October 26, 2009
AIT Official Text #: OT-0921E
I would like to thank our hosts the Garden of Hope – Chairwoman Chi, Deputy Chair Su, and the Ministry of the Interior – Secretary-General Chen, for inviting me to participate in this important conference on strengthening our efforts to fight trafficking and to better serve the victims of trafficking. I also welcome the opportunity to benefit from the experience and insights offered by my esteemed colleagues from the National Immigration Agency – Director Chang, the Sexual Assault Support Center in Ottawa – Ms. Muonde and Ms. Ghafari, and Banciao District Court Chief Prosecutor Chen.
The first time I came face to face with trafficking was as a young diplomat serving in East Africa. One weekend, I received a call from a young lady from Southeast Asia desperate to return home. She was unable to reach anyone at her Embassy and didn’t know where to turn. She came to East Africa lured by promises of a lucrative job. On her arrival, her employer confiscated her passport and put her to work under conditions of employment far different than those originally described.
That weekend, I learned that there are two sides to trafficking. Victims are not faceless multitudes. They are individuals who have the same aspirations we do – the ability to support a family, to live a life with respect, and to work in conditions of dignity. At the same time, her plight brought home the reality that trafficking is a global phenomenon, crossing borders, devastating communities and undermining legitimate economies.
That weekend, I realized that we must address modern slavery on two levels – reaching out to individual victims while, at the same time, coming together as one international community to combine our efforts and raise our collective voice to say, “No more.”
President Obama has called trafficking a “debasement of our common humanity.” Nothing could be more true. The fight against human trafficking, both at home and abroad, is a critical piece of the Obama administration’s agenda. We are committed to making progress on this issue in the months ahead. We will seek additional ways to improve our own anti-trafficking efforts and to work closely with our partners worldwide, including Taiwan.
Within the United States, the President’s Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking oversees anti-trafficking policy and interagency implementation. U.S. Attorneys’ offices lead regional and local interagency anti-trafficking task forces. Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Labor continues to increase its emphasis on the need for employers of vulnerable workers to comply with labor standards laws.
The United States first adopted a government-wide anti-trafficking policy in 1998. Our experience in trying to craft a comprehensive, effective approach over these past 11 years has been instructive and, at times, frustrating and humbling. Many of the lessons we have learned are applicable world-wide. Among these is the importance of a victim-centered approach in anti-trafficking efforts. We have come to recognize the importance of understanding each individual’s humanity and of understanding how traffickers exploit vulnerabilities to hold victims in servitude in fields, factories, homes, and brothels. One result of this was the passage of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, which provides victims immediate and ongoing assistance.
Our experience fighting modern slavery also brought home to us how traffickers exploit weaknesses and loopholes within and between governments. To address this, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act expands the reach of our law. Our government can prosecute not just trafficking crimes committed in the United States but can also pursue U.S. nationals and lawful permanent residents who commit trafficking-related crimes abroad.
We cannot win this fight alone, however. In that regard, I congratulate Taiwan on the progress it has made and commit the United States to continued close cooperation on our mutual anti-trafficking efforts.
From where I stand, it appears that Taiwan recognizes the importance of putting the victim at the center of these efforts. It is clear that Taiwan is committed to refining and strengthening its provision of services to those who have been defrauded, coerced, or intimidated into working against their will.
Taiwan authorities have continued to clarify the process for identifying victims and handling trafficking cases and have instituted these measures across Taiwan. For example, the Reference Indicators for Identification of Human Trafficking Victims provide guidelines on how to interview suspected victims, and the revised Procedure for Handling Human Trafficking Cases acknowledges the importance of victim protection by allowing victim identification to take place early in the process so services can be immediately provided. The training you give front-line law enforcement, labor authorities, and judicial personnel will be essential as you seek to standardize the treatment of trafficking victims and the handling of human trafficking cases.
One of the key areas where we can focus our coordinated efforts is on expanding public outreach campaigns to raise public awareness of the problem and debunk common trafficking myths. These myths say that a worker who has migrated legally or illegally or taken a job willingly cannot become a victim of trafficking. In reality, once work or service is no longer voluntary, that person is a victim of forced labor or forced prostitution and should receive legal protections.
Another common misconception is that once a worker has been paid, there can be no trafficking – only a labor dispute. However, if a person is compelled to labor through the use of force or coercion – including nonphysical coercion such as financial harm – then that is considered trafficking, even if the worker is paid or compensated for the work.
Since Taiwan’s newly-passed anti-trafficking law imposes criminal penalties for labor trafficking, there now seem to be more opportunities to educate employers and labor brokers through public outreach campaigns on what behaviors constitute trafficking and on the potential penalties under the new law.
Another area where the U.S. and Taiwan can continue to strengthen our anti-trafficking efforts is in developing awareness and training materials for dissemination and use throughout various localities and within all agencies that may have contact with trafficking victims, including those involved in labor standards enforcement and social welfare services.
While the U.S., Taiwan, and many of our partners in the fight against trafficking have various laws and regulations to protect vulnerable workers, we must not become complacent. We must strive to vigorously disseminate, inspect, and enforce our regulations, and we must impose sufficient penalties on violators to deter exploitative behavior.
In addition, the recording and collection of trafficking-related statistics are important in monitoring the effectiveness of our programs and victim assistance services. We must compile reliable statistics on victim identification and assistance, including referrals to law enforcement or prosecutors by complaint hotlines.
Finally, a comprehensive counter-trafficking strategy should also incorporate effective international coordination. In providing a positive, victim-centered approach, we should coordinate with governments and NGOs to ensure that repatriated victims are received by organizations who can and will provide the assistance and support necessary for successful reintegration into their communities and to ensure that victims are not re-trafficked.
From identification to final outcome, we should strive to keep our focus on the recovery and rehabilitation of the individual’s dignity and needs. The impact of that one life – both positive and negative – can echo throughout societies and economies.
At the same time, authorities must work together across the region and the world to build consensus and leverage resources in this global fight. With cooperation, our efforts are amplified. The United States is proud to stand with Taiwan against this modern tragedy, to demonstrate that we place a premium on human rights, democracy, and the rule of law. Together we can make a difference, at home and abroad, in the lives of people deprived of their freedom. Today, there is no reason why anyone should have to go through the tragedy of that Southeast Asian worker trafficked far from home so many years ago.