One Region
July 1, 2014

Human trafficking: The US should help, not hector

Human trafficking is a despicable, dehumanising and exploitative practice that is rightly described as ‘modern day slavery’. That its principal victims are women and children, who are not only stripped of their rights, but also of their humanity, is a stain of disgrace on governments that fail to act to stop the perpetrators.{{more}}

Trafficking in Persons (TIP) is an umbrella term for the act of recruiting, harbouring, transporting, providing, or obtaining a person for compelled labour or commercial sex acts through the use of force, fraud, or coercion. The United States government has adopted a Trafficking Victims Protection Act that describes this practice in different terms, including involuntary servitude, slavery or practices similar to slavery, debt bondage, and forced labour.

To be fair to many governments – particularly in small countries with limited resources – they are not all fully aware of the extent of the practice or of the myriad ways in which it is carried on, including the voluntary participation of some of its victims at the beginning, when they have no understanding of the snare in which they eventually are entrapped.

In this connection, questions have to be raised about the right that the United States government has abrogated to itself to produce an annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report that identifies and brands countries in four tiers, based on what the US State Department says is “information from U.S. embassies, government officials, nongovernmental and international organizations, published reports, news articles, academic studies, research trips to every region of the world, and information submitted to


The four tiers into which the US categories countries are: Tier 1 – governments fully comply with the minimum standards of a US law – the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA); Tier 2 – governments do not fully comply with the TVPA’s minimum standards, but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance; Tier 2 Watch List (WL) – governments do not fully comply with the TVPA’s minimum standards, but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance, and (a) the absolute number of victims of severe forms of trafficking is very significant or is significantly increasing; there is a failure to provide evidence of increasing efforts to combat severe forms of trafficking in persons from the previous year; or (c) the determination that a government is making significant efforts to bring itself into compliance was based on commitments to take additional future steps over the next year; Tier 3 – governments do not fully comply with the minimum standards.

Of the 14 independent countries of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), Dominica, Grenada and St Kitts-Nevis are omitted completely from the US 2014 list, although St Kitts-Nevis was named as a Tier 2 WL country in 2013. Therefore, they are not now identified as being compliant, nor are they judged to be non-compliant. The reason for their omission is not stated.

Of the remaining 11, four of them – Bahamas, Barbados, St Lucia and Trinidad and Tobago – are listed in Tier 2. The remaining seven are on the Tier 2 Watch List – Antigua and Barbuda, Belize, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, St Vincent and the Grenadines and Suriname.

Additionally, Barbados is the only CARICOM country that is identified as not being party to the ‘Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children’. This is surely not a deliberate act on the part of the Barbados government, and it would do well to rectify this situation.

The US government deserves commendation and appreciation for the vanguard position it has adopted against TIP, whose victims are, invariably, desperate and vulnerable women or children with no capacity to resist. But, while US Secretary of State, John Kerry, said that the US annual TIP “Report is not about pointing fingers,” that, unfortunately, is precisely what it does. The effect of identifying countries in the three lower tiers 2, 2 Watch List and 3, is to stigmatise them even where governments are genuinely concerned about the issue, but lack resources, both human and financial, to tackle it comprehensively. Small countries are confronted with declining economic prospects as a consequence of reduced aid, unfair terms of trade, pressure on their main productive sectors and a raft of demands to establish costly regulatory and enforcement machinery. To these already trying circumstances must now be added the machinery for tackling human trafficking.

Of course, every government, including governments of small countries, must join in the fight to stop TIP, but richer countries – especially those who stigmatise others – should contribute to the financial costs of doing so. In this regard, constructive engagement with governments of financially-strapped small and least developed countries to help them would be infinitely better than the government of one country branding them as non-compliant.

A further dimension to the problem of the US government producing a report that slots countries into categories determined by the US only, is that such a report lacks global authority and scrutiny. And, it is not as if there is no United Nations entity dealing with the problem.

The UN Office of Drugs and Crime (UNDOC) is engaged with the criminal justice element of human trafficking and its mandate could be expanded both to produce a global report on the actions of every government, and to provide technical and financial assistance to small and vulnerable countries and less developed states to help bring them into compliance with standards set by the UN.

Rather than being the world’s unilateral enforcer on this issue – as in many others – the US might find that a genuine multilateral approach would be far more productive. A multilateral approach would remove the one-country ‘big stick’, and, instead, establish internationally agreed standards, backed up by financial resources for implementation.

To the extent that they can manage it – all countries and especially those in the Caribbean that have suffered slavery and indentured labour – should work together to eliminate human trafficking from the region. At the same time, countries like the US should help, not hector.

(The writer is a Consultant, Senior Fellow at London University

and former Caribbean diplomat)

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