Psychological Coercion in Human Trafficking

The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 defines coercion, one element of human trafficking, as “(A) threats of serious harm to or physical restraint against any person, (B) any scheme, plan, or pattern intended to cause a person to believe that failure to perform an act would result in serious harm to or physical restraint against any person, or (C) the abuse or threatened abuse of the legal process. It is important to understand the specific, coercive techniques human traffickers utilize in order to treat survivors and prosecute perpetrators.

The ultimate goal of human traffickers is to strip the trafficked person of their sense of self. Sometimes traffickers will change the name of the trafficked individuals to erase any sense of a past life. However, in order to get the trafficked person to view themselves as worthless and solely in existence to serve, the trafficker must exercise complete control over all facets of the trafficked person’s life.

In order to physically restrain the trafficked person, he or she is often confined to one area when not at work. Preventing the free movement of the individual and isolating them in a solitary environment can result in sensory deprivation. This condition disorients the trafficked person and makes them easier to control. Even if the trafficker does not successfully manipulate the senses of the trafficked person, the individual can develop other psychological reactions, such as cabin fever. On the other hand, the trafficker may place the trafficked person in an overcrowded living space, instilling a claustrophobic fear due to continual presence in the environment and an inability to escape. In either case, knowing that only the trafficker can free them from the confined, stressful environment, the trafficked person will often comply to escape these conditions.

Another means that traffickers employ to undermine the trafficked person’s sense of identity stems from the deprivation of food, water, and sleep. The denial of these basic necessities of life can act as a form of learned conditioning. If the trafficked person complies with orders, they are given enough of these basic needs. If he or she resists, they are denied of these necessities until they learn to comply.

In addition to controlling the physical environment and material needs, the trafficker typically limits all personal connections of the trafficked person with the outside world. The trafficker prohibits interaction with family through correspondence. In addition, the trafficked person is often instructed to never communicate with anyone not authorized by the trafficker. However, this is often not a problem since the trafficker will ensure that the trafficked person is surrounded by people that do not speak their language, creating a strong barrier against communication. This constrained environment creates an almost impenetrable sense of isolation. If the trafficked person does develop outside connections, the trafficker will often transfer them to a new location. Thus, the trafficked person is kept in a state of helplessness. With no one to turn to for help, they believe that they must continue to endure abusive conditions.

An equally strong form of coercion to eliminate the individual’s sense of identity includes forcing the trafficked person to perform actions that are fundamentally against their moral or belief system. By harming others or acting in ways that are degrading, the trafficked person may dissociate. In dissociation, the trafficked person will separate their sense of identity from the person performing the offensive actions. The two split identities will clash and can result in a confused sense of identity for the individual.

Less visible forms of control attack the trafficked person’s sense of security. Denied of economic resources, the trafficked person is completely dependent on the trafficker. Due to this condition of dependency, the trafficker has free will to exercise control through nearly any means. The trafficker gradually breaks down the individual’s perception of their safety through repeated verbal abuse that includes threats of physical harm. Other means to coerce the trafficked person into a state of obedience include threats to report the individual to immigration officers. If threatening the individual does not result in compliance, the trafficker can exercise threats on the trafficked person’s family in their home country.

Traffickers also take advantage of the trafficked person’s lack of knowledge of laws in the United States. They teach the trafficked individuals that the authority is corrupt, often as in their home nations, and that reaching out for help will inevitably result in their death. Likewise, traffickers employ cultural beliefs to prevent escape. For example, in some cultures the notion of paying back debt is viewed as an absolute principle. Traffickers keep raising the debt of these trafficked persons through false charges in order to keep them indebted for life.

If all of these means fall, the traffickers may resort to a more expensive but extremely effective method of coercion. Through introducing trafficked individuals to addictive drugs, the trafficker can create an almost unbreakable form of dependency. Despite how strong the will of resistance of a the trafficked person, they will begin to comply because the symptoms of withdrawal are too difficult to fight when combined with a deprivation of sleep, water, and food.

The methods of coercion that traffickers utilize work to subjugate the free will of trafficked persons. Once trafficked persons are rescued, their mental state should be treated as equally important as repairing physical ailments. Fixing their perception of not only the world, but also of themselves  should be a priority.

Our ability to recognize these methods of coercion is important not only in the healing process of survivors, but also in the prosecution of traffickers. Cases such as United States v. Mussry (1984) demonstrate that proving psychological coercion is sufficient to demonstrate conditions of human trafficking and thereby warrant indictment of the traffickers.

Raising awareness of the mental effects of human trafficking could serve to increase identification of trafficked persons and enhance methods of treatment. Clearly, the psychological effect of these methods of coercion should also be considered in the court of law to prosecute traffickers for the full effect they have on their victims.

*Raven Dunstan



Trafficking into Commercial Sex Work in Cambodia: The Market for Virgins

In this globalized world where consumerism thrives in most countries, it’s no surprise that individuals have commodified human beings. While it’s true that sensationalized tales of enslavement of young girls and women in brothels dominate the media around human trafficking, one particular subset of trafficking has caught my attention: the trafficking of virgins in Cambodia.

The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 defines sex trafficking as “the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act.” For adults over the age of 18, this act must also involve force, fraud, and/or coercion. By definition, any individual under the age of 18 is considered a victim of trafficking irrespective of whether the act involves force, fraud, or coercion. The distinction between adults consenting to perform sex work, and children and adults trafficked into sex work without agency over their work and wages, is often lost in media reports.

According to the United Nations Interagency Project on Human Trafficking, it’s difficult to quantify human trafficking research. As such, statistics regarding the number of human trafficking victims worldwide varies from source to source due to the covert nature of this crime, limited studies and research, inconsistent use of definitions, and misidentification of victims and cases. While studies have exposed that the trafficking of virgins into commercial sex work persists in Cambodia and typically involves young girls and women, the clandestine nature of this crime lacks hard numbers and statistics. Moreover, it’s important to recognize that boys and men can also be trafficked into labor and commercial sex work. According to the U.S. Department of State, the covert nature of sex trafficking often overlooks male victims. Because of the general lack of hard figures around human trafficking research, it’s difficult to provide the exact numbers of male versus female victims of trafficking.

What is clear is that human trafficking persists and must be addressed.

According to different sources’ data compiled throughout this article, there are many factors contributing to Cambodia’s so-called “virgin trade,” a market sustained by cultural traditions and norms, severe poverty and other economic factors, and corrupt political institutions.

Many cultural factors can fuel the trafficking of virgins into commercial sex work. In Cambodia, the Chbap Srey is a code of behavior consisting of social norms for women. In many cases, a woman’s virginity determines her worth and her future opportunities for marriage and employment. This high cultural value placed on a woman’s virginity has translated into a high demand for it, and traffickers have created a market around it.

Many clients that buy sex with virgins believe in the “Virgin Cure Myth.” This myth claims that sex with a virgin prevents or cures HIV/AIDS and promotes youth and a long life. Other versions of this myth assert that sex with a virgin brings luck in business endeavors and other forms of power. Whereas the greatest demand comes from Cambodian nationals, clients also come from neighboring countries like China, Singapore, and Thailand. These clients are often rich, powerful men whose trips and transactions are arranged by traffickers well in advance.

Economic factors connect with cultural norms and traditions to amplify the trafficking of virgins into commercial sex work. Poverty is widespread in Cambodia: a third of the population lives on less than $1 per day. When girls and women are already devalued and seen as additional financial strains, poverty can compel destitute families to sell their daughters’ virginity to a trafficker due to the large sums that many clients are willing to pay. While the trafficking of virgins into commercial sex work can involve large, organized criminal networks, oftentimes mothers facilitate this crime by selling their daughters either to a client directly or to a broker involved in the trade. According to Abigail Haworth, many families receive an average of 1500 USD for their daughters — the equivalent of four years’ salary for many Cambodians. Hence, poor economic opportunities can leave a family with what it views as no other options.

Additionally, cultural norms dictate that children exist for their parent’s benefit. Families expect their daughters especially to obey and serve their elders. Thus, because a family can receive 800-1500 USD when it sells a virgin daughter to a trafficker, this crime comes to be seen as a daughter doing her part to help her family rather than severe abuse.

For example, when Vannith Uy’s job as a kitchen help in a beer garden proved insufficient to overcome her financial stresses and to pay her husband’s medical bills, she sold her 18-year-old daughter Chamnan’s virginity to a wealthy Cambodian national. This man, a police general and frequent patron of commercial sex work venues, paid to “have” this young woman for six days and nights in a hotel room on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Chamnan’s consent did not factor into this transaction; rather her virginity, the commodity, was sold. In this situation, she did not have the choice to leave.

In this case, as in many others, a law enforcement official was complicit in the crime. This makes combating this issue rather difficult. While human trafficking and sexual exploitation are illegal in Cambodia, there is no political will to address the trafficking of virgins. Police officers claim that politicians have threatened their jobs and have asked them not to pursue cases involving the buying of virgins, as these are not viewed as serious crimes.

More broadly, how do we combat the trafficking of persons into commercial sex work in countries with cultural norms devaluing girls, severe poverty and a general lack of economic options for families and daughters, and corrupt political institutions?

One popular idea focuses on the empowerment of girls and women. The trafficking of virgins remains a sensitive issue amongst those working in the human trafficking field, and nonprofit organizations mainly deal with this issue in Cambodia. For example, Riverkids is one organization that provides refuge, schooling, and vocational training to help victims of child trafficking rebuild their lives. Not only does this organization try to change attitudes and promote girls’ education, but also it recognizes that many women fear speaking out about sex trafficking due to concerns about ostracization. Accordingly, Riverkids works to remove this stigma and helps these individuals gain marketable skills so that they can reintegrate into their communities as respected, dignified members. Plus, these survivors are now their own self-advocates and often learn the skills to financially support their families.

Other movements striving to empower girls and women include the Cambodian Young Women’s Empowerment Network. Its goal is to strengthen women’s voices, representation, and participation in Cambodian government and political processes. By providing leadership training and promoting awareness through a variety of activities and advocacy, this organization is addressing a key factor driving human trafficking worldwide: corrupt political institutions.

With more women in influential positions in government, it may be possible to ensure better governance that pays attention to pervasive human rights abuses, such as human trafficking.

Similarly, the Global Women’s Leadership Initiative at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C. argues that it’s time to move beyond just women’s empowerment: it’s time for women’s leadership. Its Women in Public Service Project builds networks amongst women leaders and trains emerging women leaders worldwide with an ambitious goal of reaching 50% female public servants by 2050. This project’s mission is clear: “[to] build a generation of women leaders who will invest in their countries and communities, provide leadership in their governments, and change the way global solutions are forged.”

Human trafficking is one of today’s global challenges requiring leadership skills, energy, and commitment. Accordingly, organizations like the Wilson Center clearly recognize the need for better governance worldwide. The virgin trade in Cambodia persists not least because powerful, influential government officials overlook or are complicit in the crime. Perhaps with more women in government and accountable politicians worldwide, we can expect to see more enforcement of anti-trafficking laws and more victim-centered services aiming to empower victims of trafficking to become their own self-advocates.

The U.S. Department of State has ranked Cambodia as a Tier 2 Watch List country in its 2014 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report. This means that Cambodia fails to meet the minimum standards for combating human trafficking, especially providing protection for victims and pursuing a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to perpetrators. The report also notes that the “complicity of government officials in Cambodia contributes to a climate of impunity for trafficking offenders and a denial of justice to victims.”

Important recommendations from the U.S. State Department for Cambodia acknowledge the need to address that law enforcement and corruption at the top fuel both the virgin trade, as well as human trafficking more generally. These recommendations include increasing efforts to investigate, prosecute, convict and punish offenders of human trafficking, establishing more services to help victims become survivors, and, more generally, improving cooperation and coordination amongst police, court officials, and other government officials on trafficking cases and victim referral processes.

Beyond these policy recommendations, as a society there is more we can and must do to make an impact on human trafficking — not just in Cambodia but worldwide. Until individuals, families, and governments recognize the inherent worth, human rights, and dignity of other human beings, laws and policies won’t be enough to eliminate this crime.

– Written by Harleen Kaur, BTCC Intern

Harleen Kaur is an intern with the Break the Chain Campaign at the Institute for Policy Studies for the summer of 2014. Originally from San Jose, CA, she is currently a student studying Government and Economics at Smith College in Northampton, MA.

San Francisco Bay Area: The Coexistence of Innovation and Trafficking in Persons

Image taken from Business Insider

As a proud Californian from the San Francisco Bay Area, I passionately boast about the Bay Area’s diversity and its progressive politics. Until recently, not once had I stopped to consider the implications of this diversity or its connection to trafficking in persons. How could human trafficking persist in my progressive community? Unfortunately, many Americans often view human trafficking as a foreign issue and don’t recognize its local presence.

The largely invisible nature of human trafficking contributes to this ignorance. Many individuals see sensationalized images of individuals in chains or stories conflating this issue with prostitution, but trafficking in persons is often subtle. Moreover, trafficking into different forms of labor is often excluded from this narrative. Domestic work, migrant work, farm work, factory work — many Americans and employers don’t consider these forms of work as “real” work. Accordingly, workers in these industries don’t receive a large portion of our attention (or much protection under labor laws, in certain cases.)

While working on the Break the Chain Campaign at the Institute for Policy Studies this summer, I read The Slave Next Door by Kevin Bales. While I learned about traffickers’ tactics and different forms of human trafficking, my big takeaway was that this issue affects all demographics and can occur anywhere. Though seemingly a simple observation, it is not universally known. Hence, I decided to research how this crime could occur in my community. And, the future policy analyst in me needed to know: what’s being done about it?

The Bay Area has found itself in a very unfortunate situation demanding immediate attention: the same place that serves as a hub for technology, affluence, and progressive politics has become a top U.S. destination for trafficking in persons.

According to the Final Report of the California Alliance to Combat Trafficking and Slavery Task Force (2007), California’s “extensive international border, its major harbors and airports, its powerful economy and accelerating population, its large immigrant population and its industries make it a prime target for traffickers.”

How can the same factors I cite when I talk about how amazing the Bay Area is be the same ones that fuel trafficking in persons?

Though a largely affluent area known for its technological advancements and global connections, the Bay Area serves as a reminder that no community is immune from human trafficking. The same factors that make the Bay Area such a special place worth boasting about often drive this exploitative crime.

Many rings of organized crime move trafficked persons from large Bay Area cities like San Jose, San Francisco, and Oakland up into Portland and Seattle and often into Reno and Las Vegas. Labor and sex trafficking of both children and adults are prevalent throughout many Bay Area cities.

Affluence. Many Bay Area residents seek cheap labor, particularly workers to assist with domestic tasks. Traffickers have created an illicit market forcing individuals into labor in order to meet this demand. Technology. Traffickers use communication innovations like the internet, photography, and text messaging to lure, transport, and/or track trafficked persons.

Diversity. Traffickers exploit the Bay Area’s immigrant community, and the U.S. border with Mexico enables rings of organized crime to traffic to and from the Pacific Rim and Latin America. According to the U.S. Department of State and other studies, global economic crises in countries abroad can make certain individuals more vulnerable to becoming victims of trafficking. As U.S. immigration policy has complicated legal immigration, many individuals seeking to immigrate to the U.S. in search of better opportunities inadvertently become victims of trafficking by paying traffickers to help them migrate. They are often coerced into exploitative labor conditions or sex work with little to no pay and a lack of civil liberties. 

Image taken from Politico

Regional task forces dedicated to combating human trafficking via prosecutions and victim services exist within the Bay Area, and they receive their funding from federal grants. Due to the limited availability of funds, however, they have had to compete against one another for resources. Many anti-trafficking organizations, nonprofits, and law enforcement officials cite a lack of funding and a lack of training for individuals coming into contact with potential victims of trafficking as huge obstacles in delivering an effective response to human trafficking.

The San Jose Police Department’s Human Trafficking Task Force has made tremendous efforts to investigate and prosecute many human trafficking cases, and it has increased training programs so that its law enforcement officials become more attuned to recognizing signs of trafficking. Still, San Jose and the rest of the Bay Area have a long way to go in combating this atrocious crime.

For starters, cases involving labor trafficking demand more attention. However, because local agencies often report a lack of resources, time, experience, and training needed to successfully investigate and prosecute these cases, they are often deferred to federal law enforcement agencies like the ICE Homeland Security Investigations Unit, the FBI, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office. A more holistic approach to, and understanding of, human trafficking will ensure that the full scope of this crime is adequately addressed.

Still, it is hard to measure the full scope of human trafficking due to the relatively recent measures undertaken to combat it. As such, the quality of data concerning human trafficking prosecutions and victim identification numbers may vary from county to county, thus making statistics regarding this issue imprecise. What is the true magnitude of human trafficking in the Bay Area? In the U.S.? In the world? Different studies present different numbers. What is certain is that slavery continues to exist throughout the U.S. and it’s time to collaborate locally, nationally, and globally in order to eradicate it.

It’s time to educate voters so that they know that human trafficking exists within the U.S. Accordingly, politicians need to make this issue an important part of their agenda. The mental block that this isn’t an issue that can happen in the U.S. needs to change. Local agencies within the Bay Area must also coordinate their efforts with state and federal agencies in order to provide a more effective response to this issue.

According to a report by the International Human Rights Clinic (IHRC) at Santa Clara University School of Law, though the U.S. has made significant strides in its fight against human trafficking, it has overwhelmingly failed to address human trafficking in a comprehensive and coordinated manner. This report identifies three significant gaps in the U.S. response to trafficking in persons: the “failure to 1) adequately identify and investigate labor trafficking cases; 2) address the intersection between the child welfare system and human trafficking, and 3) provide coordination and promote collaboration between local, state, and federal agencies to combat human trafficking.”

Many Bay Area agencies and service providers report that labor trafficking remains under-investigated. Law enforcement agencies report a lack of adequate resources and U.S. labor laws excluding certain workers, such as farm workers and domestic workers, as factors fueling this ineffective response. The U.S. government and organizations throughout the nation must address labor trafficking. Law enforcement agencies with the jurisdiction to enforce labor laws must have adequate resources and training to resolve these cases. Moreover, laws and regulations must wholly protect all workers from forced labor.

It is also imperative that the U.S. government and organizations throughout the nation address the intersection between the child welfare system and human trafficking. According to the California Child Welfare Council’s report, many children with connections to the child welfare system are at a particular risk for child trafficking. Though the U.S. Department of Justice’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section (CEOS) has made an effort to investigate and prosecute the exploitation of children, the U.S. government should better ensure that the child welfare system has the necessary resources and training to protect vulnerable children from trafficking, provide appropriate victim-centered services, and improve coordination between social services and law enforcement agencies to protect children in the child welfare system.

We also need local, state, and federal coordination in addressing human trafficking. The Bay Area’s local law enforcement officials and anti-trafficking agencies claim that a lack of coordination, funding, and training are obstacles in their fight against human trafficking. Many local anti-trafficking task forces exist to promote collaboration amongst various agencies, but the federal government should assume a leading role to promote communication and coordination amongst federal, state, and local agencies. The federal government should also standardize a human trafficking curriculum that organizations and agencies can use to train those who may potentially come into contact with victims.

Bay Area cities have started to improve their fight against human trafficking by applying these recommendations.

On Tuesday, April 29, 2014, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors voted to establish a human trafficking commission in response to a growing need to combat trafficking in persons. This commission will serve many roles including coordinating government and community efforts to combat trafficking, identifying victim-centered policies and services, developing a more coordinated, informed response, and creating a public-education campaign to spread awareness. Supervisor Cindy Chavez introduced the commission proposal, demonstrating the vast potential for public servants to take initiative in addressing this issue locally.

Other initiatives have recognized the role of globalization and technology in facilitating trafficking in persons. For example, many traffickers transport individuals via airports, but in most cases, staff members fail to identify victims. As a response, Bay Area airports are training their airport staff to identify potential trafficked persons. According to Betty Ann Boeving, founder and executive director of the Bay Area Anti-Trafficking Coalition, “(Airports are) the No. 1 place we should try to intercept (victims) because they are outside of the hands of the trafficker often.”

Image taken from the Bay Area Anti-Trafficking Coalition website

It is clear that many agencies within the Bay Area have recognized human trafficking as an issue demanding immediate attention. Furthermore, a call to increase the coordination amongst federal, state, and local agencies provides a promising approach to combating this issue holistically. It is crucial that the U.S. and international agenda prioritize this pervasive human rights violation and security threat.

As a proud Californian, I desire to see a Bay Area that capitalizes its skills, resources, and innovation to become a global leader in the fight against human trafficking. As an advocate of global justice and human rights, I envision a world collaborating to stop this crime by first recognizing the inherent dignity of all.

Image taken from the EOC Institute

– Written by Harleen Kaur, BTCC Intern

Harleen Kaur is an intern with the Break the Chain Campaign at the Institute for Policy Studies for the summer of 2014. Originally from San Jose, CA, she is currently a student studying Government and Economics at Smith College in Northampton, MA.

Sixth Annual Intern Roundtable on Trafficking in Persons: Journey from Victim to Survivor


On Wednesday July 23rd the U.S. Department of State’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons held their Sixth Annual Intern Roundtable on Trafficking in Persons. This roundtable, entitled “Journey from Victim to Survivor”, focused on the progress of the movement thus far.  

Luis CdeBaca, the United States Ambassador-at-Large to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons began the discussion through explaining the viability of anti-trafficking as a career path for the interns that sat before him. He presented modern day examples of human trafficking, such as Shyima Hall. Hall’s traffickers, who forced her to work as a domestic slave from age 8 in the United States until her rescue in 2002, exemplify the brutality of modern day slavery.

CdeBaca drew parallels of this story with slavery of the past, notably bringing forth Frederick Douglass’ life as a slave. By connecting these two stories from quite different times, CdeBaca demonstrated that modern day trafficking is no less gruesome than the slavery that plagued the United States before the abolitionist movement.

In addition, CdeBaca explained the ranking system of the Trafficking in Person’s Report released in June of 2014. He noted the downgrade of a few countries, including Malaysia from the Tier 2 Watchlist to Tier 3. Despite favorable international relations between the United States and this nation, CdeBaca made it clear that there needs to be improvement in these nations that fail to enforce anti-trafficking policies. Although whether economic sanctions will be imposed on the four nations that experienced this downgrade is unclear, the ambassador commended the Malaysian Prime Minister’s demand to his cabinet to provide more services for victims.

After CdeBaca’s opening remarks, a panel of three more activists discussed their involvement in the anti-trafficking movement. The first panelist, Bradley Myles, initially wanted to work for organizations fighting violence against women when he heard about human trafficking. Joining the Polaris Project, he began working on both issues. Eventually, he became more immersed into the project as he realized the importance of offering social services, including hotlines, to trafficked persons.  He attributed this notion to lessons learned directly from victims. Through understanding the experiences of trafficked survivors, Myles contended that effective polices aimed at ending human trafficking can be created.

The next panelist, Evelyn Chumbow, described her experience as a trafficked survivor from Cameroon. At the age of 9, Chumbow was brought to London and then Silver Spring, Maryland to work as a domestic slave. Until she reached the age of 17 and was finally rescued, Chumbow admitted that she didn’t even know she was a victim of trafficking. Without hotlines or many social services at the time Chumbow remained in the dark about her dire situation. After being enlightened, she decided to join the anti-trafficking movement. At the panel, Chumbow asserted that “ever since I’ve been rescued, I want to make a difference.”

Chumbow contended that the economic nature of human trafficking, whether that is through saving money by utilizing a domestic slave or making money through other forms of trafficking, makes it especially favorable to traffickers. Thus, the business of trading humans needs to be directly addressed.

The final panelist, Amy Pope prosecuted Chumbow’s trafficker, Theresa Mubang, resulting in a sentence of 17 years in prison. Pope currently serves as the Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director of the Transborder Security Directorate. She maintained the need to combat human trafficking on both the domestic and international level.

Pope explained that the bipartisan nature of the anti-trafficking movement and thereby the easiness of people to coalesce around this issue. Addressing the issue through a layered approach also requires cooperation with home governments. Only through this way can trafficking networks organized by crime syndicates be permanently dismantled. Viewing this issue on both spectrums allows the anti-trafficking movement to effectively “cut off the avenue that facilitates the crime.”

The roundtable the key issues facing the anti-trafficking movement and provided the interns with a clear picture of what a career in this field would entail. This movement has clearly grown, but definitely has potential for future growth. This expansion could include creating stronger partnerships with groups focusing on other relevant issues, such as violence against women, labor violations, and national security issues. As a final point, Myles highlighted the importance of treating all forms of trafficking as equally problematic, rather than focusing on either sex or labor trafficking. Through this lens, we can help the millions of human beings break the chains of their enslavement.

Looking at the interns that represent the future of the anti-trafficking movement, Chumbow pleaded “do it with your heart because there are children crying for your help.”


*Raven Dunstan

Is the Utility of Diplomatic Immunity Worth the Cost to the United States?

diplomatic immunity 1

In the 2008, the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report entitled “U.S.  Government’s Efforts to Address Alleged Abuse of Household Workers by Foreign Diplomats with Immunity Could Be Strengthened.” Within this report, the GAO disclosed that “we identified 42 distinct A-3 and G-5 visa holders who alleged that they were abused by foreign diplomas with some level of immunity from 2000 through 2008, but the total number of alleged incidents is likely higher.”

If this is true, then why would the United States continue to protect the immunities that allow diplomatic agents to abuse their domestic workers? The answer to this question stems from the three ways that diplomatic immunity allows the United States to conduct domestic and foreign policy.

First, diplomatic immunity provides an opportunity to demonstrate bipartisanship in the House and Senate. For example, following the enactment of the Diplomatic Relations Act of 1978 (DRA), Jimmy Carter released the following statement:

“I am pleased, because its enactment is a reflection of what Congress can accomplish when skillful and dedicated leaders of both Houses work closely together in a common cause, with full cooperation and participation from the executive branch- in this instance, especially from the State and Justice Departments.”

The agreement of both parties on the issue of diplomatic immunity showed their capability to cooperate, clearly something the American people wanted to see. Thus, consensus on diplomatic immunity could serve as a distraction from other issues that sharply divide the House and Senate. However, if the House and Senate could focus on the victims of human trafficking in these diplomatic households, they could successfully demonstrate the same level of bipartisanship whilst holding diplomats legally accountable for their treatment of their workers.

Second, the protection of diplomatic immunity could translate into the preservation of diplomatic relations between the United States and other nations. For this reason, the GAO reveals that “if the foreign diplomat’s country is a close ally of the United States, State also will assess how relations with that country might be affected by use of the investigative technique.” For this reason, the strip search and subsequent arrest of Indian consular official Devyani Khobragade for the abuse of her domestic worker sparked tension between the United States and India.

Nevertheless, the United States could utilize this attention to foreign relations to send a clear signal that the protection of basic human rights supersede protection of individuals that violate these rights. Despite the claim that U.S and Indian diplomatic relations suffered due to the Khobragade case, Desai of the Huffington Post asserts that “compared to the big issues — stalling of the implementation of the civil nuclear energy deal, complications of the retail sector reforms, and strains in naval cooperation between the two countries — the Khobragade episode is just a small pebble of irritation.”

The third use of diplomatic immunity, the principle of reciprocity, makes the necessity of diplomatic immunity harder to dispute. Section 4 of the DRA allows the President to broaden or limit immunities of foreign diplomats in the United States pending on their sending State’s treatment of U.S diplomats abroad. Thus, the United States government feels that without protecting diplomatic officials within its territory, U.S. diplomats abroad will become vulnerable to lowered protection standards.

This defense of the existence of diplomatic immunity fails to take into account the victims of abuse. Protected by immunities, diplomats are able to take advantage of their domestic workers without legal repercussions. There must be a balance between protecting the rights of diplomats and the basic human rights of their

The utility of diplomatic immunity as a tool of foreign policy should not undermine the consequences of holding diplomats unaccountable for the treatment of their domestic workers.

*Raven Dunstan

Ugandan Ban On Domestic Worker Exportation Harms the Worker

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image taken from CIA World Factbook

A few days ago, the Ugandan government banned the exportation of domestic laborers. The ban follows a similar series of policies enacted by other major domestic labor-supplying countries in Southeast Asia and Africa in response to the exploitation of domestic workers abroad. Uganda’s new policy prohibits labor recruitment firms from sending individuals abroad to do housework.

The ban on the immigration of domestic laborers fails to address the root causes of domestic labor exploitation, and actually undermines the workers’ already limited abilities to prevent or escape from exploitation in the workplace.  (For an in-depth analysis of the limited legal protections of domestic workers, see the International Labor Organization’s 2013 Report on Domestic Workers Across the World.)

The solution to worker exploitation does not lie in criminalizing the work itself. Banning the immigration of domestic laborers directly punishes the exploited worker population by cutting off a means of income, while only indirectly punishing the exploiting population by cutting off one of many resources of domestic labor.

Further, because of the persistent global demand for domestic labor, domestic work continues to be a common way for migrant workers to make ends meet. Criminalizing migrant domestic workers opens the door to a black market for domestic labor—simultaneously reducing a government’s ability to monitor domestic labor transactions and enforce fair labor standards, and increasing domestic workers’ vulnerability to exploitation by their employers as they illegally enter their workplaces.

Countries like Indonesia and Ethiopia that formerly enacted bans against domestic labor exploitation have now lifted such bans in response to protests by domestic laborers themselves.

If the Ugandan government wants to prevent the exploitation of its domestic workers abroad, it must reconsider the ban on domestic labor exportation. Banning the exportation only undermines the government’s ability to protect these workers. The Ugandan government must stand in solidarity with domestic workers, rather than eliminate their lifelines.

–Lily Liu, BTCC Intern

Threat of Economic Sanctions Could Compel Tier 3 Nations to Comply with TIP Minimum Standards

Tier 3

The Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP) released by the Department of State in June 2014 featured a downgrade from Tier 2 to Tier 3 for four countries: Malaysia, Thailand, The Gambia, and Venezuela. According to this report, the members of Tier 3 include “countries whose governments do not fully comply with the minimum standards and are not making significant efforts to do so.”

Like the other 19 nations in Tier 3, these four countries share instances of both labor and sex trafficking, child trafficking, and trafficking of foreign and national people. The TIP further examines the specific problems each nation faces. For example, the Malaysian government did not attempt to dismantle the process of recruitment and issuance of contracting fees, which inevitably leads to debt bondage. Corruption embedded within Thailand permitted the targeting of Rohingya refugees by human traffickers in the fishing industry. The Gambia failed to not only prosecute alleged traffickers, but also to formally recognize a single trafficked victim this year. Venezuela, especially vulnerable to child sex tourism, did not provide reports concerning investigations of such cases.

Due to the reduction in rank of these four countries, the United States could impose economic sanctions to coerce these nations into compliance with TIP minimum standards. Should these countries be given a second chance before discussion of sanctions begin?

The 2008 amendment to the TVPA allows a country to be placed on the Tier 2 Watch List for up to four consecutive years, pending the approval of the Secretary of State and the nation’s presentation of a written plan for future action. Examining the history of these nations elucidates the worsening nature of human trafficking within their boundaries. Both Malaysia and Thailand have been on the Tier 2 Watch List since 2010. The Gambia joined the Tier 2 Watch List in 2011. Venezuela has been on the Tier 2 Watch List since 2008, was downgraded to Tier 3 in 2011, and returned to the Tier 2 Watch List between 2012 and 2013.

Clearly, allowing nations the chance to stay on the Tier 2 Watch List for years at a time before demotion to Tier 3, only to return back to the Watch List is failing to tackle the true issue at hand. Thus, the question arises of whether economic sanctions could compel Tier 3 nations into complying with TIP minimum standards.

By targeting sectors that are not only prone to human trafficking, but also the most profitable industries, economic sanctions could effectively pressure Tier 3 nations to demonstrate progress. For example, tourist centers represent a lucrative sector of the Venezuelan economy. However, the 2014 TIP reports that “Venezuelan women and girls, including some lured from poor interior regions to urban and tourist centers, such as Caracas, Maracaibo, and Margarita Island, are subjected to sex trafficking within the country.”Thus, any sanction which hurt this particular industry would force the Venezuelan government to at least consider compliance.

However, the use of economic sanctions would also harm people within these industries who produce their goods without the use of trafficked labor. Would the cost to these workers in the industry be worth the pressure placed on Tier 3 governments to meet TIP minimum standards? This would depend on not only the expected success of the sanctions, but also on the ability of the Department of State to maintain favorable diplomatic relations with the other nation. It seems unlikely that after imposing sanctions on a Tier 3 nation, the United States could uphold advantageous foreign relations.

Perhaps the threat of economic sanctions would provide more favorable results. This diplomatic tool would allow the United States to preserve friendly relations with the other nation whilst compelling adherence to TIP minimum standards. Threatening economic sanctions would provide more pressure than the Tier 2 Watch List and could be just enough to make Tier 3 nations take their inadequate performance seriously.


*Raven Dunstan

Thai Shrimp Industry: Human Trafficking into Supply Chains

Image taken from The Guardian

As the world’s largest prawn (shrimp) exporter, Thailand has recently come under scrutiny for enabling a crime that dates back to antiquity: yes, slavery’s modern parallel, human trafficking.

A recent report by The Guardian revealed the atrocity that trafficked migrant workers fuel the $7.3 billion Thai fishing industry. Annually, Thailand produces approximately 42 million tons of seafood and exports 90% of it to the United States, the United Kingdom, and across Europe. Slave labor pervades this industry’s supply chain.

Many of the world’s largest prawn farmers, particularly the Thailand-based Charoen Pokphand (CP) Foods, buy a variety of trash fish and other bycatch to feed their farmed prawns from suppliers that exploit the labor of trafficked migrant workers. Most often enslaved on fishing boats, migrant workers labor long hours (20+) without pay, adequate food, or sufficient rest.

Control. Physical and psychological abuse. Accumulation of debt. Traffickers employ these common tactics to exercise complete control over trafficked persons, who are often too afraid, too “indebted,” or too broken to leave. A Thai vessel may keep an individual enslaved for years to meet the international demand for inexpensive shrimp. When a worker escapes or dies, a captain simply purchases another one. Gone are the days when a slave cost a fortune; human beings are cheap nowadays. This directly translates into traffickers viewing migrant workers as disposable commodities.

When does labor exploitation become modern day slavery? According to the Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000, force, fraud, and coercion define trafficking into labor and sex. More generally, little to no pay, lack of freedom, and encroachments on other civil liberties have become common indicators of human trafficking.

Many individuals, particularly from Burma and Cambodia, voluntarily pay brokers to facilitate their migration to Thailand in search of work. Then, these same brokers, often working in tandem with politicians and law enforcement officials, utilize force, fraud, and coercion to sell the workers to captains of large fishing vessels. Large companies like CP Foods buy their trash fish either directly from these vessels or indirectly from other factories that have slavery in their supply chain. Companies such as Walmart, Tesco, and Costco receive their prawn exports from these large multinational suppliers.

This leads to the uncomfortable truth: many Americans purchase their shrimp from companies that have slave labor in their supply chain.

CP Foods and other companies responded to these allegations posed by The Guardian’s report. CP Foods apparently has policies against forced labor and pays its fishmeal factories to ensure these suppliers buy their bycatch from vessels that are licensed, legal, and “slave-free.” Leading supermarkets Walmart, Costco, and Tesco all condemned slavery and defended their policies that are committed to ensuring its absence from their supply chain.

However, policies sometimes fail to achieve their desired result. According to The Guardian’s report, many “legitimate” vessels paid by CP Foods’s factories failed to log their catches or register their workers. Others are simply illegal “ghost boats,” unlicensed suppliers of trash fish that not only mimic legitimate vessels but also habitually exploit slave labor. One boat captain told The Guardian that his only goal is to maximize his profit, a common motive driving human trafficking into supply chains.

Still, it is simplistic to believe that profit maximization itself explains why trafficking into supply chains continues to persist. An entire “culture” surrounding human trafficking reduces human beings to cheap commodities to be bought and sold in “the free market.” This must be uprooted.

The sad truth remains that even those migrant workers who manage to escape remain invisible. If the government and its law enforcement officials are complicit in human trafficking, how does a victim of modern day slavery receive justice, compensation for his or her labor, and/or services to address the physical and psychological abuse, drug addictions, and other health issues that he or she may experience?

As with most victims of trafficking, escape and rescue are often insufficient means to engender full recovery and a road to empowerment.

What is clear is that the Thai government will have to respond to these allegations. The International Labour Organization (ILO) has adopted a new Protocol on Forced Labor, which is a legally binding statement that strengthens the international community’s fight against forced labor. It aims to further protect victims and increase their access to remedying services. Governments are also required to protect workers, including migrant workers, from illegal recruitment efforts, such as those used by the fishing vessels in the Thai case. However, Thailand voted against this new Protocol; four of the eight votes against this new ILO convention came from Thailand.

What does this say about the Thai government’s true stance on ending forced labor, and where do we go from here?

According to another source, a sustainable and ethical global economy untainted by slavery may be possible. It asserts that first a nation must establish research teams trained in documenting the production base of various commodities at every level of the supply chain. Whereas effective responses would vary in each industry, constructing a constant system of independent, third-party certification would be a crucial first step to ensure transparency within the industry’s supply chain.

Second, it is important to address the issues that render communities vulnerable to human trafficking and exploitation. Industries wishing to source labor from particular communities should also invest in their development, education, health and security in order to ensure that individuals from these communities are not trafficked or exploited.

Combating human trafficking into supply chains highlights a greater commitment to an ethical, sustainable global economy. Globalization will continue as the world becomes more interconnected. Rather than forging connections through a shared chain of goods produced by slave labor, it is time for all nations to come together to address how human trafficking (and slavery) can be ended once and for all.

– Written by Harleen Kaur, BTCC Intern

Harleen Kaur is an intern with the Break the Chain Campaign at the Institute for Policy Studies for the summer of 2014. Originally from San Jose, CA, she is currently a student studying Government and Economics at Smith College in Northampton, MA.

Solidarity With Workers Through Purchases

Last week, major UK/Ireland retail group Primark began investigating accusations of forced labor in its facilities. The accusations arose from an alleged hand-written note decrying factory conditions, found in a pair of Primark-produced pants, as well as from a sewn-in label noting “ ‘degrading’ sweatshop conditions.”

While the validity of the notes remains unclear, the oppression and exploitation of factory workers is a reality. The US Department of State’s recently released 2014 Trafficking in Persons Report notes factories as a common place for labor exploitation, especially in relation to trafficked persons, who may experience forced labor and debt bondage in less regulated factory environments.

This episode underlining the vulnerability of factory workers was a small validation of a pact I made a year ago to “purchase consciously”—a choice that has rendered my day-to-day life a little less convenient, but a little more meaningful.

My choice to “purchase consciously” is based on the “ethical consumerism” movement. The movement stems from the concept of “dollar voting,” which posits that consumers drive future production by indicating what they want through their purchases. “Ethical consumerism” consists of “positive buying” (purchasing products that might be environmentally or labor-friendly, for example) and “moral boycotts” (negating to purchase items whose production might damage the environment, or rely on labor exploitation, etc.) I have to note here that I prefer the term “purchasing consciously” to “purchasing ethically” because I hesitate to impose my personal values as universal ideals.

My reason for trying to “purchase consciously” is simple, and a small shout-out to the oft-revisited John Rawls and his theory of the “veil of ignorance:”

If I were to construct an economic system without knowing where in the system I will be once it is in place, I would want to create a system that is the most fair—and to me, that means a system that would fulfill the basic physical and mental needs of nutrients, shelter, agency, and dignity, of all individuals.

“Purchasing consciously” is my way of indicating my preference for items whose production involves living wages, safe working conditions and worker protections, and environmental sustainability.

Let me be honest—this is neither an inexpensive, nor a foolproof means of advocating for universal standards of social goods. After hours of perusing through the “social responsibility” webpages of my go-to stores, googling “ethical consumerism,” and looking up third-party ethical ranking lists, I determined that I could buy Fair Trade branded, organically and sustainably produced goods, but that I would probably go broke doing it, and dress primarily like a globe-trekking mountain-climber. This is not a sustainable, nor a preferable, means of living, for a 22-year old student about to take on the financial responsibility of student debt.

Purchasing consciously, at least in today’s economy, is unfortunately a financial privilege—individuals below a certain income bracket simply cannot afford to eat local produce, or buy enviro-friendly organic t-shirts made in a factory that pays its workers a living wage. These goods exist, but are not accessible at the moment, due to their price, and lack of transparency regarding production processes. What’s an indebted but socially conscious young student to do?

Alas, I have no easy answer, and only experience, to share. My two takeaways from (so far) a year of purchasing consciously are as follows:

1)   Try your best. While most of my food budget goes to the popular chain grocery store, Trader Joe’s (whose CEO is actually doing some pretty wonderful things), I will make the occasional farmer’s market purchase, to support local farmers and artisans when I can.

2)   Tell other people.  Get the word out about purchasing consciously! The more people who consume in this way, even if only occasionally, the more impactful the movement will be!

Purchasing consciously is an excellent way to stand in solidarity with exploited individuals around the globe.

–Lily Liu, BTCC Intern

Diplomatic Immunity: Perpetuating the Cycle of Human Trafficking

Following the celebration of yesterday’s International Domestic Workers Day, it is important to not only examine the rights for domestic workers, but also the punishments for employers who fail to honor these protections.

The recent accusations raised against Kenyan Embassy’s Head of Public Affairs, Waithira Njuguna, for treating one of her housekeepers, Lucy, as a domestic slave emphasizes a key problem with the Vienna Convention on Relations and Optional Protocol on Disputes: diplomatic immunity.

The household servants of diplomats coming from abroad to work in the United States obtain A-3 visas. Article 10 (c) of the Vienna Convention states that diplomats must report “the arrival and final departure of household employees.” However, there is no agency that monitors the conditions of household servants to ensure that their contract is being upheld. Thus, once they enter the home of their assigned diplomat, there is nothing to stop the foreign official from treating their household employees however they desire.

What about the federal law of the United States?  This surely should safeguard against abuse of the A-3 visa problem by diplomats, right? This would be true if the ingrained institution known as diplomatic immunity did not exist. Diplomatic immunity prevents the prosecution of diplomats for violating a wide range of laws, from speeding to assault, unless their sending State waives their immunity. However, if diplomats place their household employee under the same conditions of a trafficked person, should diplomatic immunity still protect them?

Currently, diplomats enjoy immunity from prosecution of even this contemptible crime. Consider the example earlier this year of the former Deputy Consul General of the Consulate General of India in New York City, Devyani Khobragade. Her employee filed charges against her for visa fraud. In this case, visa fraud entails not honoring the contract under which her employee obtained an A-3 visa to come to the United States. However, a federal judge dismissed the charges because of Khobragade’s status of diplomatic immunity. Although charges were reinstated after prosecutors were able to prove that the immunity was limited to official work, no punishment has been issued thus far. Nonetheless, there have been numerous other cases, where diplomats enjoy full immunity in similar circumstances.

In light of Khobragade’s case, it appears that even if Lucy could prove the conditions she was forced to live under in Njuguna’s home, charges would not be upheld. The likelihood that Kenya would waive Njuguna’s diplomatic immunity to allow prosecution is low. Thus, the harshest form of punishment the diplomat currently faces is being asked by the State Department to return to her sending State.

From these two current cases of human trafficking, it is clear that the principle of diplomatic immunity outlined in the Vienna Convention should be reexamined. Diplomatic immunity should not allow diplomats to place their household employees under conditions that include long hours, denial of wages, verbal and physical abuse, and an inability to leave. As long as such immunity remains, the A-3 Visa program upholds the practice of human trafficking within the homes of foreign diplomats.

*Raven Dunstan