On February 14, Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Bob Menendez (D-NJ) reintroduced the Trafficking in Persons Report Integrity Act in the Senate. The legislation would, according to a press release issued by Rubio’s Senate office, “comprehensively reform the State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP).”
This important legislation would toughen the standards now in existence and help to prevent the kind of politicization of the State Department that occurred during the Obama administration, which took advantage of the current system to accomplish other political goals, especially in the case of Cuba. For more information on this, see the press release (in its entirety), issued by Sen. Rubio’s office.
It’s also notable that Sen. Tim Kaine, Hillary Clinton’s running mate, agreed to support the legislation, which is quite striking. He deserves much credit for stepping across the aisle on this effort. We plan to publish more on this, so stay tuned.
Rubio, Menendez Reintroduce Legislation to Reform State Department Human Trafficking Report
U.S. Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Bob Menendez, (D-NJ) were joined by Tim Kaine (D-VA), and Cory Gardner (R-CO) today in reintroducing the Trafficking in Persons Report Integrity Act (TIPRIA), legislation designed to comprehensively reform the State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP). The TIP process came under large international scrutiny after the 2015 report rankings were proven to have been blatantly and intentionally watered-down due to political pressures that gave favorable status to certain countries despite failures to meet minimum legal standards prescribed by Congress.
As the U.S. government’s principal diplomatic tool to engage foreign governments on human trafficking, the TIP report has been the world’s most comprehensive resource of governmental anti-human trafficking efforts and reflects the U.S. government’s commitment to global leadership on this key human rights and law enforcement issue. Today’s bill introduction comes on the heels of a study published in December by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) revealing serious flaws in the tier-ranking system for the TIP Report and ahead of a Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing scheduled for later this week to examine ways for the United States to better combat human trafficking and end modern day slavery.
“In recent years, political agendas at the State Department have interfered with America’s efforts to expose and combat human trafficking around the world and send clear and unmistakable messages to foreign governments that we are watching them closely,” said Rubio. “The Trafficking in Persons Report has historically been the gold standard and should reflect the full extent to which modern day slavery exists and what governments are doing – or failing to do – about it. Political considerations should not interfere with this effort and the effectiveness of the process. This bill will both strengthen and bring greater transparency to the process of preparing the annual Trafficking in Persons Report and make this an even more authoritative and effective effort to hold human traffickers around the world accountable.”
“The past two TIP reports contained unwarranted, politically-driven upgrades of countries with deplorable human trafficking records, like Cuba and Malaysia. As a new administration takes office, Congress must ensure that the United States reasserts its commitment and credibility in fighting the scourge of modern slavery,” said Menendez. “Informed by both leading human rights advocates and the GAO’s investigative findings, this bipartisan legislation charts a clear path to restore credibility and improve the TIP report ranking process through a series of bold reforms that inject transparency and make clear that Congress will not allow the report to be a target of political manipulation again. I will work forcefully so that this important legislation is adopted and we can fully reestablish our ability to objectively evaluate countries’ actions to combat human trafficking, revitalize our support for the victims of modern day slavery, and recommit to putting the fight against human trafficking above politics.”
“The Alliance to End Slavery & Trafficking (ATEST) has been dismayed by the State Department’s unwarranted tier ranking upgrades for certain countries in recent years, including Malaysia in the 2015 report and Thailand in 2016,” said Melysa Sperber, Director of the Alliance To End Slavery & Trafficking (ATEST). “By our assessment, neither country’s government had demonstrated significant or effective effort to combat human trafficking, particularly forced labor and sexual exploitation. The unjustifiable tier ranking upgrades for Malaysia and Thailand greatly tarnished the integrity of the TIP report, and we applaud Senators Menendez, Rubio, Kaine, and Gardner for their efforts to ensure the report’s credibility moving forward.”
The Trafficking in Persons Report Integrity Act seeks to restore credibility to the TIP report by making sweeping reforms that strengthen the minimum standards countries must meet, clarify actions that countries must take to earn higher rankings, enhance transparency and Congressional oversight of the ranking process, and restrict certain U.S. assistance to governments that fail to combat human trafficking.
The Trafficking in Persons Report Integrity Act (TIPRIA)
Strengthens Minimum Standards and Clarifies the Ranking Process:
• Requires any country whose government sponsors forced labor to be ranked Tier 3.
• Makes TIP rankings contingent on concrete actions taken by a country in the defined reporting period.
• Requires the State Department to specify of how the concrete actions (or lack thereof) undertaken by the country contributed to the change in ranking, including a clear linkage with the minimum standards. A recent GAO study highlighted this as a major gap in the existing TIP Report process.
• Strikes existing language that implies a country can be placed on Tier 2 Watch List based on promises of future action.
• Requires that countries must investigate and prosecute acts of trafficking without bias, instead of simply focusing on low-level prosecutions or neglecting involvement by government officials.
• Current law states that a country that has been included on Tier 2 Watch List for two consecutive years must be automatically downgraded to Tier 3 if it does not achieve enough progress to earn an upgrade to Tier 2 in the third year. However, this requirement can be waived by the President for two additional years. The bill shortens the waiver to one year, adds a requirement that a country must take concrete actions to implement the principal recommendations of the annual report in order to be eligible for the waiver, and requires the Secretary of State to publish online a justification for the waiver along with detailed evidence demonstrating the country’s actions to combat trafficking.
• Requires that any country that is automatically downgraded to Tier 3 must subsequently meet the requirements to be ranked Tier 2 and cannot simply be upgraded back to Tier 2 Watch List.
Increases Transparency & Congressional Oversight:
• Current law states that a country that does not provide data on investigations, prosecutions, convictions, and sentences shall be automatically deemed to be Tier 3. However, the Secretary of State may disregard that provision if the country has provided “some data” to the State Department and the Secretary has determined that the country is “making a good faith effort” to collect missing data. The bill adds a new requirement that before the Secretary makes such a determination, the Secretary must submit to Congress copies of the foreign government data and a description of the good faith efforts made by the country.
• Current law requires the President to make, within 90 days after the publication of the annual or interim TIP report, one of several determinations on whether to withhold non-humanitarian, nontrade-related aid for Tier 3 countries. However, there is also blanket waiver authority for the President to waive, at any time, aid restrictions that had been previously imposed. The bill modifies this waiver to require the President to report to Congress before lifting previously imposed restrictions against a Tier 3 country.
Restricts Certain U.S. Assistance to Governments Failing to Meet Minimum Standards:
• Current law states “it is the policy of the United States not to provide non-humanitarian, nontrade-related foreign assistance to any government” ranked Tier 3. The bill replaces “nontrade-related” with “non-anti-human trafficking related” in that policy statement, and in subsequent provisions that exempt trade-related aid from penalties applied to Tier 3 countries.
• Current law directs the President to use the voice and vote of the United States to oppose any loan to a Tier 3 country by a multilateral development bank (MDB), but provides a broad and frequently exercised waiver. Section 5 strengthens this provision by directing the President to use the voice and vote of the United States to oppose any loan to a Tier 2 Watch List or Tier 3 country, unless the MDB publicly publishes a human trafficking risk assessment for the project 120 days prior to the MDB board vote.
• Requires an annual Treasury report on how the U.S. voted on each proposed MDB loan to Tier 3 and Tier 2 Watch List countries and how each MDB is implementing anti-human trafficking policies in its project development, safeguard, procurement, and evaluation policies.