“We can change all the laws we want—but until we change the attitudes and respect for human beings, all this work is for nothing,” said Cindy McCain, head of the McCain Institute’s Human Trafficking Advisory Council, at a recent panel discussion at The Heritage Foundation.

Heritage’s Lisa Curtis chaired a panel of experts including Cindy McCain, Holly Burkhalter of the International Justice Mission (IJM), Tom Kelly of the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), and Heritage’s Olivia Enos. The panel focused on the role that government and civil society play in ending human trafficking.

Strong law enforcement is key to ending modern slavery, explained Holly Burkhalter. According to IJM, nearly 90 percent of human trafficking can be solved by employing straight-forward solutions, such as equipping and properly training law enforcement. After working with law enforcement in the Philippines for four years, IJM found that the availability of minors in the sex industry decreased by 79 percent.

Tom Kelly talked about the role that the MCC is playing in combatting human trafficking—MCC fights human trafficking by ensuring that contractors do not use forced labor on and around MCC-led projects. The MCC also encourages countries to comply with minimum standards to combat human trafficking in order to qualify for MCC aid. Kelly referenced two particularly successful compact programs in the Philippines and Liberia, where the potential of losing MCC assistance led the two countries to take the necessary steps to improve their track record on human trafficking.

Olivia Enos focused her remarks on human trafficking in Asia, home to two-thirds of victims worldwide. Enos stated that the lack of “access to proper legal and judicial protections” is one factor driving human trafficking in Asia. In fact, she noted, fewer than 1 percent of trafficking victims are rescued annually, and even fewer traffickers are arrested each year. Enos recommended that the U.S. prioritize aid to countries with the political will and greatest need for human-trafficking assistance.

Representative Chris Smith (R–NJ), who attended the panel discussion, highlighted the substantive work that Congress is doing to combat trafficking. “Bills passed in the House in January seek to protect runaways, strengthen the child welfare response to trafficking, increase law enforcement resources and criminalize advertising for commercial exploitation of children,” Representative Smith said. These bills are now moving through the Senate.

As Curtis and Enos observe in their recent Heritage Foundation Backgrounder, “Combatting Human Trafficking in Asia Requires U.S. Leadership,”

The fight against human trafficking constitutes one of the major global human rights challenges of the 21st century. Halting human trafficking will require U.S. leadership and effective partnerships with Asian governments, NGOs, and multinational companies as well as a special focus on improving justice systems in countries where human trafficking is prevalent.

“Combatting modern-day slavery is everybody’s business,” declared Representative Smith. Fighting human trafficking—one of the major human rights tragedies of today—will require a global effort and commitment to ensuring justice for the millions of victims worldwide.

Emily Runge is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please click here.