Panelists discuss how human trafficking fuels conflict, drives displacement, and undercuts the ability of international institutions to promote stability.
This meeting is cosponsored with CFR’s Women and Foreign Policy Program.
HUNT: Well, welcome, everyone. Thank you so much for coming. Here it is, Super Tuesday and a national virus watch going on. It’s great that you made time to come.
And we’re particularly pleased to spotlight an ongoing crisis that also transcends borders and violates a range of human rights, and it threatens international peace and security. This is human trafficking and its security implications.
I’m Kathleen Hunt, your presider.
I will introduce our speakers in just a second, but wanted to point out that, again, the timing of this discussion reflects the importance that the Council places on a recent report, which I have right here and you can get copies of, which is written by Jamille Bigio, our—one of our speakers. The report analyzes the complex dynamics of human trafficking not only as a consequence of conflict, but also as a tool of conflict in organized crime that can undercut the ability of international institutions to promote stability. The targets of traffickers are women, men, girls, and boys, but the majority of victims are women.
A second note of timing is important because this is a year of some major anniversaries of global and national milestones relative to the flight—the fight against human trafficking. And among these are—and as well as gender equality. On the gender side, it’s the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Beijing Conference, which many of you are aware of, and it’s also the twentieth anniversary of the first U.N. Security Council resolution that established its long-running action on women, peace, and security.
There are also two landmarks, among others, on human trafficking. And these are—excuse me a second here—the twentieth anniversary of the international Palermo Protocols, which set the global guidelines adopted by the U.S. and others to define their national laws and policies; and the twentieth anniversary of the major U.S. statute the Victims of the Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000 that Ambassador Richmond is going to speak to in detail. That law was authorized first by President Clinton and has been reauthorized by three successive presidents.
So here we have three great experts representing policy and research, in Jamille; we have Ambassador Richmond, who is representing the U.S. government and the official government perspective on trafficking and its challenges; and Ms. Wai Wai Nu, who is a Rohingya activist from Burma.
Excuse me, I should have asked, do we have a form? We use Burma or Myanmar here?
NU: That’s all right. It basically mean the same thing. Burma was—Burma was the name of—
HUNT: I should have asked this.
NU: —Burma, the country Burma, and it’s a little bit British accents, like, name which is called by the British colonials of the time.
NU: I mean, before independence. But recently Burmese military has changed the name to Myanmar, so—basically to—
HUNT: It’s Myanmar. We’ll go with Myanmar, I think, probably. Yeah.
NU: So I don’t mind. You know, it’s fine for me.
HUNT: If we go with that—
NU: It’s easier to call Burma in English.
HUNT: Of course. We can call it—
NU: So I don’t mind it, so.
HUNT: I think it—maybe Myanmar. Thanks. Sorry about that.
She’s a Rohingya activist and the founder of Women’s Peace Network.
So let me go, starting at the end here, with Jamille. She is the author of this report, senior fellow for women and foreign policy at the Council on Foreign Relations. You have a lengthy bio in the handout. Her expertise builds upon years of experience starting with grassroots nongovernmental organizations and the United Nations, and then becoming a staff policy advisor to several U.S. government institutions, including the White House, National Security Council, State Department’s Office for the Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, and the Defense Department, as well as the U.S. Mission to the African Union.
Next, for the U.S. government perspective we have Ambassador John Cotton Richmond, who since 2018 has served as ambassador-at-large in the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in—sorry, in Persons. Ambassador Richmond also has a range of experience in the global battle against human trafficking and particularly in strengthening the ability of law enforcement to prevent and prosecute trafficking at local levels both in the U.S. and abroad. Among numerous postings, he spent a decade as federal prosecutor in the U.S. Department of Justice’s Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit. He worked in India, and he has served in the—as an advisor—an expert on the U.N.—sorry, the U.N. Working Group on Trafficking in Persons.
And then for the probably most searing perspective of survivors in conflict settings we’re very pleased to have Wai Wai Nu here with us. As I mentioned, she’s a Rohingya activist. And following seven years as a political prisoner due to her father’s activism, she spent the last eight years tackling the complex dynamics and needs of victims of violence and insecurity in Burma. To make an impact at the local level she’s formed several organizations that provide training for women; built a network of women lawyers to provide legal consultation and education; and created various fora where youth of diverse backgrounds can discuss their ethnic, political, and economic differences, and explore ways to build trust and cooperation for peacebuilding.
So our perspectives are wide. They represent the various elements of the complexity involved in tackling trafficking and attempting to prevent and halt it. And I’m very excited to have all three of you here.
So let us start with the picture of trafficking. And we’ll start with Jamille, who has spent this time doing this in-depth research. It’s a sixty-page report, came out last fall, and it’s going to have a good shelf life for sure. Could you highlight, kindly, the trafficking landscape? What does it look like? Where is it taking place? Who’s doing what to whom?
BIGIO: Thank you so much. It’s a real pleasure to join you all this afternoon to share and discuss on the impact and the security implications of human trafficking.
Just to say a few broad words about what we see on the landscape of human trafficking around the world, so first off, despite near-universal pledges to eradicate this crime we see that human trafficking and modern slavery continue unabated, affecting over forty million people around the world today. We see it occurring from the gulags in North Korea to the battlefields of Iraq and Syria. We see it in brothels across Eastern Europe. We see it affecting victims who are children forced into military action in the Democratic Republic of the Congo or young men forced to work on fishing boats in Thailand, children and women pressed into domestic servitude in Haiti. We see it truly around the world affecting populations across regional, ethnic, religious lines. And as Kathleen noted, we see it affecting over 72 percent of the victims as women and girls.
We also see that human trafficking takes on a very specific form in conflict contexts. And here we see that—we see forced labor to support military operations. We see sexual exploitation, enslavement, forced marriage. There’s recruitment and exploitation of child soldiers. And also, the removal of organs to treat injured fighters or to finance operations.
We also see—and this is of particular note as migration rates increase—that traffickers are targeting forcibly-displaced populations. And we know that on migration routes human traffickers deceive people into fraudulent travel arrangements and job opportunities. Women and girls also face specific risks of sex trafficking and forced marriage.
And the security implications of these forms of human trafficking are both vast and underappreciated. We see, for example, that terrorists and armed groups use trafficking as a direct tactic of war, generating profits and advancing their strategic aims. We’ve seen this, for example, with the Lord’s Resistance Army and Libyan militias actively using captives to expand their military capabilities. We’ve seen terrorist organizations, including the Islamic State and Boko Haram, using sex trafficking to attract and mobilize male fighters and to generate revenue. So in just one year ransom payments extracted by the Islamic State amounted to between 35 (million dollars) and $45 million. So in other words, we see such groups using trafficking to expand their power and capabilities, thereby prolonging conflict.
We also know that human trafficking bankrolls operations for transnational crime syndicates. One estimate points to forced labor generating $150 billion annually. That means that forced labor and human trafficking, with that estimate, are more profitable than the global arms trade.
We also see that human trafficking can support abusive regimes. And this is something of note today especially in the case of North Korea, where we are watching them evade the impact of economic sanctions by trafficking their citizens abroad and taxing them to generate significant revenues for the government that allow them to continue to function and pursue the policies that they—that they currently have in place.
One last thing I’d note on the issue of human trafficking and conflict is that we also see it as a threat multiplier. And that means that we actually see it as it finances other criminal activities and foments greater insecurity—that it is not just a byproduct of conflict; it is actually in some cases contributing to fueling and to increasing the threat of insecurity in conflict and terrorist-affected contexts around the world.
HUNT: Well, thank you.
With all that being said, we would like to hear from a government that has taken trafficking very seriously in the last twenty years. And Ambassador, what—this has received bipartisan support for decades now and is something everyone can agree on. How would you highlight the progress that the U.S. government has made? And what challenges exist, nevertheless, to—especially to address trafficking in conflict settings?
RICHMOND: Well, first of all, thank you so much. And I’m grateful to your report, which I so enjoyed reading, and Council on Foreign Relations for hosting this conversation. This is an incredibly important topic.
I don’t want to skip over too quickly, though, this idea that it’s a topic upon which everyone can agree. That has not been true for the vast majority of human history. You know, for four thousand years of recorded human history we have had some sort of legalized slavery. We’ve had it culturally accepted and religiously endorsed. It has been commonplace on every inhabited continent across cultures. It is only in the last two hundred and twenty years that we have begun to see agreement that this is wrong.
So when you think about the initial laws to abridge the slave trade all the way up to the emancipation of chattel slavery to 2000, when we had the U.N.’s Palermo Protocol following on the heels of the United States’ Trafficking Victims Protection Act, at that time the U.S. had the only comprehensive law in the world regarding trafficking in persons. And there was just a few countries that initially signed on to the U.N. Palermo Protocol. Fast forward twenty years to today: in this year that we get to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of this U.N. agreement, we have the Palermo Protocol being one of the most widely-adopted international legal instruments. We’ve got over a hundred and seventy countries that have—that have acceded to it. And we have over a hundred and fifty countries who have now passed comprehensive anti-trafficking statutes. And every country in the world now has some sort of law against slavery.
That is incredible progress. If I think back to my middle school, like, social studies teacher, we did those long timelines of history, you’ve got four thousand years of recorded history where everyone was in agreement that you could own other people or rent them. And then in just this last sliver of two hundred twenty years where it’s been a complete reversal, I think that is something worthy of celebration, this consensus that this is wrong.
And so I think it’s worth, on an anniversary year, taking a moment and pausing and reflecting on that, because that did not come automatically. That was hard work by activists, by advocates, by civil society, by governments, by the community coming together, including in 2014 when we had the leaders of almost all the major world religions gathering at the Vatican to say that their sacred texts no longer support and should not be used to endorse human trafficking. Like, that’s massive progress, and so we celebrate that.
The challenge, though, is that those are parchment promises. And the survivors that I’ve gotten to meet during my career working on this issue, both from an NGO perspective twice and in government now twice, is that the survivors do not care and are not all that interested in another U.N. resolution or another act by Congress. We need those and we need to keep them going, but what they want is those parchment protections of law extended to the people they were intended to protect. They want a delivery system of justice. And that, I think, is our challenge. The challenge of this generation is to figure out how do we not just agree that people should be free, but how do we actually do things to make them free. How do we make this a reality?
So I don’t want to skip too much—too quickly over the agreement because I’m—I think it is impressive and we have a lot of people to be grateful for because of it. And now we need to do something with it. We need to do something with these tools that they’ve given us.
You know, when it comes to trafficking and security implications, trafficking in conflict zones, we have a couple of different categories that I would break it down in. We have criminal actors that engage in trafficking—that is, corporations, businesses, individuals, networks. Individuals who are engaging in this crime, always motivated by money. It’s an economically-motivated criminal activity. And then you’ve got state-sanctioned trafficking, where the governments themselves are the traffickers, where the governments are the ones engaged in it, also motivated by money. And then you’ve got this third category of individuals which are non-state actors, also motivated by money because trafficking is an economically-motivated crime.
But the interventions necessary to deal with those three categories are somewhat overlapping but also uniquely distinct. That is, the main intervention that we would recommend around criminal activities, whether businesses or individuals, would be asking governments to investigate, prosecute, convict, sentence, make sure we have trauma-informed victim services for survivors.
That intervention does not make sense with state-sanctioned forced labor. We’re not going to be asking the government to investigate itself, to prosecute itself, to convict itself. There we need a different set of interventions. We need a different way to gain access.
Similarly, for non-state armed groups that are acting particularly around child soldiers—hopefully we’ll get some time to talk about child soldiers as a form of human trafficking—there our multilateral response, our reporting-type responses, might be less effective than in other areas. And maybe some sanction regimes could be more helpful, isolating their assets and things of that nature.
But I think we need to categorize, like, where we’re seeing the trafficking, who the traffickers are, and then figure out which interventions might be helpful as we go about that. And what the Department of State is doing—and you mentioned the continuity that we’ve enjoyed over the last twenty years. I am incredibly grateful that this has—this issue has enjoyed bipartisan support on the Hill. It’s enjoyed bipartisan support in the executive branch. I, fortunately, have gotten to work around this issue for most of my career and have seen that firsthand. I know that my predecessors from a variety of administrations, we still talk to each other. We’re friends with each other. We’re scheming and plotting about how we can best effect change in this space. And so I think this is a remarkably safe space in what could be a politically toxic environment where we actually have stable, solid ground, where there is bipartisan support and agreement around this idea of projecting the issue and the—and the commitment to freedom around the world.
HUNT: Could you highlight one or two of the—let’s say your greatest hits in terms of what your office has been able to do within the U.N.—U.S. government?
RICHMOND: Yeah. Specifically focusing around the issue of conflict, I think that on the issue of child soldiers we’ve seen an incredible opportunity where we’ve got the Child Soldier Protection (sic; Prevention) Act as well as the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, two different pieces of legislation, but they merge well together.
So, for instance, the Child Soldier Protection (sic; Prevention) Act requires a listing of any country that has a confirmed or verified case of a child soldier being used. And there’s four different categories. There’s one for anyone under eighteen who’s engaged in direct hostilities, anyone under eighteen who is compulsorily recruited, anyone under fifteen regardless of how their recruitment occurred, and then where we have government support of armed groups and children are involved in that.
And so we’ve seen a variety of listings each year. This year we have eleven countries that were listed around the world on the—on the child soldier list. It triggers a series of sanctions. Much like our Trafficking in Persons Report, if a country is on tier three, failing to meet the minimum standards, that triggers a series of restrictions, as well, in terms of foreign assistance.
But we’ve seen some countries move off of—move off of these lists, and it’s come primarily through engagement and intervention and trying to work to see if children who are in armed conflict can be demobilized, who can be reintegrated into the communities. We’ve seen several countries where they have—they have basically shifted away from any children in their official military. We still have significant concerns about armed—state-sponsored non-state-acting armed groups where there are still some children that need to be demobilized. But a consistent series of countries where we’ve seen a decrease in the use of child soldiers.
The challenge on the child soldier list is you have one kid that is verified, you’re on the list. So the ability to measure incremental progress in that space, the law just doesn’t provide us that. But we can see, and we can tell where we’re seeing some progress being made by various governments, and governments who are willing particularly in the child-soldier space to move away from the use of children.
HUNT: Very interesting. Well, thank you.
Turning to the reality on the ground, I wonder if you, Wai Wai, could give us a picture of how it’s been, recently at least, in Myanmar, and what you’ve been doing to address the complex elements of trafficking, and how the dynamics work.
NU: Yeah. Thank you.
So last month there was a boat sank/drowned at the Bengal oceans, Bay of Bengal. And at least eighteen people were—died and many were missing, which, you know, the boat carries around eighty people, eighty-one people. And that’s actually draw, again, attentions and had some media coverage. And it’s like, so I used that picture of—from one media in one of my presentation. The scene of this boat drowning, it’s like, look like a Hollywood movie picture. And you know, people just skip it sometimes when you look at those pictures, and sometime people just, like, overlook all of these cases. And although whenever incident like that happen there are attentions and media coverage pop up, but then the discussion has disappear. The no action has come along with that. So it’s really terrifying, the continuous, like, incident like that happen in Southeast Asia.
Whenever I see those kind of incidents and whenever I see the interviews of the victims and, like, the women who have been into the traffic, for me I always think that it could be me. If I were in Rakhine state of Burma and Myanmar, it could be me. And now it’s my sisters. It is—it is—you know, for us, you know, having this privilege to be free life, we sometimes doesn’t—we don’t take these things as serious as it’s in the reality.
The State Department report last year ranked Myanmar one of the worst—the worst country in the world and in Southeast Asia, alongside with Cambodia. In most cases, in country like Cambodia, the root causes of trafficking might be their socioeconomic status—poverty, gap between rich and poor. But in the context of Myanmar, where I come from, the root causes are much more complex. And there is, you know, essential and important factor that exists in the context of Myanmar especially when it’s come to the Rohingya.
So Myanmar, as you may know, we have sixty years of active civil war across the country, across the borders. The recent intensifications of civil war and the abusive—like, the military’s brutality in the ethnic areas are one of the main reason that has—that is causing the human trafficking across the country. In northern part of Myanmar, where in the ethnic minorities area, in Kachin state, in Shan state, Karen state, Mon state, where a majority of them are Christian population, the—you know, the civil war created the condition that people can no longer survive in their own villages and cities. Not only that the civil war has caused their life really impoverish in a way that they have nothing to eat or to survive, but also there is no security. The lack of security and living in under fear basically pushed the people to send their daughters and their son—and their sons to other countries. In the case of northern Burma, it’s all about sending their daughters to the China for this sex trafficking and forced marriages. So this is the pattern that has been exist for many, many years, which hasn’t been addressed.
But in the case of Rohingya, the Rohingya is the largest vulnerable group to be traffic for decades. And people now, you know, try to frame that the forced displacement, the refugee crisis has created or creating the full sex—I mean, the trafficking in general. But it’s not true. It has been there, as I mentioned, since 1990s. The Rohingya has been targeted by the Burmese military since 1990s, for about thirty years now. And the persecution, the discriminations, the limitations and restrictions against—on their livelihood, on their survival, that created the populations to—no, to flee from the country, to have—leave them with no choices but to flee from the country.
So I think, you know, we—also while we look at the geography and the factors that causes the human trafficking, we also have to—we also need to pay greater attention to the groups and specific locations and specific contexts. As I said in the context of Rohingya, it’s about the state-sponsor systematic violations against their freedom and liberty. The conduct of the genocidal activities, the conducts of these crimes against humanity as the U.N. reports, has been lay out very, very detailed. So these activities and these persecution are the root causes of the human trafficking that cause against the Rohingya populations.
And when we talk about the human trafficking, I think sometimes most of the actors, states, tend to focus and address in a more isolated manner as a human-trafficking issue. But in my opinion, it is important that we try to linked with the root causes and try to address root causes. Unless we fix the root causes, we might not be able to address any of these things because there is no solutions.
Like, in the case of Rohingya there is no solution even if you are, you know, able to punish human traffickers or the actors that involve in the trafficking, because there will be more people fleeing because there is no way for them to survive in the—in the country, so they have to choose. You know, they need to choose to leave regardless of—regardless of, you know, the solution.
So I guess, you know—so—
HUNT: If I may interrupt just a second, you’ve just been pointing out the patterns that have been visible now for years and causing increasing amount of suffering. I’m wondering if we could ask Jamille, who’s done research on—obviously, on Myanmar but other countries, in terms of policy and action recommendations to kind of address these issues that are in plain sight now, and the patterns exist similarly in some other locations as well, could you give us a little bullet-point list, so to speak, of actions and policy change for governments that could—I guess governments mainly because they are the most powerful players in the global landscape to some extent—but what would be some of the key ways to close this gap between what’s known and what needs to be done?
BIGIO: Happy to, and I would start where—with some of the points Wai Wai made, that it’s critical to analyze and identify what is causing an increasing risk to human trafficking in the first place. And that’s—you know, one issue—I’ll note some of the ideas we laid out in our report, my co-author, Rachel Vogelstein, and I. One of the issues we see is that human trafficking is still primarily treated as a human-rights concern. And so the tools, and the responses, and policies, and programs that are pursued are often ones that are founded and addressing it as a human rights issue, rather than as the concern of the broader national security community. So as one point that, you know, reinforces Wai Wai’s messages is the need to, for example, collect intelligence on human trafficking in locations where they already track drug and arms trafficking. That, in fact, the intelligence community, those working on conflict analysis across governments, as they seek to understand what is fueling the conflict, what is needed to prevent or mitigate the risks of the conflict, that human trafficking factors into that analysis, and understanding what our—what’s increasing the risks of human trafficking in the first place.
And that’s something where we see a gap. Even though the routes—the trafficking routes that are taken, the actors that aid in trafficking are the same and similar across different forms of trafficking, human trafficking, arms, drugs, wildlife, that we also are treating these as separate—as separate issues. And we’re treating some as the concern of the national security community, some as the concern of the human rights community, and not really looking at kind of recognizing that all of these forms of trafficking may fuel and enable other security risks.
It is important—you know, Ambassador Richmond highlighted the economic influence and the economic motivation around human trafficking. So that’s where it’s critical to pursue policy steps that address the economic gains and benefits of trafficking. And here, we see, for example, greater efforts by the financial sector to better track and freeze assets associated with human trafficking. A lot of these authorities are actually already in place. The systems are—in many cases are already in place. And it is moving—it is kind of taking that step to actually say: This is a significant enough issue that we are going to invest the human, financial, political capital, and actually using tools that are out there. Being able to put travel bans and asset freezers on human traffickers, for example, that we are going to pursue that as part of our strategies to build a more secure world.
We also see issues on the accountability side. From—you know, from the start of the Palermo Protocol twenty years ago there’s been a big focus on criminal justice as one—as one priority to prevent—to hold those accountable who have perpetrated human trafficking. But we’ve not seen much success in pursuing charges against human traffickers. And there are some lessons here to consider. In ensuring that as we are engaging—once survivors have come forward, that we are—that our programs and policies meet survivors with what they need. Too many survivors report that they have been revictimized or retraumatized in some way by law enforcement or by the judicial system. And many, therefore, don’t pursue cases. And it’s important that we draw those lessons so that we do actually see successful prosecutions by starting at the first point with what survivors need and how we can support their recovery.
We also see that the need to bring attention to human trafficking more squarely into national security and humanitarian community responses. So even though we talked about how there’s increased risks around migration routes, the humanitarian community is just now bringing human trafficking into their policies and programs. And in a given conflict context—Iraq, Syria, Bangladesh, surveying, you know, Rohingya refugees there—they traditionally talk to the typical humanitarian nongovernmental organizations, and don’t think to talk to the anti-trafficking partners on the ground who have been working for years on this issue and can identify the risks. So there’s this real siloing that’s happening between these communities. That means that the people on the ground are being forgotten, and are being missed, and all of their needs and risks aren’t being addressed.
Same is true among peacekeepers, for example, making sure that peacekeepers, as they think about protection of civilians, see human trafficking as part of those risks. And that’s critical. Let’s take Libya, where human trafficking today is shaping the conflict there, is shaping the post-conflict economy, is shaping power dynamics between militias, and is truly, you know, fueling the conflict there. And there are a lot of gaps in the way in which the U.N. peacekeeping mission and responses to the conflict are addressing the risks around human trafficking, and the really complex picture of who is using human trafficking and who can help to prevent it.
HUNT: And could we turn to our represent of the government here to pick up where you’ve just left off on the question of how huge these issues are, and peacekeeping, and many other elements in the international realm are operating either in harmony or not in harmony. And similarly, at the national level, there is so many different agencies of—under the American umbrella, that you also have a mandate to try to keep in coordination so that trafficking within the United States is manage and, obviously, halted, if possible. All of these have huge implications for U.S. security. That’s part of the theme here today.
Could you just try to also bullet point, what are some of the key challenges that you face on the international level, that I think have been kind of outlined by Jamille. But, you know, from your perspective as a person with a mandate to speak to other governments and speak to, I suppose, Interpol and all that, the authorities that are out there.
RICHMOND: Absolutely. Let me start by thanking Wai Wai for sharing what you did. This summer I was in Cox’s Bazar meeting with other Rohingya activists and leaders, and hearing the exact same thing: That the root cause of their trafficking concerns all stem from this political unaccountable military that is both forcing children to serve, and forcing adults to serve, as well as displacing people, causing massive vulnerabilities around the continent. And we have deep concerns about that. I was encouraged that we did get some sanctions on the four top leaders of the Burmese military, preventing them from traveling. Obviously deep concerned about the ethnic cleansing that has been going on there.
And also, on Jamille’s point about the importance of financial investigations, I think obviously that is incredibly important. Following the money is often an effective way of sorting out exactly where these trafficking networks are and how they operate. One of our key challenges as we engage on this issue is thinking about this three-P paradigm that was given to us by the United Nations. This sense of we want to address this by thinking about prosecutions, thinking about protecting victims, and changing systems and structures to prevent this crime. So we want to make sure there’s perpetrator accountability with prosecution, we want to make sure there’s trauma-informed care with protection and want to make sure that we can take preventative steps.
Unbelievably, we have seen a 42 percent decline in the prosecution of traffickers globally over the last four years, which is a massive drop. It’s been a 55 percent decline in Central Asia, a 52 percent decline in Europe. It’s not evenly borne out everywhere in the world, but it does seem to be a pattern, and a pattern worthy of our concern because if we’re going to be successful in making sure that people have an opportunity to be free, there will have to be accountability for traffickers. And so I think efforts to diminish or decrease an emphasis on prosecution are misplaced. Obviously prosecution alone is not sufficient. It’s a necessary, but not sufficient, condition to actually seeing some success in this space. And we need to figure out how to reverse that trend.
And so we engage with governments frequently about how do we make sure your criminal justice delivery system is doing right by its people? Both victims and making sure that it’s done in a victim-centered way, but as well as the accused, making sure people have due process rights. Certainly don’t want folks to round up the usual suspects and engage in a whole different set of human rights abuses as they go forward.
You mentioned our domestic mandate. I think we’re one of the few parts of the State Department that also has a domestic responsibility. Our role is to support the coordination of the U.S. interagency as we think about how we’re combatting trafficking domestically and spend a great deal of our time on that. I’m grateful that we have some statutorily mandated structures that assist us. Trafficking is one of the few topical areas that enjoys a Cabinet-level meeting each year, where we actually get members of the Cabinet to meet. It’s an action-forcing event. It’s called the President’s Interagency Taskforce Meeting. We also have a senior policy operating group where we have key leaders from twenty-two different federal agencies that are working to coordinate, to raise issues where we have policies in conflict with each other, and think about how do we actually work through that on a practical basis.
This is one of the best practices, and one of the recommendations we consistently make to other countries is to have an interagency coordination mechanism. One of the things that we recommend, in order to best convey their laws to each of the ministries in their country to make sure that they can do something. But when we get into conflict zones, we really are focused less on the investigation intervention and more onto how do we motivate countries—how do we use the influence the United States has both through carrots and sticks, through incentives and disincentives, to encourage them to move away from this crime? Our challenge, though, is that human trafficking across the board is a very high reward, low risk criminal activity. And its’ going to take a global effort using all of our tools—our multilateral institutions, our bilateral engagement, our financial investigations, our sanctions regimes, as well as sharing best practices, if we’re going to make that change.
HUNT: Well, on that note, now that you’re all feeling a little bit daunted by the scale of things, should we open to our members for question and answer? I hope you’ll be able to direct some questions also to Wai Wai and her to get a little bit more from her own personal experience, but to all the speakers. So shall—do we have any takers? Any questions on any of these issues?
RICHMOND: I think you have a gentleman back there.
HUNT: Mmm hmm. Please identify yourself, if you don’t mind.
Q: Thank you very much for this tragic, but very important presentation. I’m Natalie Hahn. I was with the United Nations for many years, mostly in Africa.
Could you update us on the degree of trafficking in our own country? You mentioned twenty-two different agencies, a coordinating effort. Is it the federal responsibility? Is it the state responsibility? Which state has the highest number of trafficking incidents? I’m from the home state of Nebraska, and I’ve been amazed the degree of prostitution along I-80. It’s increased enormously over the last couple of years. So if you could just give us an overview on where we stand in the United States and what we’re doing about it.
RICHMOND: Absolutely. I can start by saying that—on your question, is it a federal responsibility or a state responsibility—I think the answer to that is yes. That it is incumbent upon individual states, as well as the federal government. There is dual jurisdiction on this issue regarding crime. We now have—all fifty states have some sort of antitrafficking statute. And we need more state prosecutions of trafficking. The feds, I can tell you having once been a federal prosecution, they make a federal case out of everything. It’s not just a joke. It takes a long time to move a case through the federal system. And they will never be able to deal with the number and scope.
We have seen a number of best practices come out of federal prosecutions of these cases. I can tell you that state prosecutions are increasing. I was just out in California. I was meeting with one county. And I think that one county did as many cases last year as we saw the entire federal government do. And I imagine that that is true as you look across the United States more broadly.
One of the challenges of our federal system is we are very bad at communication and counting. It is very difficult to know. Each state has its own legal regime. Each state defines things differently. And therefore, each state reports up, when it does, differently as well. And so getting an accurate count of what all the states are doing is something that, quite frankly, we have not been able to do.
You ask, where is it the worst. And this is a question that has dogged this movement from its inception, which is it’s very difficult to find a prevalence estimate that you can put any trust in. The Washington Post factchecker has given four Pinocchios to a number of different prevalence numbers over the years. Folks have done their best to measure them. The ones that have been accepted are global estimates. So we have this global estimate of 24.9 million individual that are either in forced labor or sex trafficking. When you add in forced marriage, you get up to that forty million. And those are generally used. But they’re not very helpful because we don’t have national prevalence estimates.
One of the things that I’m particularly excited about is beginning to advance the ball around data analytics and metrics on this issue. And what—here’s what we’ve learned, is that national prevalence estimates are very difficult to conceive of and fairly useless, even if we could get them. And here’s why, because when you’re trying to measure—when you’re trying to create a survey instrument to actually count the number of individual who might be forced into commercial sex, the survey instrument you would create would be very different than the survey instrument to count the number of individuals that are forced to work in agricultural fields. The traffickers are different. The recruitment schemes are different. The coercive plans that the traffickers use are very different. And the services victims need might also be quite different.
And so what we’ve learned is what we should focus on is industry specific and geographically restrictive prevalence estimates. So instead of asking how many victims are existing in Kenya, ask how many domestic workers are forced in metro Nairobi? If you can get a good prevalence estimate on that, then engage in a series of interventions over a period of time, you could measure again and perhaps actually see a reduction in the amount of prevalence. And so we’ve taken the advice we’ve gotten from scholars, and academics, and data scientists, and we’re making a significant investment into funding a series of prevalence estimates using different methodologies, different collection mechanisms, all focused on individual industries and individual regions, and then having a meta-analysis of these to determine which survey instrument is best in which location.
So multi-systems estimation may be good in developed countries with lots of databases. Network scale-up model may be better in other areas. Some want to use Facebook collection surveys. That could be helpful, but only if there’s data plans with the community you’re trying to target. Face-to-face surveys may be helpful, but people might be reluctant to share about trauma, particularly sexual trauma, with researchers they don’t know. And so just trying to compare and figure out which is the right one.
I think gone are the days where we just get to say as a community, as the antitrafficking community, that we shouldn’t have to deal with the prevalence question. And I’ve heard this for years from my good friends, to say no one asks how many kilos of cocaine exist in the world, or how many gigabytes of child pornography exist in order to justify getting government to make an investment. That being said, and it’s true, we do need to answer this question so that we can target our resources, but that we could also actually measure our impact and we could shift beyond measuring activities to actually measuring impact. And so I think over the next five, to seven, to ten years this is an area of huge growth for the antitrafficking movement, to figure out how to solve this prevalence puzzle, and then how to be able to measure impact.
HUNT: Super. Thanks. A quick—a quick follow up there, Jamille.
BIGIO: Just a quick note as well in terms of something inspiring that’s happening within the United States is some cities are starting to tackle this in a more innovative way. So I know with the support of Humanity United and others, there’s now human trafficking advisors that report directly to their mayors. We see this in Houston, and Atlanta, and Minneapolis, where they’re actually now starting to take a holistic city approach and to recognize that to actually tackle this issue within their city that they need to have policies and protocols in place that connect their schools, and their health care systems, and their law enforcement, and their judicial systems, and their housing solutions. And really looking across to have a strong holistic approach to actually try to tackle this issue in an effective way.
HUNT: I see a couple of other hands. The gentleman at the second table here.
Q: Ambassador Richmond, you certainly indicated, and correctly so, that these are complex issues with a variety of different interventions which would be appropriate. I thought Wai Wai, actually, in that context, started her presentation with media coverage. And I guess my questions really is, for all of you, how important and how can the media help you in your efforts? Especially in a world now—I’m Discovery Communications—but our competitors, ourselves, are focused on this somewhat from a self-serving perspective. But we do try to do something that is in the interests of society. And I think this is a really, really important issue for us. And I think it’s a win-win, working with each of you and others in a variety of ways. You mentioned tools, important tools that you have. I would think in this day and age putting a face on the tragedy here, the variety of tragedies, there’s nothing more, I think, compelling than a face and a person’s story. So how can we, in the media, press, electronic, what have you, help you? Whether it’s documentaries, whether it’s stories, whether it’s the press?
RICHMOND: I’ll throw one idea out, and I’d love to hear others. One would be when you’re telling stories—and I agree with you, narrative is incredibly powerful and effective, whether we’re talking to the general public or you’re talking to a jury, it’s about communicating a narrative. As you’re considering narratives to tell, ensure that we’re telling a broad variety of narratives. That is, we want to make sure that we’re focused on all forms of trafficking. Not just sex trafficking but also labor trafficking. Not just specific groups, but all individuals that might be there.
And so to have a variety of stories to tell that would focus on children in armed conflict, as well as agricultural workers, as well as restaurant workers, as well as individuals who might be in various aspects of the sex trade could be a very helpful thing. When you look at most awareness materials around trafficking, they tend heavily towards the sex trafficking of minors. Which is an incredibly important issue. We want to focus on that. But we also want to focus on the other areas of trafficking.
HUNT: Would you like to answer that, Wai Wai?
NU: Yeah. I get—I think it’s important to have media coverage. In these days media is very powerful. And most of the time, you know, in—especially in a conflict area, media—sometimes media may not have access to that area. So they might not be able to get these stories out. So therefore, I would suggest to have—to strengthen the civil society and to have more support—technical and financial support to the local organizations and local communities, and then they can actually communicate with the media and, you know, basically put up the stories. So, yeah, using the media by also strengthening the civil society and working together, it’s important.
HUNT: Thank you. Thank you. May we take another question or do you—OK. Another question on a different topic, hopefully—than the media.
Q: Thank you. My question goes to Ambassador Richmond.
We have a situation at the Greek-Turkish borders where thousands of refugees and migrants are waiting to enter the EU. Now, Turkey has been threatening that it will send all these refugees to Northern Europe if the EU doesn’t pay about a billion dollars. What is your take on that?
HUNT: May I just say, it’s a hugely pressing issue. Not quite in the realm of specific trafficking. So if you can give a really quick answer to that, I would like to make sure we stay on the theme to the dynamics of trafficking.
Q: But if I may add, many of these are victims of traffickers.
HUNT: True. No, that is true. I think—you mentioned refugees, so I was sort of thinking of just the huge surge of that.
RICHMOND: Yeah, I appreciate that. And I think that Jamille, she mentioned it in her initial remarks, this idea that whenever you have a vulnerable community—and certainly people who are migrating are vulnerable, refugees are certainly vulnerable—that could be an opportunity that traffickers would want to exploit. And so I think it’s important in any sort of community like that that we have screening mechanisms to determine if there are indicators of trafficking and, if they are, make sure we refer to them to services.
But I think you were commenting on that at the very beginning.
HUNT: Did you want to add to that? I’m sorry. I see another question in the back of the room here.
Q: Hi. My name is Wednesday Martin. I’m an author and a social researcher.
I have a question. I want to say that I think one of the most interesting observations that was made was a reframing of how we think about trafficking by Ms. Nu. Thank you for that. And you were talking about how we tend to isolate, I would use the term we tend to fetishize, almost, trafficking. We know it’s a very clicky topic. It gets people interested. But you’re talking about trafficking as a way to really get to the material circumstances, the economic and gendered inequalities, that are creating the possibility for trafficking. Do you all agree that this is a good approach to looking at trafficking? And if so, what would that look like in terms of domestic and foreign policy? Thank you.
HUNT: You want to take that first, Jamille?
BIGIO: Great. Yes. Thank you for raising this issue. And I think that’s right, that when we look at what will it take to actually move the promises of eradicating human trafficking into reality, then we do have to look at the factor that an individual’s experiences is shaped by many forms of power inequalities that they are risk for. Kind of understanding what puts them at risk of human trafficking, whether it’s poverty, or it is their location, living under a repressive government, and that to holistically prevent human trafficking we have to—we have to address kind of that—those suite of issues.
And part of the challenge that we see in the response to human trafficking is that to date it has too often been seen as the mandate of a few. And as if we just pursue sort of charges on these—on these issues, that it will—that it will stop this trend of seeing, you know, tens of millions of people living at risk of human trafficking and living under modern slavery. And that’s where I think it’s really critical that the solutions that we pursue really kind of look to drive new policies and new programs.
That’s something—we’ve actually just launched a new project on human trafficking here at the Council, where we’re looking to identify the shortcomings that exist in both existing legal mechanisms and enforcement efforts. We want to broaden the range of partners involved in the conversation about human trafficking, so that we really are bringing all of private industry, and the financial sector, security sector officials to the table to ensure that we really are kind of developing some new and powerful instruments to combat this issue.
We also think it critical that we highlight and draw attention to some of the good practices where we do see some successes in moving the needle in some countries of actually there are some innovative models out there of how governments and civil society are tackling human trafficking, and seeing it as part of this kind of—tackling kind of the root causes of it. And that’s something that in our new project we also want to highlight more attention to.
HUNT: Right. Does either of you want to contribute to the question, which was do you all agree on this new reframing, and what implications would it be? Well, from your point of view, what implications would that have for your daily activities, your local grassroots-level activity?
NU: Yeah, no. Yes, I do think the way it has been handled in the human trafficking in our region is definitely not working, and especially Myanmar become, like, you know, worse and worse lately. So it’s because, first of all, we’re not tackling the root causes. And we’re not looking at the situations in a more holistic manner. And we’re not approaching it in a constructive manner. Basically, you know, the policy—we need to have a really better policy in dealing with these conditions, including reframing the title itself not just as trafficking as an isolated issue, but also in a way addressing inequality and the persecution, discriminatory policies on the ground. That is essential.
At the same time, we need to have short-term and long-term solutions. Short term, in a way providing immediate protections for the human traffic—the people who are being trafficked or, like, holding—you know, holding the perpetrators accountable right way, and providing long-term support for the victims and survivors. At the same time, addressing the root causes. And at this point, I also want to talk a little bit about—around the gender issue.
So for example, for the case of Rohingya women, you know, they are being trafficked because there are the policies, and the laws, and the restrictions that were put in place in Myanmar, in Rakhine State, that they cannot marry freely. There is, like, restrictions on their marriage, and restrictions on the birthrate. So women and girls are very vulnerable to be very—even to have a life or to marry someone. And there is sometimes—all of these restrictions do not allow them to marry, like, a person in the local communities, or in Rakhine State. So parents have to send the girls to outside to—basically for their security and for their life, for their future. So in that case, you know, in this—in the process they’ve been trafficked.
So it has to do a lot with this gender discriminations, and basically targeting women community as a whole, and their reproductive health. So I think we need to bring the discussions around the gender justice when we are addressing in certain—the human trafficking in certain contexts.
HUNT: Thank you. We are—basically, we have passed the limit of time. I think it would be nice to offer the ambassador, if you have a closing comment you want to make, either with respect to this question of addressing it through reframing or something we haven’t touched upon that you’d like to leave as an inspiration as they leave.
RICHMOND: Yeah. I think that—we’ve talked a lot about a lot of challenges, a lot of the things that are before us. But I would want to end on a sense of hope. And I think there is a lot of reason for us to have hope that we can make a massive difference in this. And that trafficking is not a naturally occurring phenomenon. It is not a weather pattern. It is not a scourge. It is not an epidemic. This is not like a virus that is attacking us. Viruses don’t plot and plan about who to attack. And they don’t obstruct medical professionals from coming and rendering aid. It’s like an earthquake, where we’re at best left with bringing tarps, and kerosene, and water, and trying to mitigate the adverse consequences of it. We don’t know how to stop tectonic plates, and if we did maybe we shouldn’t. I don’t know. But, like, we are limited in our ability to respond to natural disasters.
Trafficking’s different. Trafficking is not caused by nature. It’s caused by individuals that are making the choice to exploit vulnerable people. And by stopping them, we can actually have a massive impact on this. Now, that won’t change all the underlying vulnerabilities. It won’t fix all the inequality. It won’t fix all the discrimination. But it could free people up to have a fighting chance at dealing with those issues, of having policymakers able to intervene in that space. And I think we can do better. I think we can actually have hope that we can make a big difference if we finally decide to hold traffickers accountable and start providing the trauma-informed victim-centered care that survivors need. If we make efforts at that, we’re going to see these other issues have an opportunity to flourish as well.
HUNT: Thank you very much. Thank you to all of our speakers. And the exciting announcement that the Council is investing yet more into the more in-depth work on trafficking, with solutions in mind obviously. So pick up the report, if you can. And stay tuned for the developments with the Council’s work. Jamille will be very active in that, of course. So thank you all very much. Thanks for coming. (Applause.)