U.S. Should Treat Human Trafficking as a National Security Threat, Urges New CFR Report

June 10, 2021 10:16 am (EST)

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“Human trafficking is more than a violation of human rights: it is also a threat to national security, economic growth, and sustainable development,” warns a new Council Special Report, Ending Human Trafficking in the Twenty-First Century. However, the United States “lacks sufficient authorities and coordination across the federal government to address human trafficking adequately, instead treating this issue as ancillary to broader foreign policy concerns.” 

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“Critics who challenge the allocation of political and financial capital to combat human trafficking underestimate trafficking’s role in bolstering abusive regimes and criminal, terrorist, and armed groups; weakening global supply chains; fueling corruption; and undermining good governance,” write Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) Senior Fellows Jamille Bigio and Rachel B. Vogelstein. Trafficking generates $150 billion in illicit profits, and “an estimated twenty-five million people worldwide are victims—a number only growing in the face of vulnerabilities fueled by the COVID-19 pandemic.” 

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Despite efforts by multilateral institutions and governments around the world, the authors explain that “anti-trafficking efforts are undermined by insufficient authorities, weak enforcement, limited investment, and inadequate data.”  

To address these gaps, the Joe Biden administration “should lead on the global stage . . . by strengthening institutional authorities and coordination, improving accountability, increasing resources, and expanding evidence and data,” the authors contend. Specifically, it should 

  • “enact due diligence reforms to promote corporate accountability for forced labor in supply chains,” including by expanding the U.S. National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking; 
  • “reform labor recruitment systems to combat the exploitation of migrant workers;” 
  • “increase trafficking prosecutions by scaling the successful U.S. anti-trafficking coordination team model, which includes law enforcement, labor officials, and social service providers;”  
  • “leverage technology against human trafficking; and increase investment to counter it;” and  
  • “enlist leaders in the private, security, and global development sectors to propose innovative and robust prevention and enforcement initiatives.” 
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Such efforts will advance U.S. economic and security interests by boosting GDP with improved productivity and human capital, and saving governments the direct costs of assisting survivors. By elevating the issue, Bigio and Vogelstein conclude, “human trafficking can be eradicated with a comprehensive and coordinated response.”  

To read Ending Human Trafficking in the Twenty-First Century, visit cfr.org/EndingHumanTrafficking.  

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Jamille Bigio is a senior fellow for women and foreign policy and Rachel Vogelstein is the Douglas Dillon senior fellow and director of the Women and Foreign Policy program

For more information or to interview the authors, please contact the Global Communications and Media Relations team at 212.434.9888 or [email protected]

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