Thursday, July 01, 2010

US Federal Anti-Trafficking Initiatives

In June, the Department of State released the 2010 Trafficking In Persons Report. While State leads the US Federal Government's international anti-trafficking work, many other federal agencies contribute to anti-trafficking efforts in the US. While others may not have large trafficking programs, many are in a position to contribute to efforts to end slavery in the US and throughout the world. This month, we discuss various federal anti-trafficking programs.

Meg: The Department of Justice: One of the most significant programs the Department of Justice runs in relation to trafficking is operating the Office for Victims of Crime. The OVC maintains a website on trafficking with information and resources, and funds service programs for trafficking victims, which can include shelter, medical care, and legal services, among other things. Additionally, the OVC operates a Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section (CEOS), and a Trafficking in Persons and Worker Exploitation Task Force (TPWETF). The OVC's website also provides numbers to call to report suspected trafficking crimes, a directory of crime victim services, publications, and reports.

Jenn: The Department of Health and Human Services: Many federal efforts to raise awareness, identify potential victims, and provide services for trafficking victims and survivors, are coordinated through the Department of Health and Human Services via the Office of Refugee Resettlement. In addition to making awareness raising materials available to order for free, HHS coordinates Rescue and Restore Coalitions in 24 cities, regions, and states throughout the US that bring together community members, services providers, and other anti-trafficking actors. HHS also plays a vital role in connecting victims with services and funding services. According to their site, "HHS is the sole Federal agency authorized to certify adult foreign victims of human trafficking. Similarly, it is the sole Federal agency authorized to provide Eligibility Letters to minor foreign victims of human trafficking." HHS provides grants to service providers, and funds the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, which operates the national human trafficking hotline.

Amanda: The Department of Labor: The Wage and Hour Division of the Department of Labor exists to ensure that workers are receiving due compensation for work they perform without regard for their immigration status. They also work to combat human trafficking through enforcement, education, partnerships and public awareness. One particular way this is done is through their toll-free helpline (1-800-4US-WAGE). This office is key in ensuring workers are not exploited since they are allowed to do on-site investigations and interview employees about their wages, hours, deductions, transportation to work and about their living situation. Earlier this year, the Department of Labor also announced it will begin to use its authority to certify U-visas, which are for victims of major crimes including trafficking. The Wage and Hour Division will be responsible for this. After victims are identified, the Division is also responsible for calculating back wages and overtime owed to victims.

Elise Garvey: US Department of Agriculture: "One of my friends that works over at the USDA said it probably the best. You can’t have food security if the hands that picked the crops are not free." That quote comes from Ambassador Luis CdeBaca. Most people would wonder what the government agency responsible for our food safety could possibly do to combat trafficking. The point that the Ambassador makes points out the exact area where the USDA can be most helpful. One thing you may not know about the role of the USDA is that on June 18, 2008, Congress passed the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 (“Farm Bill”). This law establishes a Consultative Group to Eliminate the Use of Child Labor and Forced Labor in Imported Agricultural Products, which is chaired by the USDA. The mandate of this Consultative Group is to “develop recommendations relating to guidelines to reduce the likelihood that agricultural products or commodities imported into the United States are produced with the use of forced labor and child labor.” (By the way, a quick mention is needed that forced labor and trafficking are not the same thing, but forced labor is a form of exploitation in which trafficking can result)

According to this same section of the Farm Bill, the recommendations from this group to the Secretary of Agriculture were supposed to be made available no later than June 18 of this year. You can find public record of their activity here, along with a communication from Secretary Vilsack that the recommendations from the group will be received shortly. While this effort can be applauded and could potentially produce important steps towards better understanding the source of our imported agricultural goods, the USDA could also help play a role in this effort in the US. Their regulatory work in food safety, including inspections and research are potential gateways for identifying problematic companies and industries where the abuse of workers are prevalent. Some sharper teeth and stronger partnerships with other federal agencies could go a long way.

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