know, trafficking is like this huge funnel, right? There’s all these people that go in. In the end, you know, you have a certain number of people who are trafficked, so even among that, those two people who were only helping a very few, because it’s—we just don’t encounter all of them.
So somehow we have to think of the top part of the funnel, and that’s the idea of safe migration. And so if we really want to have an impact—just to reiterate what Jyoti was saying—we have to start thinking of how to convert those people from being potential victims of trafficking, either to people who can stay home because there is, you know, security, safety, economic development and jobs, right? and that would go back to these trade agreements and all of these other things that can impact on those countries, or there’s going to be safe migration.
COLEMAN: There’s a question in the far back.
QUESTIONER: I’m Victoria Smith, and I’m wondering—there seems—
COLEMAN: (Off mike)—microphone.
QUESTIONER: —it seems there would be an overlap—
COLEMAN: Stand and identify yourself. (Laughter.)
QUESTIONER: It seems that there would be an overlap in—
COLEMAN: Could you identify yourself? We didn’t—
QUESTIONER: —exploitation—can you hear me now?
COLEMAN: No. Can you first identify—
QUESTIONER: I’m Victoria Smith, and I’m interested in the overlap between exploitation for labor purposes and exploitation in wars; when women and men—and of course, we’re all focused on children—are trafficked or captured or moved to be soldiers or to serve soldiers. Do your groups look at those problems as well? And does the U.S. trafficking law cover that?
COLEMAN: Just me—that our second panel has a speaker who will address that question specifically.
SANGHERA: Just very quickly respond to that. Yes. Yes, that is indeed a concern, particularly in countries which are caught in conflict, to look the internal movement people, IDPs or internally displaced people, refugees, asylum seekers. And we also find that a large group of vulnerable people who are trafficked do come from these sectors, from asylum seekers, from refugees and IDPs. So very much the U.N. looks at this population and these forms of trafficking as well.
MISRA: And just to add to that, you know, I think any sort of post-conflict or post-disaster is in another area that we all look at, and so the tsunami, of course—and everyone heard about—in South and Southeast Asia—when was that, two years ago?—also was a situation where a lot of groups started looking at trafficking after that happened to see if they were vulnerable peoples and, of course, there were. But one thing that I would think interest—would think was interesting after the tsunami that a lot of people didn’t talk about—of course there were children who lost parents and so they were vulnerable to people, you know, trying to take advantage of them and traffick them—but there were also migrant workers that—you know, there were a lot, for example, Burmese, who came into Thailand to work as fishermen or in the fishing industry.
And when the tsunami hit, their livelihood, of course, is gone, and they had nowhere to go. And that was a group that people didn’t look at as much as a group that was potentially vulnerable to trafficking now because of the tsunami that happened.
COLEMAN: Sandy Thomas.
QUESTIONER: Sandy Thomas with Girl Scouts of the USA . You mentioned the Marianas . Could you give us an update on CNMI and what’s going on there?
JORDAN : I actually do not know what is going on there right now. I know that, you know, this was a huge issue and there was a lot of reports in the press. And—you know, because the problem there was that in the Northern Marianas they had the ability to import—or export from there to the U.S. with a “Made in the USA ” label on it. So the people who were trafficked into the Northern Marianas thought they were coming to the United States ; that’s what they were told. And when they got there and they got off the airplane, it was very easy to hold everyone—men, women, anybody—victims because they took away their passports and they didn’t have money to fly out.
So the question of the Marianas was, you know, were they going to continue to be able to have their own labor laws and how they could, you know, bring people in or not. And I have to say that, you know, a lot of this has come up again since the Tom DeLay problem because he was involved in working with people in the Northern Marianas on this issue. But I’m not current at all on what is the situation.
QUESTIONER: Sarah Leah Whitson from Human Rights Watch. Just going back to the definitional question, is there a consensus definition among organizations, like the ones you work for, on what the parameters of trafficking is and what trafficking is to distinguish it from the plain vanilla laborer and abuse? Or are you satisfied with the U.S. law definition that you just alluded to in saying, well, it’s trafficking under U.S. law, and therefore it’s trafficking?
JORDAN: Well, I have to say that those of us who have been working this a long time, we never wanted to use the word “trafficking” because it set apart a situation that is not exclusive to people who have been moved from one place to the other, right? And so a lot of times people say, well, you know, you’ve carved out this little area here where now you’re getting a lot of money, NGOs that are working on trafficking as opposed to forced labor or slavery, and you’ve got special protections for victims of trafficking, but there are other people sitting right next to them who are in the same situation, you know, who are not getting those protections and services.
So just—you know, but we’re stuck with the term.. And this is why we worked very hard to make sure that it was—trafficking was recognized as people being moved into forced labor, slavery and servitude, so that you could recognize that this really is the issue. So the problem for a lot of us now—and this is why—one of the reasons that, you know, we held these meetings these last two days, is how can we work with labor organizations to try to broaden the understanding of what the problem is and not just talk about trafficking as being people necessarily who have been—I mean, the problem not being just people who have been moved, say, across borders, which is what people think of, because there are a lot of people who can end up in forced labor situations just because they happened to get picked up by a recruiter in Texas who wants to, you know, use them in farm labor, but they came across by themselves with nobody—you know, but they may not get the same protections under our law because they—you know, unless they are recognized as internal trafficking.
So in a way we’re satisfied with the law because it works, because the prosecutors in the U.S. , they can prosecute for forced labor, involuntary servitude and get prosecutions. So the law works. But kind of conceptually, you know, we really want to talk about this as a broader issue.
SANGHERA: I think the definition is much more pertinent to law enforcement. For the person who is in a forced labor situation or in a situation of exploitation or slavery-like conditions, it really doesn’t matter how she or he got there, whether trafficked or voluntarily. What really matters is redress and to get out of that situation. But for law enforcement, yes, there has to be recruitment, there has to be coercion or, you know, fraud or whatever, and then exploitation.
But really, at my office, where we consistently try and try very hard to center this person and the human rights of this person, and to look at remedies which are human rights-based, what really matters is to get this person out of that terrible situation.
And the other thing I want to say is what they found out is that the pool of people who—from where trafficked persons come, all those who are undocumented or those who cross borders in unsafe ways, or even those who reach situations which are perfectly okay, is the same. It’s what kind of knowledge you have of the public world of travel, as well as, you know, just sometimes—yeah, just chance. One woman may be able to migrate in a rather safe way and get into a situation which may be terribly exploitative, but then she’s not trafficked. But she’s in a forced labor situation. Then another one may find an agent who helps her get in through debt bondage, a situation which is, at the end of the day, fairly okay. And she’s deemed trafficked.
So definitions are always problematic. And I think if we are to start from this end, to see this person really needs to get out and wants to get out, then I think we will begin addressing the situation in a more realistic and, for me, importantly, human rights-based way.
MISRA: And just to mention really quick, the other problem is that definitions are often very, very confusing. I’m a lawyer, and when I looked at the U.N. protocol for the first time, I was developing a training module, and I literally—I mean, if you saw the definition, first of all, it would take up this entire page. And it has comma after comma after comma. It’s like one big, long sentence that takes up this entire page. (Laughter.) And it’s—I’m serious.
And so for me, when I looked at it as a lawyer, even, I was sitting there going, “How do I explain this? And what does this mean?” And I know it was, you know, you had to negotiate when you come up with these agreements, and in even the U.S. law that, you know, there are things that you have—you know, everybody has an opinion. So that’s why it’s the way it is. But it’s extremely complicated.
And when I’m talking to, you know, migrant worker associations in Indonesia , I can’t give them that definition. And so I do what Jyoti basically was talking about. We don’t even really use the word that much, you know. I’ll be talking to people—migrant workers in Indonesia , and I’ll say, you know, “Do you know anyone who’s been trafficked?” And they’ll look at me like I’m crazy. And then I’ll say, “Do you know anyone who’s a migrant worker who was put into debt bondage, or anyone who was exploited for X, Y and Z?” And they’ll say, “Of course,” and give me a hundred different anecdotes about it.
And so one of the problems is that the definition is just very confusing, and I think we have to move beyond that.
QUESTIONER: Hi. I’m Deann Feeney (sp). This is a very complicated issue, I realize, but is there any hope out there? I mean, are there any examples in any country that either sends people or receives people, that has any laws or services that we can point to as any kind of model?
(Laughter among speakers.)
MISRA: For me, it’s just hard to pick like an entire country where things are good. I mean, I can tell you about different programs within a particular country that work well.
COLEMAN: Give us some feel-good anecdotes. (Laughter, cross talk.)
SANGHERA: Well, there are several good examples—let me say that—examples of where those who were trafficked have come out and have got into situations which provide them sustainable livelihoods, where they’ve been able to get back both their self- esteem, their confidence, and are doing well. There are many examples of that kind.
There are also examples where there have been prevention programs in communities where there’s been not only awareness, because that doesn’t work on its own—just telling people, “Oh, well, you know, there’s a terrible world out there and sharks infesting the waters, and if you get out, you’re going to get walloped.” No.
That awareness is necessary, but at the same time alternative programs which will provide them the livelihood which in the first place, you know, pushes them out.
So what we are finding—that very heavily funded awareness programs are really going nowhere. They have to happen alongside very sustainable options for livelihood. And that is working. So there are examples. There are indeed examples.
On the other hand, you know, people will move for whatever reason. I’m sure 80 percent of you sitting here are not staying where you were born. You’re all some form of—you’ve done some form of migration. All of us are—you know, I really call myself a transnational migrant. So we’ve all moved for various reasons, often just to follow our dreams. So we can’t stop people from moving.
There are several bad examples, of course. And I think sometimes that it’s also good to focus on the bad examples and be inspired by the good examples, but examples where surveillance committees have been set up in villages to prevent people from moving, you know, particularly young girls.
And the other thing is, this has become such a genderized sort of phenomena.
When boys and men move, they’re called migrants or that they have been smuggled. And when girls move or women move, then they’re trafficked, you know? And I think we really need to destabilize these kind of notions.
But yes, there are good examples. There are indeed very good examples.
COLEMAN: In the aftermath of the tsunami, there was tremendous concern on the part of a number of organizations that trafficking would explode. And in fact, the assessment was that it really didn’t. I mean, you talked about some groups that were particularly vulnerable, but is that an example where some increased vigilance had a—or maybe it was just overblown concern in the first place, I don’t know—but from your perspective, was the concentrated effort to prevent trafficking after the tsunami—is that a good news example?
SANGHERA: Yes, I think that’s a good news example.
MS. : We have more.
SANGHERA: There’s several organizations which came together and, you know, started giving—doing very serious relief work. The same happened in Pakistan when the earthquake happened. And there were fears that there would be trafficking, but, you know—a few cases always, but never to the extent that it was anticipated.
MISRA: I will say most of the feel-good examples that I—that are popping into my head right now are when people are allowed self-organization, basically, when people are allowed to organize for themselves.
A very quick example—I know I tell a lot of stories—but in Indonesia, when migrant workers get recruited, they get put in these holding centers before they go theoretically for training—how to use a washing machine—because they usually go over as domestic workers. And I call them “holding centers” because they’re locked and they’re not allowed to leave. And I’ve gone and I’ve visited these places, and, you know, they’re supposed to be 25 before they migrate; they’re all 13, 14, 15 year olds with fake documents. But I’m fluent in Indonesian, and I would speak to these girls, and they would look down and talk to me very softly, and I’m being friendly, you know, in talking to them in their language. And it always amazed me—I always thought to myself, “My God, what happens to them when they go to Saudi Arabia or they go to Taiwan and they don’t speak the language and they’re already so timid with somebody’s who’s nice to them? Imagine somebody who’s abusing them?”
And one of the ways that—one of the feel-good stories that I’ve seen that has addressed that is women organizing—these migrant workers organizing themselves. In Hong Kong , they formed a union. It’s called the Indonesian Migrant Worker Union. They did this on their own. They speak for each other. They sit at the airport, and when new women come in, they talk to them and tell them what to expect and where to get help. They meet on Sundays on their day off and they come up with plans and ideas. They lobby the government. They have demonstrations. They take to the streets. And it was really them helping themselves. And every—I can give you models all over the world where that really is the best way.
But in a lot of countries, they’re not even allowed to organize. In a lot of countries, the labor laws do not allow migrant workers—and, you know, migrant workers, immigrant workers—I use those words interchangeably—are not covered under labor law and are not allowed to form unions. And so while there’s good stories, there’s also laws that prohibit that sometimes.
SANGHERA: And I also want to give another very good example, which is unique. It’s really unique, and I think it’s wonderful.
There is an association of workers or women in the sex sector in Calcutta , in West Bengal . And it has a membership of now 60,000 sex workers, and they identify as sex workers. And one of the most successful examples that we have seen of trafficking being stopped is through this—it’s called the DMSC or Sonagachi Project. Through the organization of DMSC, they have themselves set up self-regulatory boards in the areas—in the brothel areas where they have organized. And currently there are six self-regulatory boards functioning, which include a membership of 60 percent of the women themselves, the sex workers, and 40 percent of non-sex workers, including a local cop, a medical person, a social worker, a political representative of the party or the municipality of that area.
And nobody else but the women themselves and the men and transgendered people in the sex industry know better who—how to detect a trafficked person or a minor who has entered the brothel area. So they ensure that they immediately go in and they pick up this person who is either under 18 or who is in the—in that particular brothel against her will or his will, and they have a halfway house.
They take the person, pull him or her out into the halfway house, and then ask the kid, if it’s a child, or the person what it is that he or she wants to do. If they want to go back to their families and be reunited, then they facilitate that. And if not, then they link them up to other NGOs who provide some kind of skills training and livelihood options. And over the past five years since these boards have been functioning, there—in those areas there have been no victims of trafficking reported. And it’s a really wonderful example.
JORDAN : I’d like to give one other example from the U.S. And the common feature, I think, of all of these examples is that there is self-representation, there is empowerment, and there is knowledge of legal rights, and there’s a space for expressing—self- expression. And this is—an organization in Florida called the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, and it was started by tomato pickers from Honduras , Mexico and Haiti , I believe. And it is an organization that now has just done phenomenal work. They go out into the fields, they look to see in the fields who is being trafficked and who is being held. They have basically pulled cases together for three huge slavery cases in Florida . There are also in terms—one of the first things that they do, they have a little radio station—you know, it’s just a low-power radio station—in southern Florida that’s in Spanish. And through the radio station and through their meetings, they—one of the first things they do is they start teaching people about the U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights, what their status is here in the U.S., and it’s transformative. You know, the people are transformed because they probably felt very powerless in their own countries, and all of a sudden they have people who look like them and speak like them telling them that they have rights, and yes, there’s something you can do about it. And so many of these workers actually go out into the fields pretending to be workers getting jobs, doing undercover work, and then, obviously, this is work that the feds should be doing if we had more people doing this kind of work than, you know, patrolling our borders the way they are, or, you know, airplanes and stopping grandmothers at airports. But anyway, so they—(laughter)—they have been able to actually bring forward cases.
The other thing that they have done as an expression of their power, which is really an incredible achievement in the U.S. , they had a campaign against Taco Bell. And the owner of Taco Bell is the largest food—you know, kind of restaurant company in the United States . They got Taco Bell’s—I mean, the company, Yum! Brands, to capitulate to their demands. And Yum! Brands entered into an agreement with this coalition of migrant workers agreeing to open up all of their books to them to let them see what wages workers are being paid and guaranteeing that every worker in the tomato fields in Florida that they use would personally get a penny a pound more for tomatoes. And they have also agreed to let the coalition look at their books in other parts of the country to try to raise wages to a living wage.
Now, to me, that’s a tremendous success. That—that is looking at the top end of the funnel and trying to prevent people from being trafficked in the first place.
COLEMAN: In the back.
QUESTIONER: Thank you. My name is Alphonse—(name inaudible). I am an immigrant. And I think the mechanisms have been in place to solve all these problems for a long time. I mean, I was screened in Europe before I came in—police records, I had a job, I was protected by an organization that brought me in, I was informed about my rights, I had always papers. And somehow all these have been forgotten. And we just have all these illegal immigrants—and this is the key problem, I think. And, of course, when you’re illegal, you’re not legal, therefore you’re subjected to abuse from all possible directions. In my case, I was very lucky. And I came with other people of different professions that the U.S. of A. needed at that time. So the U.S. of A. determined who they wanted in, they selected these people, but not at the border, but in the consulates of all different countries surrounding the United States . And you cannot control the borders. It is impossible—
COLEMAN: Do you have a question?
QUESTIONER: Well—(laughter)—the question is, why have we forgotten this? Why, all of a sudden, this is like a big thing, you know? This has been going on forever in this country.
MISRA: And I—I think said that earlier, you know, we’ve been talking about this for years, but it’s just been called “trafficking” the last six years. So what you just pointed out—and I don’t know what occupation you came here under, but there is kind of a dual system in the U.S.
If you’re a doctor or if you’re a teacher or even, as Joy who’s in the next panel will talk about, if you’re an au pair and not a domestic worker; but if you’re an au pair, you can come in very easily into this country with lots of protections, a guaranteed wage, you’re protected under labor laws, you know; all sorts of things happen, but it—unfortunately, I mean, it’s a class issue, it’s a race issue; if you come in an unskilled worker, you work in—as a domestic worker, not an au pair; if you’re working an agricultural worker—it’s not as easy for you to come in legally. And the U.S. is much less likely to be able—to want to even give you those papers. I mean, there really is a dual system, and it’s not just a dual system based on skilled and unskilled (job ?), but it’s a dual system based on class, race and gender discrimination.
SANGHERA: And country.
MISRA: And country, yeah. There’s country discrimination, and that’s the problem.
COLEMAN: Over here.
QUESTIONER: Hi. I’m Kate Kroeger from the American Jewish World Service, and I’m wondering, and as much as—or as much as trafficking is associated with sex work and with women, I often hear about it talked in the Asian context. And I don’t know if that’s because I focus on Asia or if that’s—if the problem is more accentuated there or the dialogue is more focused there. And I’m wondering if any of you could talk about the African context.
SANGHERA: Well, you know, just again, going back to an ILO report—and I—like I said, I’m using statistics with a lot of caution—but there’s a lot of—you know, trafficking is much more regional today than sort of from one region to another. So movement of people and migrations are also a lot more regional than, you know, from the global south to the global north, for instance. But I think when the problem was first highlighted, it was in the context of some Asian women who were being trafficked into the sex sector, and as these colleagues have pointed out and as many of you already know, trafficking has been conflated with the sex sector for a long time. But the ILO report, which was brought out—it’s a global report—a year ago, does mention that in the Asian region there’s much more trafficking for forced labor and exploitation in other sectors than the sex sector.
So it’s no more an Asian problem, and I don’t think it ever was an Asian problem. It’s one of those sort of mythologies which was created and then just, you know, disseminated.
On the other hand, we really have no data, you know. We really are very weak on data to show what problem it is, and I think it doesn’t really anymore help to identify with this or that or that sector, but really to look at the situation of forced labor and exploitation in other sectors.
Africa has a huge problem in—with children, with men, with women in the agricultural sector as well as in, you know, certain other traditional sectors.
MISRA: Another thing that’s interesting is that—I think one of the reasons that Asia’s focused on so much is because it’s—there’s a focus on international travel—trafficking, excuse me, that—which means, you know, from—going from Indonesia to Saudi Arabia, and I think a lot of the trafficking that happens within Africa happens among the African countries. But that’s—that trend is changing. And just to give you a quick example, I was in Lebanon a couple weeks ago, and the majority of domestic workers in Lebanon used to come from Sri Lanka , Philippines and Indonesia . Increasingly now, they’re coming from Ethiopia , Sudan and Eritrea . And there’s two reasons for that.
One of them is Sudan , of course, a lot of it is, you know, people fleeing the conflict there, and so that’s one of the reasons. But a second reason is that employers and recruiters in the Middle East—and I’ve been told this—are seeing that Asians know their rights more, there’s more protections for them, whereas the African countries, Ethiopia, for example, is not imposing these restrictions and these protections on their workers. So it’s much easier to import them, it’s much easier to exploit them, it’s much easier to pay them a lower wage. And so there’s a higher demand now, actually, for African domestic workers in places like Lebanon and Saudi Arabia than there was before, because, you know, the Philippine government is finally standing up and taking care of its workers; the Sri Lankan government is doing more. And so, you know, there’s always an endless demand—I mean, there’s always an endless supply of people that they can get—where they can get people from, and so that’s increasingly happening.
JORDAN: I would—anecdotally, I was in Saudi Arabia earlier this year, and the street children are predominantly Somali and Sudanese and Ethiopian in Saudi Arabia; the ones that you—they’re all over Riyadh and Jeddah.
Well, what you were bringing up is something that, you know, a lot of us have noticed, is that there is a lot of capacity of organizations in, say, in Central and Eastern and Western Europe and in Asia right now, and there’s a lot of money that’s been just pouring into those two regions. But there’s not much attention that’s been paid in Africa or in Latin America , Central America and Mexico on this issue, and as a consequence, there is very little knowledge, you know. So I’ve tried to shift my focus to West Africa and to Latin America , and most of the work there has been done on children.
There’s been a lot of ILO ITEC money going in, for example, for children. And there’s been a lot of focus on Nigeria .
But, you know, there’s not a sharing of best practices. I mean one of the things that is happening is there’s been all this work done in the other regions; there’s hardly any materials available in Spanish. It’s very expensive to work in West Africa; just traveling around is enormously expensive, plus you have English and French, so you always have to have translation, otherwise it doesn’t really work if you only have the French speakers, you know, and they’re not speaking to the English-speaking countries where people are trafficked into.
So we need a lot more resources, we need a lot more materials. We need to be able to bring the people from the countries that have a lot of expertise that they can share with these other regions of the world, because now a lot of organizations are just getting off the ground, and I’m afraid that they’re going to end up making the same mistakes, you know, going up the wrong paths, spending a lot of money and time on these big slogan campaigns and, you know, basically stop—“don’t migrant” campaigns, and we know that that doesn’t work.
QUESTIONER: Hi. Celia Dugger with The New York Times. I just wanted to ask a question—I mean, I was struck—and when I was in India I looked into this topic as well—by the lack of data. At a time when millions of kids are dying of preventable diseases and there are so many other problems of poverty, how do you make the case for spending a lot of money on trafficking if you don’t really know how big a problem it is?
SANGHERA: (Laughs.) That’s a good question. That’s really an excellent question, because, yes, you know, there’s such a shortage of data. So I would like to throw the question back at all of us. Why is trafficking such a hot and sexy issue, you know, why? And what is the political economy of this issue? And I think we all need to wrap our head around this in the name of trafficking what is happening. Are we trying to stop the movement of people? Has it got conflated? And it has. I think there are some examples with the war on counterterrorism, the war on trafficking has sort of come together. I think we really need to figure out what’s happening here. There are a number of other issues which are very important, and which are not nearly getting the kind of attention they should. I would also like to—that’s not to say that this is not an important issue, you know, but there are several other important issues.
There’s also a lot of focus on so-called countries of supply, when we do know that there would be no movement if there was no need or no demand for labor and the kind of labor that is provided by people who are trafficked or are in forced labor situations. So the question I would really like us to think seriously is this: Why is this become such a high profile issue over such a long period of time? And I really hope that the next panel also sort of begins to address this issue.
MISRA: I would also just add that I think that if there was a shift in where the trafficking money was going, we could address a lot of the things that you’re talking about, I mean, as Ann was saying, the beginning of the funnel, and I would call it dealing with the underlying causes. I mean, if you deal with issues of people being displaced from their land and being forced out of their traditional livelihoods, if you deal with issues of—you know, where there’s scarcity of food in one place and so it causes people to move, I mean if we deal with a lot of these underlying issues—if we have, when the IMF or the World Bank puts conditions on a country and we think about how does that displace workers and what does that do to communities, that will address a lot of these other things. Environmental degradation is a factor in trafficking. I know it doesn’t seem that way, but it is. I mean, all of these things.
And so I would love to see a shift in the trafficking money—call it trafficking money because you’re still addressing the issue—but shift it to these underlying causes.
And that really will address a number of things, and not just trafficking.
JORDAN : I guess I’d just like to address the question of why has trafficking become so sexy? And I think it’s become so sexy because everyone talks about sex, you know?—(light laughter)—that—that every—that there is a tremendous, you know, kind of moral approach now to the issue. And a lot of people conflate trafficking with prostitution. And so the—kind of the idea as well that somehow, you know, you force people to get out of prostitution, you’re going to stop trafficking. So a lot of the materials you read, the research you read, the reports you read, and a lot of the money that’s going in is addressing what I would say is a consequence of a number of these situations, which is people going into prostitution. But it’s not necessarily linked directly to a lot of the other issues that we’re talking about by what makes somebody become vulnerable to trafficking. And then I get a lot of calls from the media, and they always want to talk about, you know, sex trafficking. And I keep saying, well, you know, we have all these issues, can we talk about them? They don’t want to talk about them because these other issues are really difficult, long-term issues that require political willpower, it requires politicians with some spine, you know, to get up there and really address these issues. It’s easy to talk about, you know, poor women in prostitution; it’s hard to talk about who’s going to put out the money to help get these girls educated, you know? Who’s going to put out the money to get them jobs and let them know what their rights are? That is not happening. So I think it’s kind of the cheap and easy and politically—you know, a kind of sensationalist way to approach a much deeper problem.
COLEMAN: There’s still a lot of hands in the audience. So what I’m going to do is just take four or five questions all together. If you want to just remember some of these questions that you will specifically address—you don’t have to address each one—we’ll—sort of a lightning round here of last questions. But there’s one in the way—way back.
QUESTIONER: Yes. Taina Ben-Aime from Equality Now. On the issue of trafficking, I think everybody understands that it’s a very complex issue. But going to the whole issue of the sexiness of sex trafficking, as you know, there is a deep ideological divide within the women’s movement and the human rights movement as to looking at the link between demand for prostitution and trafficking on the one hand and the link between demand. I think that the commercial sex trade, as we know, is one of the largest international industries, following closely with the drug and arms industry. And we know, for instance, that countries where prostitution is legalized, those countries become magnets for the commercial sexual exploitation of women, including prostitution. My question to you was you talked a lot about facilitating labor, about facilitating the migration of women. Do you conflate the commercial sexual exploitation of women with work? Do you believe that prostitution is a form of work that is—that is acceptable to mostly women of color, from the global South, and from Eastern Europe ? So I would like your explanation of that.
COLEMAN: Okay. We’re going to take a few more. Jewelle, back there.
QUESTIONER: A lot has been written about the immigration—
MS. : One second.
QUESTIONER: Jewelle Bickford, Rothschild North America . A lot has been written about the immigration bills that were pending before Congress. Could you all agree that even though they might be the worst of the—or, the best of the worst, is there one that, in the context of this problem, that you could recommend? Because the 2006 elections are coming up, and some of us would like to be as proactive as we can be on this problem. (Laughs.)
COLEMAN: Right here.
QUESTIONER: Hi. Rebekah Wheeler from Doctors of the World USA . We work on a number of programs that are working to improve the health care for victims of trafficking. And I wonder if you could talk a little bit about the intersection of health care and the health outcomes of people who are trafficked and then people who return to their communities, perhaps with diseases such as STIs, HIV/AIDS, TB, and how borders are sort of being infiltrated with those diseases as well.
COLEMAN: I’m actually going to ask can we defer that question to the next panel, because that’s really the focus of our next panel. And I’ll take one more question and then we’ll—in the back here—and then I’ll let the panelists just wrap up.
QUESTIONER: Leanne Grossman, Global Fund for Women. I was very encouraged recently in California to attend the first meeting of the new California Task Force Against Trafficking and Violence. What was encouraging was people talking to each other from law enforcement, the top, the heads of the social service agencies, social service and health, and also the NGOS, all in the room together, so that the NGOs that are providing services to victims in their own languages were sitting with law enforcement and talking about how they could—law enforcement could protect victims.
And there’s a very progressive law in California that is better in many ways than the federal legislation, and I wondered if you could comment on that; do you agree, and whether the rest of the country might follow that lead?
COLEMAN: WE have literally just a few minutes, and the first question is a very charged and controversial issue and one that I don’t think we can give justice to in the time that we have. I’m sure it will be picked up in the next session. So maybe you can each just give brief comments on these, and it’s the immigration question and the California bill.
SANGHERA: To address the first question, I think it doesn’t matter what I think, whether prostitution is work or not. What the office does, the office I come from, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, is if there’s a group of self-organized people in a particular sector who think that this is work, then we come from their perspective and say, okay, what is it that you want improved in this sector? If there are women in that sector who say this is not work for them, they are in situations of exploitation and abuse and need to get out, then we stand with that woman and appreciate her perspective, respect her, and would do everything to get her out.
Having said that, we also have been reviewing some of the interventions that have taken place with regard to the sex sector, to put it very broadly. And I think one important human rights principle that we maintain is that any anti-trafficking intervention, regardless of what sector it is, must not adversely affect the human rights of the particular person it is purporting to assist, and should create situations which are more empowering for her whether she exits that sector or not or whatever. That particular intervention must be human-rights empowering and affirmative. And that is a principle.
So in that regard, there have been some interventions which have been very successful in particularly reintegrating people from the sex sector in their communities; and on the other hand, there have been some interventions, such as border interception on suspicion of trafficking, which have been harmful.
And just to tell you a story, recently—very quickly—of two girls aged 16 and 18 that I met in the brothel areas of New Delhi who had come from Neal, who were fleeing this very terrible situation. One of them had a brother who was with the Maoists, who got killed, and she and her friend got picked up by law enforcement in Nepal as informants to give information to the police. They were tortured for two months. Then they were sent back to the village. The Maoists came two weeks later and picked them up and wanted to find out what kind of information they had imparted, and were psychologically really abused. They came back to the village, and they tried to run away to the—across to the Indian border.
They were picked up by anti-trafficking organizations on suspicion of trafficking—
COLEMAN: Jyoti, wrap up.
SANGHERA: Yeah. No, what I want to say is and then they were handed back to law enforcement. Eventually they did manage, after again a second round of torture, to get away and were now in the sex industry. And for them at that point, the biggest fear was that they didn’t want to be picked up in a rescue raid situation and handed back—deported back to Nepal to be handed again to security forces.
So I think from their perspective it’s important that we listen to what they have to say. And I would again reiterate that it’s very important to listen to the women and support their human rights.
COLEMAN: We have literally one minute.
SANGHERA: Sorry—I’m very sorry.
MISRA: Just in terms of the immigrant rights bills, then, my organization, my parent organization, the AFL-CIO, of course has a lot on its website about that, so I would really recommend you look at that.
But just to give you an example, the guest worker program. I would say we have to have realistic immigration laws that recognize workers as workers and why they’re here, and that’s there’s a demand for them. But the guest worker law doesn’t go far enough, in my mind. It’s again creating a marginalized community of people and not according them full rights, whether full rights of citizenship or full rights as workers within this country. And so actually, there’s problems with all of them.
And just in terms of the sex sector question, I think that, you know, whether or not sex work is work or prostitution is work, it’s doing us a disservice to spend so much time discussing that. I mean the problem is trafficking. We’re not talking about, you know, the voluntary, the consensual, whatever, you know, or that people have no other choices. We’re talking about trafficking. And I think that this debate that’s going on, while it’s a good debate, doesn’t belong where it is right now. And, you know, and if it’s not work—you know, I’m neutral on this position, to be honest with you. But if it’s not work, you know, it is what women are doing in order to make a living. And so if you don’t want that to be work and it’s not work, give women real options for work, give them real options to make a living for their families and then we can stop the debate.
COLEMAN: I am sure we’re going to continue that particular debate—(laughter)—in other sessions today.
And the last question I think we’re going to deal with in the next panel also. We do have to wrap up.
We have a short break. And for those of you who are staying with us for the rest of the day, there’s some refreshments, and then we’re heading into the next room for our next panel.
I just want to thank our speakers today. Thank you. (Applause.)
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Listen to experts analyze human trafficking in relation to human rights, immigration, and labor rights.
Listen to Global Fund President Kavita Ramdas and Ambassador John Miller, the U.S. State Department's point person on human trafficking, discuss the Bush administration's anti-trafficking strategies.
The U.S. Department of Justice states that this act "addresses issues of worker exploitation resulting from trafficking in persons."
The act became Public Law 106-386 on October 28, 2000.