By Didi Kirsten Tatlow
Thursday, June 20, 2013
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry presents Laura Anyola Tufon of Cameroon with a Trafficking in Persons Heroes’ award at an event releasing this year’s human trafficking report. Saul Loeb.Agence France-Presse/Getty
BEIJING — 7:37 p.m. | UpdatedOn Monday, we wrote about human trafficking and forced labor — or modern slavery, as it’s often called — and said the United Nations defines it as a fast-growing problem.
Two days later, on Wednesday in the United States, the State Department released a report that gives another, higher figure for how many people are working in slavery in our world today – as many as 27 million (as opposed to the International Labor Organization’s 21 million), and it placed three more countries in the worst offenders category, bringing the total to 21: Russia, China and Uzbekistan. Already in the category: Algeria, Libya, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, among others.
The “Trafficking in Persons Report”, dated June 2013, provides 415 pages of stories, analysis and photographs, showing a kind of human suffering and inhumanity that is hard, perhaps, to grasp as coexisting alongside the tweeting, iPad-tapping, well-fed comfort of much of the developed world, but is a reality for millions of poor people, the report made clear. It affects women, men, girls and boys, and includes sexual slavery as well as a wide range of other labor, from child soldiering to domestic servitude to gold mining.
In an introduction to the report, Secretary of State John Kerry, wrote: “Ending modern slavery must remain a foreign policy priority. Fighting this crime wherever it exists is in our national interest. Human tracking undermines the rule of law and creates instability. It tears apart families and communities. It damages the environment and corrupts the global supply chains and labor markets that keep the world’s economies thriving.”
Mr. Kerry spoke of the “moral obligation” to end a practice that contravenes our “human dignity.”
By identifying three more countries as so-called “Tier 3” countries on human trafficking, the U.S. is saying they are “countries whose governments do not fully comply with the minimum standards and are not making significant efforts to do so.”
This opens them up to sanctions. Will that happen?
If there’s a moral obligation to end the problem, there’s also politics, as my colleague in Washington, Steven Lee Myers, suggested.
“In the past, the White House has routinely waived potential sanctions for countries with important strategic value to the United States, including Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Yemen, which the latest report again cited for poor records on forced labor, child labor, prostitution and, in Yemen’s case, the remnants of chattel slavery,” Steve wrote.
“Countries clearly at odds with American policy including — Cuba and North Korea — have been subject to sanctions.”
In the report, officials said China had shown “modest signs of interest in anti-trafficking reforms” but “the Chinese government did not demonstrate significant efforts to comprehensively prohibit and punish all forms of trafficking and to prosecute traffickers.”
So far, the White House has not commented on whether it would impose sanctions on the three countries. And there was no immediate comment from China, where key types of human trafficking include brides from other Asian nations, children for childless couples (especially boys) and the mentally disabled, for their free labor.
UPDATE: Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying has said China attached “great importance to fighting all crimes of trafficking“, the BBC reported.
“We believe that the US side should take an objective and impartial view of China’s efforts and stop making unilateral or arbitrary judgements of China,” Ms. Hua said.