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Entries tagged "human trafficking"Page 1 • 2 Next
January 10, 2013 · By Tiffany Williams
Once again this year, President Obama has declared January as “National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month,” and in his address he calls on the “national mission” to fight human trafficking.
This month, we rededicate ourselves to stopping one of the greatest human rights abuses of our time. Around the world, millions of men, women, and children are bought, sold, beaten, and abused, locked in compelled service and hidden in darkness. They toil in factories and fields; in brothels and sweatshops; at sea, abroad, and at home. They are the victims of human trafficking — a crime that amounts to modern-day slavery.
As Americans, we have long rejected such cruelty. We have recognized it as a debasement of our common humanity and an affront to the principles we cherish. And for more than a century, we have made it a national mission to bring slavery and human trafficking to an end.
For 13 years, our project Break the Chain Campaign at the Institute for Policy Studies provided direct social services and counseling to immigrant survivors of human trafficking and worker exploitation. Our clients were largely women from Africa and Southeast Asia who had come to the US to work as domestic workers in the homes of wealthy families, diplomats and employees of the World Bank and the IMF. When they fled the abuse, they faced a new fear: being undocumented in America.
The issue of immigration, and immigration reform, is tied inextricably with the issue of human trafficking, especially as heightened border control measures lead people to turn to riskier pathways in order to provide food, shelter, and opportunities for their families.
Immigration will be near the top of President Obama’s political agenda in his second term, and organizers are already gearing up for campaigns that will put human dignity, family preservation, and pathways to citizenship at the forefront of these discussions.
In the meantime, working within the enforcement-focused paradigm that we have now, anti-trafficking advocates are faced with the challenge of undocumented immigrant survivors being too afraid to report domestic violence, sexual assault, human trafficking, and other crimes.
We commissioned a group of public policy students from George Washington University to write a brief report on what we’ve been calling the “dual mandate” of the U.S. Government (particularly Department of Homeland Security): to identify and serve trafficking survivors, and to combat unauthorized immigration, and the conflicts that can arise when the two areas of work overlap.
In advance of the release of this brief report, which we expect within the coming weeks, we’ve compiled some of the key findings on the fact sheet, Key Facts from “The Dual Mandate: Immigration Enforcement and Human Trafficking.”
February 23, 2012 · By Tiffany Williams
The Department of Labor recently said that it would take new steps to improve protections for at least one category of vulnerable workers, workers in the temporary work permit (H-2B) program. It has announced new rules for the H-2B program that are a significant step for the protection of U.S. workers and guestworkers who work alongside each other in many industries.
Break the Chain Campaign has worked with exploited household workers since 1997, providing direct social and legal services to survivors of human trafficking and severe exploitation in the DC metro area. Many of these workers arrived on temporary work visas in the B-1, A3, and G5 programs. We have witnessed severe exploitation and even human trafficking that we believe could have been prevented or ameliorated with stronger protections and oversight of the temporary visa programs. In our research and work with other advocacy groups, we have learned that the number of cases of trafficking and severe exploitation of men and women on guestworker visas is growing, and we are energized by this news.
Workers in the the H-2B program do important and vital work for our country, for example helping to rebuild New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, yet they are often invisible and left unprotected against retaliation and abuse. We are energized by the news from the Department of Labor earlier this month that they are taking steps to improve protections for at least one category of vulnerable workers.
Daniel Castellanos, a founding member of the National Guestworker Alliance, whose Congressional testimony was cited by the Department of Labor in support of the new rules, describes the victory this way:
“For too long, guestworkers have been lured to the U.S. with false promises of an American Dream, and instead faced deep debt and exploitation. Because these rules contain real worker protections and expand our right to organize, we can win fair wages and working conditions for all workers.”
Key components of the new rules include:
- The new rules eliminate debt servitude among guestworkers by prohibiting employers and recruiters from charging recruitment fees. Currently, guestworkers enter the United States with exorbitant debt from recruitment fees and travel costs. This allows employers to use threats of firing to repress workplace complaints, knowing that workers would face deportation into crushing debt they cannot repay back home.
- The new rules prohibit employers and recruiters from retaliating against workers who file a complaint, exercise their rights, or help other workers to do so. This ensures that when employers or recruiters do violate the program rules, U.S. workers and guestworkers have the same rights to speak up and organize to protect themselves.
- The new rules require employers to provide at least 75% of the hours promised to guestworkers in their contracts. This ensures employers do not over-recruit guestworkers to build a captive, desperate work force that employers can use to undercut U.S. workers.
- The new rules bar temporary staffing agencies and job contractors except in narrow circumstances. Temporary staffing agencies and the employers they provide workers to must both have a temporary or seasonal need. They must both agree to be jointly responsible and follow H-2B program rules. This helps to ensure employers do not use the guestworker program to turn permanent jobs into temporary work.
Break the Chain Campaign applauds this important step by Labor Secretary Solis and the Department of Labor to protect worker rights. We are excited to continue a partnership with the National Guestworker Alliance to help spread awareness of these new protections and to ensure that they are implemented across the United States in a way that protects U.S. workers and wages by stopping employers from exploiting guestworkers to undercut the local labor force. We believe that preventative worker protections like these new rules will prevent some of the most severe forms of exploitation that we have seen over the years in the anti-trafficking field.
December 30, 2011 · By Tiffany Williams
As the director of a project focused on the rights of migrant workers, I have been closely following the situation at the Hershey's Chocolate packing plant in Palmyra, Pennsylvania. Earlier this year, exchange students on J-1 visas faced threats and retaliation from their recruiting agency, the Council for Educational Travel (CETUSA) when they came forward to report exploitative conditions that violated federal worker protection laws and State Department regulations. The J-1 visa "summer work travel program," of which these students were a part, is intended to provide foreign college students with cultural immersion and the opportunity to "live and work in the United States," yet the students at the Hershey plant reported such restrictive work and living environments that there was no opportunity to do more than survive.
In August, the students filed a complaint with the State Department that contained serious allegations of intimidation and retaliation by their agency, the Council for Educational Travel (CETUSA). Shortly after, a human rights delegation, comprised of professors and practitioners with expertise in labor and employment law, and international human rights, expressed serious concerns about students' accounts of deception, coercion and threats from their recruiting agency. They called on the State Department to conduct an objective and expansive investigation of the sponsor. The New York Times reported on their plight in October, noting that "CETUSA failed to heed many distress signals from students over many months, and responded to some with threats of expulsion from the program." For example, the company threatened to revoke a student's visa when he complained to the State Department.
For the last 13 years, my project, Break the Chain Campaign at the Institute for Policy Studies has focused on human trafficking of nannies and maids within the A-3/G-5 visa program, which include household workers for diplomats and employees of international organizations. Our work has shown the significant impact that improved oversight, education of workers and enforcement of consequences could have on curbing exploitation. We believe the key to successful improvements in this program has been collaboration with anti-trafficking service organizations and grassroots advocates who can share on-the-ground experiences with policymakers. There are still extensive improvements needed, particularly with worker education, but the progress has given us hope.
The State Department recently announced they would be completing a thorough review of the J-1 visa program. But as of this writing CETUSA is still sponsoring high school and college students on J-1 visas who plan to come to the United States. That's why the National Guestworker Alliance (pictured above), the workers' rights group supporting the students, is now calling on the government to immediately suspend CETUSA from the program.
Yet CETUSA is only one of many recruiting agencies. And A-3, G-5, and J-1 visas are only a few of the many visas with inherent weaknesses that leave participants vulnerable to exploitation by sponsoring individuals or agencies due to a weakly regulated sponsorship and penalty process.
The H-2A program for agricultural guest workers, H-2B program for non-agricultural guest workers, and the H-1B program for teachers, scientists and other "specialty" guest workers are other examples.
Consider these other cases of guestworker exploitation in the United States. In April this year, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a suit against the company Global Horizons for exploiting 400 Thai farmworkers working in Hawaii and Washington State. A company called Signal exploited more than 500 guest workers from India in shipyards after Hurricane Katrina. The Southern Poverty Law Center made history in December when it successfully brought a class-action human trafficking lawsuit on behalf of 350 Filipina teachers in Louisiana who came there with H1-B visas. It's the first time the Trafficking Victims Protection Act has been used to protect a group rather than an individual. In this case, the trial next July will center on the allegations that the teachers were brought to the United States by labor contractors who extorted huge fees and confiscated their passports, effectively subjecting the teachers to forced labor.
Workers' rights advocates, alongside anti-human trafficking advocates, have been urging the U.S. government to thoroughly review visa programs that depend on foreign labor contractors in order to minimize the vulnerability of workers to human trafficking and exploitation. Various drafts of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, notably the House version of the bill considered in 2008, have included extensive proposals for such regulations and remedies for victims, yet the U.S. government continues to fail in implementing serious protective reform. While some contend that our economy depends on cheap foreign labor, no one would argue that our economy requires the severe wage exploitation, fraudulent contracts, restriction of movement and the (sometimes violent) retaliation after complaints that we have seen repeatedly with these visa programs.
It's long past time for the federal government to make meaningful changes to protect guest workers.
September 6, 2011 · By Tiffany Williams
On September 28th, I am going to be participating in a delegation of women leaders who will be traveling from all around the country to Atlanta, Georgia. This is an action borne out of one of the projects I am co-coordinating with the National Domestic Workers Alliance, the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, and several partners on the ground in Atlanta. Our goal is to continue bringing a gender lens to immigration issues.
Not only are women victims of crime and violence becoming more reluctant to call the police for help, they are also being targeted for bearing children (so-called "anchor babies") and simply working to care for their families. A recent study from the American Psychological Association showed the traumatic impact of family separation due to deportation has long-lasting and multi-faceted negative effects on children. For the last 13 years, Break the Chain Campaign has focused on the human trafficking of housekeepers and nannies, but we were compelled to enter the world of immigration advocacy because of the chilling effect on police collaboration that is the result of draconian enforcement efforts. If we cannot trust law enforcement not to deport our undocumented clients (many of whom became undocumented as a result of escaping their traffickers), how can we go to them for help? Similarly, we care about this issue as a human rights issue – we believe that every human being deserves safety, respect, and the ability to provide for basic needs for herself and her family. The erosion of human rights, and the ability to claim them, feeds human trafficking.
While the Obama administration has recently announced that deportations will be halted for many vulnerable families, we believe that the problem is larger than anything that a temporary hold or selective enforcement of deportation could fix. We need to understand the inevitable realities of immigration on one hand, and our common humanity on the other hand. It is impossible to rest until our country regards no human being as "illegal," we all love our families, work and do whatever we need to do to support them, and deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. A political border does not define our humanity.
For that reason, on September 28th, our group of high-profile women (including Betty Gorman Robinson, Laura Flanders, Ai-jen Poo, and 20 other leaders) will give witness to the testimony of women and children in the area who have been affected by anti-immigrant actions/legislation, and the following day we will hold a press conference. We anticipate follow up events (teach-ins, legislative visits, etc.) in a few cities. The event will be similar to the sharing testimony/rally event held in Arizona in the wake of SB1070, which we called “Arizona Women and Children Rise.”
If you or your friends/colleagues/allies are going to be in the Atlanta area on September 29th, please save the date and join us at the press conference. Otherwise, join Break the Chain Campaign at the IPS office in October for a follow up event (details on all events to follow in the coming weeks!)
July 6, 2011 · By Alison Liu
Late in June, the U.S. State Department released this year’s Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP), an annual report that informs the public on U.S. efforts to fight human trafficking. As usual, the 60-page report ranks countries by tiers based on how well they fight trafficking within their borders. Of the roughly 200 evaluated countries, 22 are in tier 3 (bottommost tier), most from the Middle East and Africa. However, the report includes a much richer database of information than solely rankings. Some of its contents are commendable: a focus on victim services, investigative bodies, and the private sector. Other areas of the report show weakness: no mention of diplomatic immunity, the presidential waiver for strategic countries, and comprehensive law for licensing labor brokers.
The TIP report acknowledges that due to the trauma that they have experienced and common language barriers, victims of human trafficking need intensive services. A growing number of victims are domestic workers who may have spent the entirety of their lives in America confined to their employer’s home. The report highlights that victims especially need more legal services. From 2005-2010, 19 million more people crossed borders as migrants and as abuse increases, so must punitive efforts. Second, the TIP report states that victims need more investigative efforts. The U.S. Department of Labor, which conducts investigations for labor abuses, has “not yet been funded, trained or given the mandate to focus on human trafficking cases.”
Out of the available 5,000 visas available to victims, only 447 are claimed, not because of an absence in trafficking but because law officials are under-equipped to find victims. Lastly, the report deserves a thumbs-up for recognizing the important role the private sector can play in this fight. It acknowledges that NGO’s work on the ground with victims and need more government funding and that businesses need to increase monitoring over their supply chains. The report suggests some effective ideas such as that the government can provide more funding to NGO’s and create laws to increase business transparency.
The report, however, avoids standing firm on several issues. There is no mention of diplomatic immunity. After attempted rape charges by a domestic worker at his hotel, former IMF president Dominique Strauss-Kahn was just released from house arrest. Strauss-Kahn and other diplomats like Alan Mzengi, a Tanzanian diplomat who enslaved a teenage girl for 4 years in his home in Maryland, have immunity under the 1961 Vienna Convention. When 3,500 domestic workers annually come to the U.S. to work for diplomats, the TIP report should have at least mentioned that trafficking by diplomats is unacceptable. In addition, there is no mention of the presidential waiver. The TIP report states that the U.S. will sanction tier 3 countries but usually the president waives most of these countries because they are in our national interest; in 2009, only 2 out of 17 tier 3 countries were fully sanctioned. Of course, these 2 countries were Cuba and North Korea.
Most importantly, the report falls short on mandatory licenses for labor brokers. The report continually gives examples of the power that labor brokers have over victims’ lives, like Maira, a Honduran girl whose labor brokers tricked her and sold her to a brothel instead of the promised textile factory. She was only 15 years old. The TIP report suggests countries mandate recruiting fee caps, punish abusive recruiters more harshly, establish complaint procedures, and ensure competition among recruiters. However, the most effective way to keep labor recruiters accountable would be to mandate licenses. The report praises the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), which authorizes all recruitment agencies in the Philippines, as highly successful. The report must push to extend such a model internationally and keep labor recruiters more accountable.
The TIP report clearly has some ground to cover. Even though it shows the dire need for more victim services, investigations, and highlights the role of private actors, it has shied away from controversial subjects. The Strauss-Kahn case overwhelmingly shows how diplomatic abuse is hidden from the public eye and the need to protect workers from diplomats is a basic right. In addition, the report has not addressed presidential waivers for tier 3 countries, for to do so would involve limiting the power of the executive branch. The report must also keep labor recruiters in check and step into how businesses recruit their workers. In order to stop trafficking, the State Department must face the facts and push some buttons.