President Obama put his signature Thursday onto the cornerstone legislation that guides the federal government’s anti-slavery activities.
Reauthorization of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act was included in the renewed Violence Against Women Act. The combined bill passed Congress with bipartisan support in February. The bill signing was attended by hundreds of activists, government officials and tribal leaders.
“Today is about young women like Tye, who was brought into the sex trade by a neighbor when she was 12 years old,” the president said in remarks prepared for the bill signing. “
“Tye was rescued with the help of an organization led by trafficking survivors. Today, she’s enrolled in college. She’s working full-time to help at-risk girls stay out of the sex trade. Couldn’t be prouder of her. So proud of her,” Obama said. “So with this bill, we reauthorize the Trafficking Victims Protection Act to help more girls turn out like Tye. That’s what today is all about.”
The president’s signature on the TVPA ends a multiyear struggle to win reauthorization for the law. It is now in force until 2017, according to the White House. But it’s important to note that a blueprint for action is not a budget. The anti-slavery movement will need to mobilize again when it comes time for federal appropriations.
Please stay tuned. We will likely need you to call, tweet, Facebook and e-mail your Congressional representatives again. Your involvement has made this happen. Thanks for your support.
And thanks to Marina Colby of ECPAT USA for sharing her personal photo of the bill signing!
Editor’s note: The historic anti-slavery concert last weekend in Myanmar, also known as Burma, was made possible by a coalition of organizations, including the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). We invited USAID to reflect on what the concert meant for the modern abolition movement. Chris Milligan is USAID’s Mission Director in Burma.
What a year of historic firsts. In April, Secretary Clinton re-established USAID’s mission in Burma, our first in 24 years. In November, President Barack Obama became the first sitting U.S. President to visit the country, and he and Secretary Hillary Clinton officially dedicated USAID’s mission. And this past Sunday, in Burma’s first city of Rangoon, the first major international live-event was held in over half a century.
The event was Live in Myanmar, MTV EXIT’s 31st concert to counter trafficking in persons. Held in Rangoon’s People’s Square, at the base of the country’s iconic Shwedagon Pagoda, over 50,000 people gathered to hear multi Grammy Award-winning singer songwriter Jason Mraz perform. He was joined by top artists from Burma and Thailand, including Phyu Phyu Kyaw Thein and R Zarni, Chan Chan, Sai Sai, Lynn Lynn, Phyo Gyi and Chit Htu Wai, and Slot Machine. The commitment and work by these local and regional artists was particularly moving. All performed for enthusiastic fans, and all came with a common purpose: to raise awareness about human trafficking.
The United Nations estimates that at any one point there are 20 million victims of human trafficking worldwide, more than half of these victims are in the Asia Pacific region. As President Obama said, “The fight against human trafficking is one of the great human rights causes of our time.” And we know that raising awareness is key to that fight. Mixing live music and critical messages, the concert organizers and participants shared in-country contact numbers for counter-trafficking police and NGOs, excerpts from two MTV EXIT documentary videos developed in Burma, and personal stories of individual Burmese who were trafficked in Southeast Asia.
U.S. Ambassador to Burma Derek Mitchell and U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Counter Trafficking Luis CdeBaca both spoke resolutely to the crowd about the U.S. Government’s commitment to combat trafficking in persons globally, and the need for youth to be alert and be educated about trafficking. USAID has been a dedicated supporter of the MTV EXIT campaign for six years, leveraging the power of music and entertainment as invaluable tools to educate young people about human trafficking.
Most exciting was the Government of Burma’s support and involvement in this effort from start to finish. Despite the staggering size of crowd, MTV EXIT’s largest to date, the government ensured a safe event without ever losing the celebratory atmosphere of the concert or the seriousness of the issue. Government representatives spoke passionately and urgently to their youth about personal protection and community awareness, and signed a pledge to work towards the end of human slavery in this generation. Their determination and commitment gave me hope.
I know that ending human trafficking can feel daunting or at times, even impossible, but on Sunday night, looking out at the crowd, I was inspired that it is within reach. We know traffickers use technology, like cell phones, and social networking sites to ensnare victims and, yet, there we were, using MTV’s global platform, which reaches 600 million people with lifesaving messages about awareness, protection and support. As USAID Administrator Dr. Raj Shah remarked, “As we’ve seen, knowledge can lead to freedom, giving us all the power to end modern slavery.”
Learn more about USAID’s Counter-Trafficking in Persons Policy and Challenge Slavery, a Counter-Trafficking in Persons Campus Challenge that calls on university students globally to develop creative technology solutions to prevent trafficking, enable victims to escape from traffickers, and help survivors recover.
A roadmap to strengthen America’s efforts to combat modern slavery was delivered to the White House today. It’s called “The Path to Freedom.”
It’s filled with dozens of specific recommendations for the Obama administration’s second term. The report was prepared by the Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking (ATEST) a coalition of leading anti-slavery groups, including Free the Slaves.
“The U.S. has been a global leader in fighting trafficking, but the number of people in slavery worldwide is the highest it’s ever been,” says FTS programs director Karen Stauss.
“What’s needed is a truly historic effort to end slavery once and for all,” she says. “The ‘Path to Freedom‘ lays out how the Obama administration can shape history by turning the tide on slavery in the next four years.”
In September, the president pledged during a speech at the Clinton Global Initiative to step-up anti-trafficking efforts. He issued an executive order to prevent trafficking by federal contractors, he promised to expand services for victims, and he committed to developing a long-term plan to combat trafficking.
ATEST’s “Path to Freedom” provides comprehensive, detailed steps that Obama can take to deliver on his pledge. These include:
- Begin immediately to work with Republicans and Democrats in Congress to reauthorize the lapsed Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), which provides critical resources and new tools in the fight against human trafficking and modern-day slavery.
- Develop a National Action Plan based on a “whole of government approach” that coordinates all available resources and tools instead of providing piecemeal solutions.
- Back up its commitment to fighting human trafficking and modern-day slavery with a Fiscal Year 2014 budget request that fully funds critical initiatives.
- Partner with willing countries to create innovative, focused and comprehensive approaches to combat human trafficking, forced labor, and other forms of modern-day slavery around the world.
“We hope they’ll answer the call. We’re ready to help,” Stauss says. “An important recommendation we’ve made, especially in the current economic climate, is that funds we are already spending on international development be leveraged to fight slavery and poverty at the same time — many of the same countries are highly vulnerable to both.”
Today’s release of “The Path to Freedom” comes as ATEST unveils its new website, filled with resources to guide policy makers. Check it out:
Editor’s Note: We asked FTS Programs Director Karen Stauss to examine the impact the election results might have on the U.S. government’s efforts to combat slavery and trafficking.
What does the election outcome mean for the current members of Congress who return to Washington soon for their final “lame duck” session?
Whatever your thoughts on the outcome of yesterday’s presidential and congressional races, one thing is clear. The U.S. government has several pieces of unfinished business before it closes shop for the current term. One of the most important human rights issues requiring immediate action is reauthorization of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA or S.1301).
The TVPA was created more than a decade ago, but it must be renewed every few years. The TVPA is the central piece of legislation that created anti-trafficking crimes under federal law. It set standards for the way the U.S. engages foreign governments to improve their anti-slavery efforts. It authorized funding for key U.S. government agencies to prevent trafficking and protect its victims. The TVPA provides funding for FTS projects in India and Haiti.
The TVPA, originally enacted in 2000 under a Democratic administration and reauthorized three times by a Republican administration, still has a chance of renewal this year. So far, it’s been stuck in election-year gridlock.
Reauthorization should be a priority for current members of the House and Senate. It would mark a solid accomplishment for incumbent winners, as well as building a legacy for those who are leaving.
What do some of the election results mean for the future of U.S. efforts to end slavery?
President Obama’s victory gives him an opportunity to show that his moving speech about fighting human trafficking, given in landmark fashion in New York at the Clinton Global Initiative in September, was more than inspiring words on the campaign trail.
Watch the FTS blog for detailed recommendations to the president from the Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking (ATEST) on how he can strengthen his record in his second term. ATEST is a U.S.-based coalition of human rights organizations, of which FTS is a founding member.
Support for anti-trafficking efforts in Congress has consistently been a bipartisan affair. That is unlikely to change with the Republicans retaining control of the House and Democrats holding on to the Senate.
With that said, the big news for anti-trafficking advocates in the House is the loss of Howard Berman (D-California), who was pitted against another Democrat after congressional redistricting. As ranking Democrat and former chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Berman has been one of the most important champions of the TVPA and other anti-trafficking legislation. Other leaders from both parties will need to step forward now.
In the Senate, bipartisan support for anti-slavery efforts saw the loss of Scott Brown (R-Massachusetts). He was one of the key Senate Republicans, along with Marco Rubio (R-Florida), to take the lead in introducing TVPA reauthorization.
However, Scott Brown is replaced by Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts), and women in the Senate have generally been consistent supporters of efforts to combat trafficking. Slavery is an issue that overlaps with the broader problem of violence against women. The new Senate will actually have a record number of women. Hawaii and Wisconsin will each send their first female Senators to Washington in 2013 – Mazie Hirono (D) for Hawaii and Tammy Baldwin (D) for Wisconsin.
In sum, the balance of power in Washington doesn’t appear to have shifted much between the parties. But that’s okay because fighting slavery has always been an issue that unites rather than divides. Both parties in Congress, along with the president, have an opportunity to make meaningful progress against slavery.
President Barack Obama today outlined several steps his administration will take to strengthen the U.S. government’s efforts to battle slavery.
The plan follows a simple philosophy, the president said: “Spot it and stop it.”
- An executive order issued today that prohibits human trafficking by government contractors and provides federal investigators with tools to crack down on violators.
- Training for law enforcement, immigration judges and others to help spot trafficking victims, and to treat them as victims instead of criminals.
- A $6 million partnership with Humanity United and the Goldman Sachs Foundation to spur innovation in local communities to help trafficking survivors.
- Streamlining T-visa procedures so that trafficking survivors aren’t quickly deported after being rescued.
- A new annual presidential award for exceptional contributions to the anti-slavery movement.
- Development of a national action plan to strengthen victim services, and a domestic slavery tracking study to spot trends in U.S. trafficking.
Mr. Obama announced these actions to fight slavery at the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) in New York. See the speech here. He did not shy away from using the “S” word to characterize slavery for what it is.
“It’s a debasement of our common humanity,” the president said. “It ought to concern every community, because it tears at the 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. I’m talking about the injustice, the outrage, of human trafficking, which must be called by its true name: modern slavery.”
The White House also announced that the administration’s efforts augment other developments discussed at this year’s CGI gathering. These include:
- A Global Business Coalition Against Trafficking that will work business-to-business to mobilize corporate efforts to fight slavery in supply chains.
- A trafficking “toolkit” from the U.S. Travel Association to create awareness in the travel and tourism industry.
- A campus challenge to raise awareness and inspire activism.
- A Johns Hopkins university research partnership to focus on child sex trafficking.
- A Made in a Free World initiative to help buyers and suppliers identify and eliminate slavery-tainted materials in corporate supply chains.
FTS co-founder Kevin Bales welcomes the high level attention that slavery is receiving.
“How many slave-made goods are flowing into our lives is still unknown, but no consumer thinks slavery is a bargain,” says Bales. “It’s time for leaders in the Global Business Coalition Against Trafficking to dig deep into their supply chains and work for a slave-free world. At the same time, the president and Congress should enact the Business Transparency on Trafficking and Slavery Act, to ensure that all businesses, not just business leaders, have to report on what if anything they’re doing to address slavery in their own operations.”
President Obama received strong applause during his remarks about modern day slavery. “It is barbaric and it is evil,” he noted, “and it has no place in a civilized world.”