luis cdebaca
During a recent Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee hearing on forced labor and modern-day slavery, Luis CdeBaca affirmed that countries in East Asia and the Pacific have made progress combatting human trafficking.

“Are we making progress?” asked Sen. Benjamin Cardin.

Luis CdeBaca, ambassador-at-large for the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, responded that improvements were clear despite some discouraging facts highlighted by the 2014 Trafficking in Persons Report.

The first half of the hearing focused on this report, which was released in June. The report assigns tier rankings to countries based on their meeting or failing to meet set standards to stop trafficking. During the hearing, Sen. Cardin expressed his concern that, according to the report, 10 countries remained tier 2, perhaps indicating a lack of progress. CdeBaca noted that progress still occurred in these countries, but it was not significant enough to warrant an upgrade yet. He likened this progress to the difference between a “B that is an 80 and a B that is an 89,” in terms of the grading system of American schools.

CdeBaca’s testimony lauded in particular the Republic of Korea, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands for legislation passed to improve their legal capacity to fight human trafficking. China, Burma and Thailand saw improvements as well, but these were counterpoised and perhaps overshadowed by other shortcomings. Timor-Leste, Malaysia and North Korea were each singled out as countries severely hindering efforts to eliminate trafficking.

Tuesday’s hearing comes nearly one month after the Guardian reported fishing boats off Thailand were using slave labor to produce prawns sold in the U.S. and UK. CdeBaca pointed out that Thailand has been downgraded in its tier ranking mostly because of labor trafficking, rather than sex trafficking, issues—emphasizing to the Thai government the need to aggressively address forced labor.

Other witnesses at the hearing also commented on issues related to the forced labor crisis in Thailand. Both Jesse Eaves, the Senior Policy Advisor for Child Protection at World Vision, and Neha Misra, the Senior Specialist for Migration and Human Trafficking at the Solidarity Center, spoke of forced labor generally as a system in which men, women and children are led into slavery through the deception of employment agencies hired by (potentially American) companies. Misra also discussed in depth the supply chain issues that lead U.S. consumers to inadvertently support forced labor in foreign countries.

“U.S. companies have not done enough to prove to consumers that their supply chains are not tainted with forced labor,” Misra stated in her testimony.

— Ryan Yanke

Sources: Foreign Relations 1, Foreign Relations 2, The Guardian
Photo: Irrawaddy