On June 15, 2023, the US Department of State (DOS) released its 2023 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report evaluating the efforts of countries around the world to prevent human trafficking, protect survivors, and prosecute traffickers. Each year, this report includes a summary of the United States’ successes and failures in addressing human trafficking.
Freedom Network USA (FNUSA) submitted extensive comments on the US anti-trafficking response, including expanded input on child labor. We were pleased to see DOS lift up our concerns once again, recognizing the harm that survivors experience from criminal charges for crimes related to their trafficking experience, the lack of sufficient funding for comprehensive social services for survivors, and the ways government systems are making people more vulnerable to trafficking. This year, we were proud to see DOS highlight our recommendations for improving labor rights enforcement and primary prevention.
Labor Rights Enforcement
FNUSA has long recommended the US Government commit to strong labor rights enforcement to help prevent and respond to human trafficking. Existing laws meant to guarantee safe workplaces for everyone are ineffective as long as the Department of Labor (DOL) has grossly insufficient funding for investigations. We were pleased to see our recommendation to increase funding for DOL’s Wage & Hour Investigations Unit included in the TIP Report. We need a concerted effort to thoroughly investigate all labor violations to protect children from exploitative labor, prevent abuse of all workers, and provide workers with consistent redress for violations of their rights. The US Government also needs to commit to preventing forced labor by overhauling the immigration system to be safe and humane. The system actively makes immigrants vulnerable to trafficking by forcing them into unsafe and low-paying jobs and recruiting them to work in programs where they cannot report abuse.
For multiple years, FNUSA has highlighted how racial inequities, poverty, and structural discrimination create and increase vulnerability to human trafficking for the most marginalized communities. We were grateful to see DOS amplifying our request for the US Government to address racism, discrimination, and poverty as root causes of trafficking. The TIP report also included our recommendation to address government-created structural harms caused by the criminal legal, immigration, housing, and healthcare systems. To actually prevent human trafficking, rather than just respond to it, the US Government needs to invest in comprehensive primary prevention. This investment should include funding for community-led violence prevention programs that address the many forms of violence connected to human trafficking. Government funding should move away from general awareness-raising campaigns toward effective forms of primary prevention that actually help prevent trafficking. Lastly, government funds designated for social services should be used solely to fund improved comprehensive services for survivors instead of redirected to law enforcement.
We hope that DOS and the other federal agencies tasked with addressing human trafficking take these issues seriously and take action to actually address human trafficking in the United States. The US has not made any significant strides toward primary prevention of human trafficking or improving social services for survivors in recent years and continues to focus on ineffective demand reduction rather than primary prevention. The widespread inequality and financial insecurity across the country will continue to make people more vulnerable to human trafficking. Without a full commitment to reducing vulnerabilities through creating a humane immigration system, reducing poverty and financial insecurity, fully promoting workers’ rights, decriminalizing sex work, and working to end discrimination, the US anti-trafficking response will not make significant progress toward ending human trafficking.