President Barack Obama unveiled a forceful, robust comprehensive strategy to attack human trafficking, which he called modern-day slavery, for the first time, shining a light on “the bitter truth” of human trafficking in the United States, and called on Congress to renew the Trafficking Victims Protection Act.
Speaking at the 2012 Clinton Global Initiative in New York City, where empowering women and girls and attacking human trafficking have been strong focuses for years, Obama said, “It’s the migrant worker unable to pay off the debt to his trafficker. The man, lured here with the promise of a job, his documents then taken, and forced to work endless hours in a kitchen. The teenage girl, beaten, forced to walk the streets. This should not be happening in the United States of America.”
For the first time, at the direction of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, he noted, the annual trafficking report now includes the United States, “because we can’t ask other nations to do what we are not doing ourselves.” The interagency task force has been expanded to include more federal partners, including the FBI. The intelligence community is devoting more resources to identifying trafficking networks. The government has strengthened protections so that foreign-born workers know their rights.
“And most of all, we’re going after the traffickers. New anti-trafficking teams are dismantling their networks. Last year, we charged a record number of these predators with human trafficking.”
Human trafficking, he said, “ought to concern every person, because it is a debasement of our common humanity. It ought to concern every community, because it tears at our social fabric. It ought to concern every business, because it distorts markets. It ought to concern every nation, because it endangers public health and fuels violence and organized crime.”
Pointing to the outrage of more than 20 million victims of human trafficking around the world, Obama announced a series of additional steps that his Administration is taking:
“First, we’re going to do more to spot it and stop it. We’ll prepare a new assessment of human trafficking in the United States so we better understand the scope and scale of the problem. We’ll strengthen training, so investigators and law enforcement are even better equipped to take action — and treat victims as victims, not as criminals. We’re going to work with Amtrak, and bus and truck inspectors, so that they’re on the lookout. We’ll help teachers and educators spot the signs as well, and better serve those who are vulnerable, especially our young people.
“Second, we’re turning the tables on the traffickers. Just as they are now using technology and the Internet to exploit their victims, we’re going to harness technology to stop them. We’re encouraging tech companies and advocates and law enforcement — and we’re also challenging college students — to develop tools that our young people can use to stay safe online and on their smart phones.
“Third, we’ll do even more to help victims recover and rebuild their lives. We’ll develop a new action plan to improve coordination across the federal government. We’re increasing access to services to help survivors become self-sufficient. We’re working to simplify visa procedures for ‘T’ visas so that innocent victims from other countries can stay here as they help us prosecute their traffickers.”
“This coming year, my Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships will make the fight against human trafficking a focus of its work… And I’m also proud to announce a new partnership with Humanity United, which is a leader in anti-trafficking — a multi-million dollar challenge to local communities to find new ways to care for trafficking victims. And I want to thank Johns Hopkins University, which will be focusing on how to best care for child victims.
“Now, finally, as one of the largest purchasers of goods and services in the world, the United States government will lead by example. We’ve already taken steps to make sure our contractors do not engage in forced labor. And today we’re going to go further. I’ve signed a new executive order that raises the bar. It’s specific about the prohibitions. It does more to protect workers. It ensures stronger compliance. In short, we’re making clear that American tax dollars must never, ever be used to support the trafficking of human beings. We will have zero tolerance. We mean what we say. We will enforce it.
“Of course, no government, no nation, can meet this challenge alone. Everybody has a responsibility. Every nation can take action. Modern anti-trafficking laws must be passed and enforced and justice systems must be strengthened. Victims must be cared for. So here in the United States, Congress should renew the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. Whether you are a conservative or a liberal, Democrat or Republican, this is a no-brainer. This is something we should all agree on. We need to get that done.”
He challenged nations to “recommit to addressing the underlying forces that push so many into bondage in the first place. With development and economic growth that creates legitimate jobs, there’s less likelihood of indentured servitude around the globe. A sense of justice that says no child should ever be exploited, that has to be burned into the cultures of every country. A commitment to equality — as in the Equal Futures Partnership that we launched with other nations yesterday so societies empower our sisters and our daughters just as much as our brothers and sons.”
“And every business can take action. All the business leaders who are here and our global economy companies have a responsibility to make sure that their supply chains, stretching into the far corners of the globe, are free of forced labor. The good news is more and more responsible companies are holding themselves to higher standards. And today, I want to salute the new commitments that are being made. That includes the new Global Business Coalition Against Trafficking — companies that are sending a message: Human trafficking is not a business model, it is a crime, and we are going to stop it. We’re proud of them.
“Every faith community can take action as well, by educating their congregations, by joining in coalitions that are bound by a love of God and a concern for the oppressed….
“And finally, every citizen can take action: by learning more; by going to the website that we helped create — SlaveryFootprint.org; by speaking up and insisting that the clothes we wear, the food we eat, the products we buy are made free of forced labor; by standing up against the degradation and abuse of women.”
These were initiatives introduced at prior Clinton Global Initiative conferences (See ‘How many slaves work for you?’ New online tool is part of effort to end slavery and Ashton Kutcher, Demi Moore launch campaign to stop child sex trafficking).
President Obama told the story of Ima Matul, who grew up in Indonesia, and at 17 was given the opportunity to work as a nanny here in the United States. “But when she arrived, it turned out to be a nightmare. Cooking, cleaning — 18-hour days, seven days a week. One beating was so bad it sent her to the emergency room. And finally, she escaped. And with the help from a group that cared, today Ima has a stable job. She’s an advocate — she’s even testified before Congress.
He also told of Sheila White, who grew up in the Bronx. “Fleeing an abusive home, she fell in with a guy who said he’d protect her. Instead, he sold her — just 15 years old — 15 — to men who raped her and beat her, and burned her with irons. And finally, after years — with the help of a non-profit led by other survivors — she found the courage to break free and get the services she needed. Sheila earned her GED. Today she is a powerful, fierce advocate who helped to pass a new anti-trafficking law right here in New York.”
Both Ima and Sheila were in the hall as Obama addressed CGI.
“These women endured unspeakable horror. But in their unbreakable will, in their courage, in their resilience, they remind us that this cycle can be broken; victims can become not only survivors, they can become leaders and advocates, and bring about change,” he said as the women stood to applause of the audience.
“Our fight against human trafficking is one of the great human rights causes of our time, and the United States will continue to lead it — in partnership with you,” he told CGI, whose members include government officials, representatives of nonprofit, nongovernmental organizations, corporations, financiers and philanthropists.
“The change we seek will not come easy, but we can draw strength from the movements of the past. For we know that every life saved — in the words of that great Proclamation — is “an act of justice,” worthy of “the considerate judgment of mankind, and the gracious favor of Almighty God.”
“That’s what we believe. That’s what we’re fighting for. And I’m so proud to be in partnership with CGI to make this happen.”
[Slaveryfootprint.org, organized and supported by MTV, Manpower and Fairtrade Fund and introduced at the 2011 CGI, enables you to look at your own consumption patterns, habits, to see how many slaves actually work for you.]
‘How many slaves work for you?’ New online tool is part of effort to end slavery and slideshow
Ashton Kutcher, Demi Moore launch campaign to stop child sex trafficking and slideshow
Karen Rubin, Long Island Populist Examiner
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