The U.S. State Department has recently released its annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report. This report is a key instrument used globally to assess and report on the state of anti-trafficking responses and it sets the agenda for policy makers and other key professionals in the field. We want to share a snapshot of what’s most relevant for our community to know.
Here are some of the key takeaways in this year’s report:
One of the first things the TIP Report highlights is the rise of trafficking to online scam centers as an emerging threat. As Ambassador-at-Large Cindy Dyer, wrote, “Cyber scams —from fake dating profiles to illegal gambling operations—are increasingly perpetuated through forced criminality. Transnational organized criminal groups are exploiting the vulnerabilities laid bare by the COVID-19 pandemic, from social isolation to increased presence online, to coerce workers from around the world to conduct those scams, while also defrauding untold more.” (Learn more about this threat here.)
Another Big Focus is on Partnerships
This year’s report strongly emphasized the importance of partnerships to combat trafficking. While popular media and news reports continue to adore individual hero and rescue stories, professionals in the field are investing increasingly in harnessing the power of collective action for a more robust, trustworthy, and sustainable anti-trafficking response. Partnerships include the involvement of survivor leaders, civil society organizations, the business sector, cross-border collaboration, and government agencies on all levels. Partnerships, however, do not imply that governments can pass the buck – governments still retain the responsibility to provide resources, funding, information, and shared decision-making ability for a truly collaborative anti-trafficking response.
Partnership with survivor leaders has seen a lot of promising development; however, much work still needs to be done. In many cultures, there are still stigmas and beliefs that make it difficult for trafficking survivors to identify as such or be willing to come forward and participate. Survivors also stress the importance of their participation not just in telling their stories, but in actively helping to craft policies, procedures, and other critical elements of the anti-trafficking response. Moreover, it’s necessary to take a wide lens on the diversity of survivor experience – there are so many ways trafficking can happen. Collectively, we need to ensure that organizations working with survivors recognize diverse narratives so they are more inclusive.
Climate change, in particular, remains a pressing concern where, though a multisectoral approach is absolutely necessary, far too often the response is fragmented and siloed. The anti-trafficking and environmental movements need to collaborate for more efficient, sustainable, and transformational change, to “develop responses that mitigate risks and unintended consequences leading to exploitation.” As the report states, “Partnerships are essential to developing solutions that account for the risk factors, socio-cultural behaviors, and adaptive strategies associated with both climate change and human trafficking to protect the world’s most vulnerable from further exploitation.”
Other Key Issues of Note:
Manufacturers Concealing Evidence in Audits
Even as more regulatory tools are coming into effect to monitor, trace, and evaluate supply chains for evidence of trafficking, this year’s Trafficking in Persons Report highlights a concern that manufacturers are engaging in shady practices to conceal evidence of trafficking and other human rights abuses in audits, for example, by falsifying records to conceal withheld wages, only allowing workers access to their passports during audits, or coaching workers to lie about their working conditions under threat of losing their jobs. This is obviously concerning, both for government regulators aiming to enforce sanctions and controls as well as for average consumers relying on the audit and certification processes as they make purchasing decisions. According to the Trafficking in Persons Report, “A recent study from Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations, which examined more than 40,000 audits conducted between 2011 and 2017, found that nearly half of all audits—45 percent—were unreliable.” (emphasis added)
Boys As Victims is Gaining Greater Awareness
Boys are the fastest growing segment of identified trafficking victims; however, social services, legal frameworks, and advocacy still tend to focus on female victims of sexual exploitation. The result is inadequate identification, protection, and support services provided for boys and men. Stigmas against self-identification also contribute to challenges: “Male victims of sex trafficking also may be reluctant to self-identify if they believe they will face a significant risk of stigma. They face multiple societal barriers to self-identifying as trafficking victims, including stigma associated with LGBTQI+ status or same-sex conduct, as well as the taboo nature of discussions around sexual violence against males. LGBTQI+ persons, in general, also face a higher incidence of risk factors for human trafficking.”
Online Recruitment is of Great Concern
Increased digital connectivity continues to present a significant threat. Online predators use all avenues from message boards to classified ads to find and target people seeking job opportunities or romantic relationships. Government, civil society, and tech companies must collaborate to strengthen the public’s digital literacy, develop methods to prevent fraudulent recruitment practices, further enable regulation, while still “being mindful of issues of privacy, trust, and security.”
One last point:
Thailand Remains on Tier 2
In the report’s assessment, the Government of Thailand has made overall increasing efforts, including increased investigations, prosecutions, and convictions. More trafficking victims have been identified, a new national reporting mechanism was implemented and officials are being trained on its use. Areas the report points to as needing improvement include consistency in victim interview processes, greater protections for victims of illegal scam centers in neighboring countries, and addressing gaps in service provisions for victims.
Here are The Freedom Story Takeaways
To learn more about how our work dovetails with the concerns highlighted in the TIP Report, we encourage you to review our blog. Here’s a sample of what we’ve written about how we invest in partnerships, an interview with a survivor leader, how climate change impacts us where we work, why we’ve always worked with boys, and information about the online scam centers.