The U.N.’s International Labor Organization in 2016 estimated that there were 40.3 million victims of modern slavery throughout the world, including 24.9 million in forced labor and 15.4 million in forced marriages.
It was with that as backdrop that President Donald Trump on Jan. 9 signed into law the reauthorization of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act in recognition of National Trafficking and Modern Slavery Prevention Month.
“My administration has made the fight against human trafficking one of the highest priorities,” Trump said during the signing ceremony.
The Trafficking Victims Protection Act was first enacted in 2000 and is the cornerstone of federal anti-trafficking legislation.
This time, the reauthorization was split into four separate bills, the first of which is the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (S.1862), which aims to tighten the criteria for the minimum standards for eliminating trafficking in persons.
The Abolish Human Trafficking Act (S.1311) provides aid to programs that support trafficking survivors.
To complete the reauthorization of the anti-trafficking law, Trump also signed the Frederick Douglass Trafficking Victims Prevention and Protection Reauthorization Act (H.R.2200) and the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2017 (S.1312).
The original landmark legislation was responsible for the creation of the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons at the State Department. It is responsible for producing the annually Trafficking in Persons Report, which ranks countries according to their compliance with the minimum standards for eliminating human trafficking.
The report is an important diplomatic tool the U.S. uses to advance its efforts to prevent trafficking, protect victims, and prosecute traffickers.
The newly passed legislation outlines nine specific actions countries can take to demonstrate that they are stepping up efforts to combat human trafficking.
“Concrete actions” include enforcement activities (prosecutions, ongoing investigations into human trafficking cases, and convictions), offering victim services, and allocating sufficient resources to address trafficking.
Only time will tell if these new standards will meaningfully reduce the number of trafficking victims.
The Heritage Foundation has long supported reforms to the Trafficking in Persons Report’s tier ranking system and called for a re-evaluation of the minimum standards to eliminate human trafficking.
One Heritage report from 2017 stated:
Modifications to these criteria should include compliance based on standards that are proven to reduce the number of victims of trafficking. Such standards should include time-tested, reliable best practices for the elimination of human trafficking.
The new legislation also requires countries upgraded from the Tier 3 to Tier 2 Watch List to develop action plans in Section 110(b) of the original Trafficking Victims Protection Act.
This effort is notable because it will ensure that countries struggling to fight trafficking do not permanently languish in the bottom two tiers.
In the past, Heritage researchers recommended that the U.S. develop compacts similar to the Millennium Challenge Corp. that prioritize aid to countries making the greatest efforts to improve their anti-trafficking record.
If developed appropriately in conjunction with the countries’ local governments, similar aid “best practices” could be introduced through these plans to address vulnerabilities to trafficking.
Since its infancy, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act has been a bipartisan effort. While this reauthorization is an encouraging step, there’s still more to be done in the fight against human trafficking and modern slavery.