U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
Good morning, I am Luis CdeBaca, the Ambassador charged with chairing the Senior Policy Operating Group, an interagency body that coordinates the Obama Administration’s response to the global phenomenon of trafficking in persons. I would like to thank Chair Jacqueline Berrien and each of the Commissioners for convening this critical hearing. Thank you for inviting me to speak regarding human trafficking in the United States, and the EEOC’s continued crucial partnership in the interagency efforts to combat it.
History has witnessed as many manifestations of enslavement as there have been attempts to define and respond to it in both the international and domestic communities throughout the years. Ten years ago, the United States made yet another attempt through the update of our servitude statutes, but this time there was a marked difference. Instead of focusing on one way of describing compelled service over another – forced labor, bonded labor, slavery, forced prostitution – the U.S. Government engaged in an effort to put forward the concept that all forms should be criminalized, victims of all forms deserved protection, and prevention of all forms was not only worthwhile, but a necessary endeavor to attack the problem at its core.
American efforts to combat both traditional and modern forms of slavery have been mirrored in international legal instruments, in legal decisions in the tribunals at Nuremburg and the former Yugoslavia, and of course in the groundbreaking United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, signed a decade ago at Palermo. Since then, we have seen a global growth of understanding of the issue and a maturation of our response through the “3Ps” of prosecution, protection, and prevention.
We know that human trafficking is a human rights abuse; a byproduct of conflict; a threat to national security, public health and democracy; a labor and migration issue; and an ever-growing global phenomenon. We know that human trafficking is not a crime of movement, but rather at its heart is the dehumanizing practice of holding another in compelled service using whatever means necessary, be it physical or psychological. It is also a crime: a crime with penalties often akin to murder, rape, and kidnapping. It is fluid, responding to market demands, vulnerabilities in laws, weak penalties, natural disasters, and economic instability. And this crime is not limited to one gender, faith, or geographical area, but impacts individuals and societies across the nation and across the globe.
As a demonstration of the Administration’s commitment to holding ourselves to the same standards we would hold others, our annual Trafficking in Persons Report last year for the first time evaluated and ranked the United States’ efforts to combat trafficking. The U.S. narrative is a valuable snapshot of human trafficking in the United States, where we have found that trafficking occurs for both sex and labor. Labor trafficking manifests most commonly in domestic servitude, agriculture, manufacturing, janitorial services, hotel services, construction, health and elder care, hair and nail salons, and strip club dancing.
Our biases and misconceptions can impact whether trafficked persons are identified and whether their traffickers are prosecuted, and so we must be mindful of them.
Few would fail to recognize modern slavery in a situation where workers were locked in a factory, denied wages, and subjected to physical abuse. But many workers can be victims of fraudulent recruitment practices, such as work offers that misrepresent conditions, excessive recruitment fees, written contracts that workers cannot understand, and the switching of terms of employment after the original contract has been signed. Some workers incur large debts for promised employment in the United States, which makes them susceptible to debt bondage and involuntary servitude as they are entangled in a web of deceit and coercion. These cases can also involve passport confiscation and threats of deportation, nonpayment or limited payment of wages, restriction of movement, isolation from the community, and physical abuse as means of keeping victims in compelled service. Moreover, traffickers often use rape as a weapon, whether in a field, factory, brothel, or suburban home.
Too often the perception of trafficked persons is that they are the poorest of the poor. In reality, many labor trafficking victims are hard workers often relatively educated with access to enough basic resources to take a risk to achieve economic prosperity.
While there is a perception that human trafficking exists only among undocumented workers, vulnerabilities exist for legal workers as well -- often filling labor needs in the hospitality, landscaping, construction, food service, and agricultural industries -- and even for U.S. citizens made vulnerable by addiction, mental challenges, or homelessness.
Regardless of who they are, all trafficked persons deserve to see their traffickers brought to justice and to be assisted in a compassionate and holistic manner. We must broaden our efforts to ensure that every man, woman, and child is free from forced labor and forced prostitution, and we must do more to acknowledge the subtle ways that trafficking manifests itself, not always through outright violence but also through coercion and fraud.
Since the passage of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) of 2000, we have identified new trends but we have also been part of a maturating response. The TVPA created a coordinated federal government response at the cabinet level through the President’s Interagency Task Force, due to meet in just over a week on February 1, National Freedom Day. We are pleased that Chair Berrien will be representing the EEOC at that meeting. There is also a subcabinet coordinating body, the Senior Policy Operating Group, unfortunately acronymed the “SPOG,” which will hold its quarterly meeting tomorrow; Commissioner Stuart Ishimaru has offered thoughtful leadership as the EEOC representative just as he did over a decade ago in the formation of its precursor, the National Worker Exploitation Task Force. Through these coordinating bodies, 12 federal agencies and the White House convene regularly to advance anti-trafficking policy issues, implement the TVPA, and identify areas where increased coordination is required to more effectively combat human trafficking.
This year alone, the SPOG:
Yet each federal agency is combating trafficking through its own missions and mandates. The Department of Homeland Security launched state and local law enforcement training and a public awareness effort called the Blue Campaign. The Department of Justice, Homeland Security, and Labor and the Federal Bureau of Investigation worked closely to streamline cases, enhance federal task force efforts, and proactively identified cases. The Department of Education began developing resources to support its grantees who have learned that their school children are being recruited for commercial sexual exploitation, including sex trafficking. The Department of Health and Human Services continued its support of NGO service providers. The Department of Interior is drawing our attention to trafficking in the insular areas. The Department of Agriculture developed recommendations on how to eliminate child labor and forced labor in imported agricultural products. USAID and the Department of State continued to fund international anti-trafficking programs and engage foreign governments. And these points are only a few of the highlights.
The EEOC is perfectly poised to contribute to Federal government efforts to combat human trafficking because of its role to enforce laws that offer protection within the workplace. What first presents itself as sexual harassment, for example, may reveal through skillful interviewing a situation of coerced labor. This requires that all EEOC staff are well versed in trafficking indicators, training and resources offered to the attorneys representing clients before the EEOC, partnerships with state fair employment agencies, and participation in federally funded trafficking task forces nationwide. With this knowledge and proper resources, the EEOC and its partners in civil enforcement could dramatically increase the number of trafficking victims identified. And where a case does not fully make out a criminal trafficking situation, civil litigation may vindicate the federal interest, as has been the case in workplaces as diverse as egg farms, welding yards, and garment factories. I know the EEOC has already brought some cases on behalf of victims of trafficking that will be discussed later on today, and urge the EEOC to recognize these types of cases not just as employment discrimination cases, but also as trafficking cases.
Ever present in our work should be the victims and the NGOs that assist them. The United States strives to adopt a victim-centered approach, which is predicated on the notion that a trafficked person is a crime victim whose rights have been violated. We not only have a responsibility to punish the trafficker, but to offer assistance and restore the victim. For instance, establishing mechanisms that allow for temporary immigration status and work authorization to both restore the trafficked person and incentivize them to seek justice. Not detention and deportation, but comprehensive services and shelter. These incentivizing tools exist for the EEOC as well, including continued presence, the T Visa, the U Visa, and a vast network of federally funded anti-trafficking NGO offering victim services. I encourage the Commission to examine its current policies to ensure that these tools are widely understood and implemented, and that victims’ access to them is not burdensome.
Collectively, we have enough experience and information to point us toward the industries where human trafficking is often found – domestic work, agriculture, construction, restaurants, textiles, and other low wage industries. Now it is our duty, not to wait for victims to come to us, but for us to find and dismantle these illegal operations that reduce people to conditions of modern slavery. I see the EEOC’s participation in federal interagency efforts to combat trafficking as a new frontier of the U.S. approach to tackling this crime and seeking justice for the victims. Civil enforcement is yet another tool that allows us to uphold our laws and restore the victims.
The Obama Administration’s response to modern slavery builds upon a decade-long bipartisan commitment to the “three Ps” in practice, which has illuminated a new path of promise for the future. At home and abroad, this 3P vision is more nuanced and more widely applied than at any point in our modern abolitionist movement. But it will not be fully realized unless we all hold one another accountable to it and work in full partnership. Thank you for your important engagement on the issue. I look forward to your questions.