The rankings used to bring with them a risk to a country’s reputation. “Reputationally it meant a lot. It was embarrassing to be on Tier 3 or the Tier 2 Watch List. And if the tier rankings don’t mean anything, then that reputational pressure is gone,” said the Solidarity Center’s Neha Misra.
Belarus, Burundi, Mauritania, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Sudan and Turkmenistan are among the 22 countries with the worst human trafficking records in 2018, according to the U.S. State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report.
The report notes that for the first time, a majority of victims in 2018 were trafficked within their countries of citizenship, especially in cases of labor trafficking.
In Turkmenistan, where the government “continued to engage in large-scale mobilizations of its adult citizens for forced labor in the annual cotton harvest and in public works projects, no officials were held accountable for their role or direct complicity in trafficking crimes,” according to the report.
Further, the report states that “the continued imprisonment and abuse of an independent observer of the cotton harvest and state surveillance practices dissuaded monitoring of the harvest during the reporting period.”
Gaspar Matalaev, a labor rights activist with Turkmen.news, who monitored and reported on the systematic use of forced adult labor and child labor in Turkmenistan, remains falsely imprisoned since 2016, days after Turkmen.news published his extensive report on the country’s forced labor practices.
He has been tortured with electric shocks and held incommunicado, according to the Cotton Campaign, a coalition of organizations, including the Solidarity Center, working to end forced labor in the cotton fields. (Send a message to the Turkmenistan government to immediately release Matalaev.)
Uzbekistan, another country with vast, state-sponsored forced labor in the cotton fields, remained on the watch list, a ranking indicating more progress by the government than in Turkmenistan. Although the Uzbekistan government has made strides in ending forced labor, public-sector employees continue to be coerced into a variety of construction and municipal service work, as documented in a recent report by the Solidarity Center and the Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights (UGF). In addition, at least 175,000 people were forced to harvest cotton in Uzbekistan’s 2018 harvest.
Migrant Workers Vulnerable to Exploitation, Trafficking
The Trafficking in Persons report also details how labor recruiters often act as human traffickers, taking advantage of migrant workers who lack information on the hiring process, are unfamiliar with legal protections and options for recourse, and often face language barriers.
“Certain unscrupulous recruitment practices known to facilitate human trafficking include worker-paid recruitment fees, misrepresentation of contract terms, contract switching, and destruction or confiscation of identity documents,” the report states.
The report continues: “Low-wage migrant laborers are extremely vulnerable to and at high risk of exploitative practices such as unsafe working conditions, unfair hiring practices, and debt bondage—a form of human trafficking.”
Each year, the State Department ranks countries in one of four tiers, basing its assessment primarily on the extent of governments’ efforts to meet the minimum standards for the elimination of human trafficking outlined in the U.S. Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA). Countries at the bottom, Tier 3, fail to show they are making any effort to end human trafficking.
The State Department has issued the report annually since 2001, following passage in Congress of the TVPA in 2000.
Equitable and decent work for all and strategies such as promoting collective action, trade unionism and other worker rights are essential to achieve worker well-being, according to a report by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) released today.
“People are the real wealth of nations, and human development focuses on enlarging people’s choices,” according to the 2015: Work for Human Development report, which notes that rapid technological progress, deepening globalization, aging societies and environmental challenges are rapidly transforming what work means today and how it is performed.
On the positive side, the report finds that between 1990 and 2015, the number of people in extreme poverty worldwide fell from 1.9 billion to 836 million and significant strides were made in reducing child mortality and improving access to drinking water and sanitation, even as the world’s population rose from 5.3 billion to 7.3 billion.
Yet in 2012, some 21 million people worldwide were in forced labor, trafficked for labor and sexual exploitation or held in slavery-like conditions, the majority of whom are women and girls, according to the report. Forced labor is thought to generate around $150 billion a year in illegal profits.
Further, key findings also include:
- Some 80 percent of the world’s people have only 6 percent of the world’s wealth. The share of the richest 1 percent is likely to be more than 50 percent by 2016.
- Wages lag behind productivity, and workers’ shares in income have been falling.
- Women are disadvantaged in both paid and unpaid work.
Income Inequality, Gender Inequality ‘Not Sustainable’
“Inequality is the developmental, political and social challenge of our time. Inequality is an issue of democracy,” said Selim Jahan, director of the UNDP’s Human Development Report Office. “When 1 percent of the people own 48 percent of the world’s wealth, that’s not sustainable, Jahan said, speaking earlier this year at a Labor and Employment Relations Association meeting in Washington, D.C.
Given that millions of workers support their families by cleaning homes, selling goods in outdoor markets and hire on as day laborers, Jahan also asked whether “we need a new social contract, one that includes informal-sector workers.”
The report’s findings on women are especially scathing. Although women account for the majority of global work—contributing 52 percent compared with 48 percent for men—women earned 24 percent less than men, the report finds. Further, women carry out three of every four hours of unpaid work. In contrast, men account for two of every three hours of paid work.
“Women’s employment is not an abstract question,” said Jahan. “It has implications for the community.”
Enlarging child care options, enhancing maternal and paternal leave policies and legislative action to reduce inequalities between women and men in the workplace are some of the report’s recommendations for balancing care and paid work, making work sustainable and addressing youth unemployment.
The report, accessible in multiple languages, also for the first time is available in an interactive online version.
Understanding the link between worker rights violations and human trafficking is the key to ending modern slavery, Solidarity Center Executive Director Shawna Bader-Blau testified today on Capitol Hill.
“Most modern slavery today is, in fact, forced labor,” Bader-Blau told the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. “Trafficking for labor exploitation is far more prevalent than sex trafficking globally, accounting for 68 percent of trafficked people.” (Watch a video of the full hearing.)
Bader-Blau and other expert witnesses at the hearing, “Ending Modern Slavery: What is the Best Way Forward?” discussed actions and policies to help end human trafficking, debt bondage and other forms of modern slavery in supply chains around the world, including in the United States.
The vast majority of the almost 21 million people in forced labor globally are exploited in the private economy, Bader-Blau said in oral remarks and testimony submitted for the record. Illegal profits made from the use of forced labor worldwide is $150 billion per year, “exceeding the GDP of many countries.”
Instead of shackles and chains, workers are now enslaved through threats, debt and other forms of economic coercion, she said.
“We must move beyond the notion that modern “slavery is all about bad individuals doing bad things to good people,” Bader-Blau said. “We must address what one leading global expert on the international law of human trafficking, calls the ‘underlying structures that perpetuate and reward exploitation, including a global economy that relies heavily on exploitation of poor people’s labor to maintain growth and a global migration system that entrenches vulnerability and contributes directly to trafficking.’”
Bader-Blau said that based upon more the Solidarity Center’s more than 20 years of experience in the areas of child labor, migrant worker exploitation and supply chain accountability, the following steps are essential to ending human trafficking:
- Reform unsafe migration practices, which includes regulating labor recruiters, many of whom manipulate and deceive workers for profit, and banning recruitment fees, which is a primary source of debt bondage and forced labor.
- End impunity for labor traffickers. Forced labor is pervasive around the world because employers who engage in modern slavery face few consequences.
- Make it impossible for governments to allow forced labor and for companies to get away with it, including down their supply chains. Many countries with significant labor trafficking problems continue to receive trade preferences from the U.S. government, said Bader-Blau.
- Promote worker-driven solutions. Workers are key to eradicating forced labor and trafficking in supply chains. They see abuses or may themselves be exploited. First-hand reporting of abuses and exploitation by workers, unions and rights organizations shines a light on abusive practices long before a third party decides to take a look.
The other witnesses included Gary Haugen, president of the International Justice Mission; David Abramowitz, vice president of Policy and Government Relations at Humanity United; James Kofi Annan, founder of Challenging Heights, a child labor rescue organization in Ghana; and Shandra Woworuntu, a trafficking survivor.
The United Nations today marks the first-ever World Day against Trafficking in Persons, created to raise awareness and highlight the plight of the millions of women, men and children who are trafficked and exploited, as well as to encourage people to take action to end the scourge.
Forced labor is the most common motive behind human trafficking, with more than 21 million people trapped in often slave-like conditions. Forced labor generates $51 billion per year in illegal profits, according to the International Labor Organization (ILO).
In the Dominican Republic, where tens of thousands of Haitians have been trafficked over decades to toil as domestic workers and sugarcane harvesters, the constitutional court ruled last September that children born to undocumented parents between 1929 and 2010 were not entitled to Dominican citizenship, effectively leaving up to 200,000 children and grandchildren of migrant workers without citizenship in the only country many of them have ever known.
Following international outrage, the country recently enacted a “regularization” plan that recognizes some 60,000 migrants with documents. But in practice, says Ana Maria Belique, “officials still reject our documents.” Belique, program director for the Bono Center, a Jesuit social and educational organization, took part in a recent migration advocacy training with labor and migrant activists organized by the Solidarity Center.
In the 1950s and 1960s, the Dominican Republic signed a series of agreements with Haiti that covered seasonal Haitian labor in the government-owned sugar industry.
But because the Dominican Republic did not fulfill its commitment to repatriate migrant workers, the migrant laborer agreements essentially became legal instruments for trafficking Haitian labor. Migrant workers were settled on sugar refining lands and had no access to health care or education. These impoverished settlements, known as bateys, became home to the families of migrants who did not or could not return to Haiti. The lack of legal status and statelessness are internationally identified indicators that increase workers vulnerability to forced labor and other forms of trafficking.
Rather than granting citizenship to the descendants of those trafficked for back-breaking work in sugarcane fields, the regularization plan requires that they provide proof of birth through testimony from a hospital, family member or priest before beginning the long process of “naturalization” with no guarantee of achieving residency. International law calls for children of migrants to automatically receive citizenship from the country where they were born.
The precarious situation of migrant workers under the laborer agreements allowed employers to put Haitian workers in conditions of forced labor through nonpayment of wages, restrictions on their freedom of movement, lack of health and safety regulations, lack of access to social services for migrants and their families and abusive working conditions. And as long as they are undocumented, migrants and their families are a source of low-wage labor.
“The international community should not be fooled by the Dominican government’s ill-named National Plan for Regularization and Naturalization,” says Eulogia Familia, vice president of the Confederaciün Nacional de Unidad Sindical (National Confederation of Labor Union Unity, CNUS). “It is a plan … to maintain them as a cheap labor force which is disenfranchised in the country they were born.”
CNUS and migrant worker rights organizations are working with the Solidarity Center to urge that the government recognize descendants of migrant workers as Dominican citizens in line with international standards for the rights of children. The Solidarity Center and its allies also are seeking to strengthen civil society protection for migrant workers through labor code reform and in coming months, will launch advocacy and visibility actions to raise awareness of the contributions to the Dominican Republic by Dominicans of Haitian descent and by all migrant workers.
The Dominican Republic is one of several countries where the Solidarity Center works to assist workers who have been trafficked, and is among dozens of countries where human trafficking takes place. You can show your support for victims of human trafficking by taking part in a UN-sponsored “thunderclap,” in which messages on a single topic are sent out through social media in a short timespan. By joining the thunderclap via Twitter, Facebook or Tumblr today, you can send a message expressing solidarity with human trafficking victims.