Poverty drives people to look for better conditions in different countries. These impoverished populations face a certain level of desperation that makes them determined for an escape from conditions associated with poverty: oppression, conflict and lack of opportunity.

Driven to migration, people in poverty can fall into the hands of human traffickers, and instead of reaching the better conditions for which they were searching, people are exploited by traffickers and become victims of forced labor or modern slavery. These people become one of the more than 20 million victims of human trafficking.

This problem is prevalent in countries in East Asia and in the Pacific such as Cambodia, China, Malaysia and Thailand. The United States Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs held a congressional hearing on this issue.

The subcommittee heard testimony from Scot Marciel, the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Luis CdeBaca, ambassador for the Office to Moniter and Combat Trafficking Persons, Neha Misra, a specialist in migration and human trafficking from the Solidarity Center, and Jesse Eaves, a policy advisor for child protection at World Vision.

In his testimony, CdeBaca highlighted the reason for focusing on East Asia. He noted, “forced labor occurs in fishing, agriculture, mining, textile, and domestic service sectors, and in factors that produce other goods.” In some cases, state governments also support modern slavery.

Marciel noted that in many of these countries, the infrastructure is in place to effectively combat human trafficking and forced labor. However he claims, “the limited progress we have seen on anti-trafficking efforts is linked to a broader set of challenges facing the government.” These set of challenges include mistrust between the people and law enforcement officials. This leads people to avoid reporting human rights violations.

He and CdeBaca detailed current efforts by the U.S. government, which included the East Asian and Pacific Affair bureau and the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. These agencies help individual countries prevent and respond to human trafficking through advice and the provision of additional resources.

In Cambodia, EAP and TIP have created a response system that includes legal aid and psychological support for victims. They have helped nearly 800 victims in the past year.

Neha Misra and Jesse Eaves provided testimony on the role of NGOs in reducing human trafficking.

Misra detailed the efforts of the Solidarity Center, a non-profit that works to improve worker rights in over 60 countries. He noted there are similar patterns in human trafficking on a global scale. In particular, Thailand, Malaysia and Cambodia share three similar traits: vulnerable migrant workers, lack of punishment for forced labor and lack of political and financial action to end migrant labor.

Misra recommended that the U.S. use trade agreements to enforce labor laws, push for an increase in enforcement and rule of law and boycott countries who use forced labor in production of goods and services.

In the final testimony, Eaves detailed the work of World Vision, which works to reduce “poverty and injustice.” Eaves highlighted the need to interact on a local level with communities and to educate them on safe migration practices and human trafficking. Like the other testimonies, Eaves noted the necessity of government accountability in order to truly reduce human trafficking and forced labor, yet this effort needs to be international and comprehensive.

Poverty causes certain people to be extremely vulnerable to trafficking. While poverty is an ongoing problem, action from governments, nonprofit organizations and the U.S. can significantly reduce this problem associated with poverty.

– Tara Wilson

Sources: Foreign Senate, UNODC
Photo: Flickr