MS JOHNSTONE: Good afternoon, and welcome. My name is Kari Johnstone. I am the acting director of the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons.
Thank you all for joining us virtually to mark the release of the 2021 Trafficking in Persons Report, or the TIP Report. I am grateful to be here with Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
A quick word about our program today: First, Secretary Blinken will offer remarks on this year’s report. We will then honor this year’s eight wonderful TIP Report Heroes, who have dedicated their lives to combat human trafficking, and we will hear briefly from each of them in a pre-recorded video. I will offer brief closing remarks and then we hope you will click over to state.gov to access the report online.
I would like to start by thanking our colleagues across the State Department, including our overseas embassies, for the strong collaboration and time spent to produce an accurate and comprehensive report. And I want to give a second thank you – a special thank you and kudos to the staff of the Trafficking in Persons Office for your dedication and commitment. Your long hours and hard work producing this report make a difference. And finally, thank you to our colleagues across the U.S. Government as well as our vital partners in NGOs and international organizations, those with lived experience of human trafficking, and other experts who contributed to the TIP Report and work to facilitate progress in addressing human trafficking year-round.
And it is now such an honor to join Secretary Blinken here today. Thank you, Mr. Secretary, for elevating the issue of human trafficking and for hosting today’s event. Under your leadership, we look forward to advancing our efforts to combat human trafficking.
Ladies and gentlemen, Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you, Kari. Thank you very much for that introduction, but especially thank you for the terrific work leading the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons here at State. You and your team – and I know some of the team members are here with us today – did exceptional work producing this year’s report under the difficult circumstances of COVID-19.
Thanks to everyone else who’s here for joining us for what is a very important occasion. And a special thank you to the Heroes that we’re celebrating today, women and men around the world who have dedicated their careers to stopping human trafficking. They’re advocates, public servants, leaders of NGOs, and they help stop trafficking in all kinds of ways by supporting victims, helping to bring traffickers to justice, creating national action plans, addressing the root causes of trafficking.
In many ways, the fight against trafficking is fought on the local level, one community at a time. And we celebrate the brave people leading the fight, often at great risk to themselves. Trafficking in persons is an appalling crime. It’s a global crisis; it’s an enormous source of human suffering. By its nature, it’s often hidden from view. Exact figures are sometimes hard to determine. The estimate we often cite is that nearly 25 million people worldwide are victims of human trafficking. Many are compelled into commercial sex work. Many are forced to work in factories or fields, or to join armed groups. Millions of trafficking victims are children.
This crime is an affront to human rights; it’s an affront to human dignity. We fight it, you fight it, because it’s the right thing to do. It’s also in our interest to stop trafficking. We know it’s destabilizing to societies and to economies. So we must do everything we can as a country, but also as a global community, to stop trafficking wherever it occurs.
The State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report is indeed the world’s most comprehensive resource of the anti-trafficking efforts being undertaken by governments around the globe. It reflects the United States longstanding commitment and bipartisan commitment to this issue. We see it from administration to administration, we see it in Congress, and it’s something that we should take pride in. It’s the product of a great deal of work by our team here in Washington, our embassies around the world, and by NGOs, by journalists, academics, and survivors who help us to identify and document trends in human trafficking so that governments worldwide can more effectively combat it.
Part of this report is our country data. This year, we assessed 188 countries, including the United States. Some made encouraging progress; some slid backward. It’s important to remember that progress against trafficking is rarely linear. Traffickers are constantly adapting their methods, and every country, including the United States, must keep adapting our own strategies to stay ahead of them. We’ve got to identify and acknowledge our own shortcomings and be willing to course correct when needed. The TIP Report can help us do that by laying out the significant steps the United States and other countries must take to fight this crime and protect victims.
In addition to the country data, this year’s report explores a few topics in depth. The first is the impact of COVID-19. In many places, as governments diverted resources to try to control the pandemic and address its secondary impacts, human traffickers seized the opportunity to grow their operations. People who were pushed into dire economic circumstances by the pandemic became more vulnerable to exploitation. And as more people spent hours online for school and work, traffickers used the internet to groom and recruit potential victims.
So the pandemic has had a real impact on this fight. It’s another reason why it’s so important to stop the pandemic as quickly as we can and help communities around the world. The longer it takes, the more people will become vulnerable to trafficking.
We applaud those governments that found ways to step up their work against trafficking even during COVID. For example, in Paraguay, as thousands of citizens abroad sought to return home, the government established temporary quarantine facilities at the border. They asked everyone screening questions, and through those questions they were able to identify nearly 300 victims of human trafficking. That’s nearly four times the average number of victims they had identified in previous years. Then the Paraguayan Government moved those victims to their own dedicated facilities, where they began receiving critical health and social support services right away. It was a brilliant strategy for moving fast to help victims of trafficking when the opportunity presented itself.
Second, this year’s report focuses on state-sponsored human trafficking. We documented 11 countries where the government itself is the trafficker – for example, through forced labor on public work projects or in sectors of the economy that the government feels are particularly important.
For the 10th year in a row, the report documents how the Cuban Government has profited from exploitative overseas medical missions. They send doctors and other medical personnel abroad, fail to inform them of the terms of their contracts, confiscate their documents and salaries, threaten them and their family members when they try to leave.
We also report on what’s happening in Xinjiang, in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China. The Chinese Government has detained more than 1 million people in as many as 1,200 state-run internment camps throughout Xinjiang. Many detainees are subjected to physical violence, sexual abuse, and torture to induce them to work producing apparel, electronics, solar equipment, agricultural products.
And while the practices are the most egregious in Xinjiang, this year’s report notes that China has subjected its citizens to coercive labor practices in other parts of the country as well. The United States has taken measures to stop Chinese goods made with forced labor from making their way into our country. For example, last year, the Departments of State, Commerce, Treasury, and Homeland Security issued a Xinjiang supply chain business advisory to alert U.S. companies of the economic, legal, and reputational exposure to or in connection with operations, supply chains, or laborers from Xinjiang.
We’ll continue to call on our partners around the world to join us in condemning China’s genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang and in taking steps to prevent goods made with forced labor from entering our supply chains. Governments should protect and serve their citizens, not terrorize and subjugate them for profit.
And third, the report explicitly acknowledges the connection between systemic inequality and human trafficking. This is something many countries need to grapple with, including the United States. Part of doing right by our people means taking a hard look at the ways that our history and our policies have created the conditions for crimes like human trafficking, because traffickers prey on those who are vulnerable – those who are less likely to have access to good jobs or educational opportunities, who are less likely to be treated as equal by police or the justice system, and who are less likely to be believed when they report that they’re being targeted or abused.
If we’re serious about ending trafficking in persons, we must also work to root out systemic racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination, and to build a more equitable society in every dimension. These goals go hand in hand. So let’s keep that in mind as we work to build back better from the devastation of the pandemic.
I often talked about how the most urgent challenges facing our world cannot be solved by any one country acting alone. That’s true for stopping COVID, it’s true for dealing with the climate crisis, it’s true for the fight against human trafficking. We need to work together, share information, hold each other accountable. That’s how we’ll create a world where no one is exploited by trafficking and everyone is able to live in safety and in dignity.
MS JOHNSTONE: Thank you, Mr. Secretary, for your strong message and those encouraging words. You have long been a champion for anchoring U.S. foreign policy on ensuring human dignity and expanding opportunities for all.
I am thrilled to now turn to celebrating the 2021 TIP Report Heroes. Traditionally we have honored these Heroes in-person at this event. While we wish we could be together, due to COVID-19 precautions, our Heroes are joining us virtually again this year.
To get to know each of our honorees better, we asked this year’s Heroes to prepare short videos answering: “What do you hope to achieve through your anti-trafficking work?” In the following video, you will hear their responses. I am certain you will understand why we are honoring each of them today.
Please join me as we recognize and honor this year’s eight TIP Report Heroes.
(Video is played.)
MS JOHNSTONE: Imelda Poole, in recognition of her exceptional activism in combating human trafficking in Albania and across Europe that has achieved systemic change through grassroots action, employing big picture solutions to address the root causes of vulnerability to the crime, and empowering those with lived experience through her organization’s principles of freedom, justice, truth, and joy.
MS POOLE: Hello. My name is Imelda Poole. Working with Mary Ward Loreto in Albania and RENATE across Europe, my dream for the future is a social economy with a change in law and its implementation which will adopt a trauma-informed, victim-centered, and human rights approach to the law, both in its practice and in terms of real life. Thank you.
MS JOHNSTONE: Josiane Lina Bemaka-Soui, in recognition of her herculean efforts in creating and driving the Central African Republic’s anti-trafficking response by operationalizing the country’s interagency committee, leading the development of the government’s first national action plan to combat human trafficking, and catalyzing action even in difficult conditions at often great personal sacrifice.
MS BEMAKA-SOUI: (Via translation) I am Josiane Lina Bemaka-Soui, Advisor to the President on the Protection of Children and Child Soldiers. With this award, my goal will be to completely eradicate human trafficking in the Central African Republic and establish a new legal code on protection of victims of human trafficking in my country.
MS JOHNSTONE: Chantal Sagbo Sasse, in recognition of her unwavering and heartfelt commitment to the protection and care of child trafficking victims, her creativity and persistence in raising awareness among community members and government officials about human trafficking, and her invaluable anti-trafficking contributions and expertise shared with the Government of Gabon.
MS SAGBO: (Via translation) Hello, everyone. I am Chantal Sagbo, president and founder of the NGO Sifos. Sifos is a non-profit organization that has worked over the last 20 years to promote and protect human rights. Our biggest focus is fighting human trafficking and exploitation. Our vision for 2022 is to build an education and training center for victims, so that they can become the leaders of tomorrow. Thank you.
MS JOHNSTONE: Shoichi Ibusuki, in recognition of his relentless persistence in advocating for the rights of foreign workers in Japan by providing legal representation to many who experienced exploitation, including forced labor, and by elevating the issue and insisting that the government strengthen its efforts to protect foreign workers.
MR IBUSUKI: (Via translation) Hello. I am Ibusuki Shoichi from Tokyo. I am an attorney. Japan’s Technical Intern Training Program is a hotbed of human trafficking and intermediary exploitation. We aim to have this program abolished within the next few years. We will also create conditions where foreign workers can join together and insist on their rights. We will fight together with likeminded people around the world to fight human trafficking. Thank you.
MS JOHNSTONE: Shakhnoza Khassanova, in recognition of her extraordinary leadership in building the organizational capacity of civil society organizations and the judicial system in Kazakhstan to combat human trafficking, her central role in orchestrating humanitarian assistance and ensuring safe migration during the COVID-19 pandemic, and her steadfast dedication to the protection of vulnerable populations.
MS KHASSANOVA: I’m Shakhnoza Khassanova, director of the public association, Legal Center for Women’s Initiatives, Sana Sezim, from Shymkent, Kazakhstan. It’s an honor to receive this prestigious Department of State TIP Hero Report Award. This award is a result of the ongoing joint effort of our team and all stakeholders who continue to provide assistance to migrant workers and victims of human trafficking during the pandemic. We hope that our cooperation in future will become stronger and continue contributing to fight against human trafficking. Thank you.
MS JOHNSTONE: Guillermina Cabrera Figueroa, in recognition of her resolute determination to hold human traffickers in Mexico accountable for their crimes, her persistent efforts to secure funding for the creation of multidisciplinary shelters for human trafficking victims, and her longstanding, dynamic leadership in the Attorney General’s Office.
MS CABRERA FIGUEROA: (Via translation) Hello. I am Guillermina Cabrera Figueroa, Specialized Prosecutor for Trafficking in Persons at the Office of the Attorney General of Mexico. In the coming years, through my work fighting human trafficking, I hope to: strengthen my team with more training and resources; rescue more victims and give them specialized care so they can reintegrate into society; and bring more perpetrators to justice.
MS JOHNSTONE: Mohammed al-Obaidly, in recognition of his pivotal leadership in the ongoing implementation of bold and sweeping reforms in Qatar to strengthen protections for foreign workers and prevent forced labor, his perseverance to instill real changes, and his tireless efforts to enhance collaboration and forge connections with workers, the business community, and foreign governments.
MR AL-OBAIDLY: (Via translation) Hello. My name is Mohammed Hasan al-Obaidly. In the area of combating human trafficking, I would like to develop a guide for the country to identify trafficking in persons victims and provide them with assistance and protection. I also would like to enhance international cooperation and coordination to combat this crime by creating an integrated international law enforcement and security system to prevent, detect and expose human trafficking crimes and bring their perpetrators to justice.
MS JOHNSTONE: Rocio Mora-Nieto, in recognition of her exceptional dedication and efforts to combat sex trafficking in Spain for more than a quarter of a century, her unparalleled compassion and commitment for women exploited in commercial sex, and her highly effective outreach and victim-centered provision of services for victims of human trafficking.
MS NIETO: (Via translation) I am Rocio Mora Nieto. I am the director of APRAMP Madrid, in Spain. I am very grateful for this award because it makes slavery visible. The slavery of thousands and thousands of women who are being trafficked for sexual exploitation. For me, it is crucial to give these women alternatives so that they can escape from this situation and have freedom and dignity in their lives so that no woman is a slave in our streets and in our industrial parks. Thank you very much.
MS JOHNSTONE: What an inspiring group of leaders. It is such an honor to celebrate your important work.
The TIP Report represents a key tool to effect positive change and encourage governments to increase and improve their anti-trafficking efforts. This includes the United States.
As we evaluated the ongoing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on anti-trafficking efforts around the world for this year’s report, it was impossible to ignore the pandemic’s devastating effects. In the chaos and hardship of the last year, we have also seen excellent examples of leadership, resilience, adaptability across the anti-trafficking community – from international organizations to local NGOs, governments, and survivor leaders.
Mexico secured its first trafficking in persons conviction from a virtual court session in June 2020, just weeks after resuming legal proceedings following a two-month shutdown.
In Albania, Senegal, and Jordan, COVID-19 mitigation measures were combined with strategic outreach to populations vulnerable to trafficking.
In addition to these great adaptations, I want to highlight another excellent resource that the department will release in the coming weeks – a guidance document on COVID-19 considerations for anti-trafficking efforts – developed by our Human Trafficking Expert Consultant Network, which comprises individuals with lived experience of human trafficking and other subject matter experts. This guide will include promising practices and helpful standard operating procedures to continue anti-trafficking efforts during a crisis – like this pandemic – while still integrating a trauma-informed approach. Considerable work remains to address the challenges we still face related to the pandemic, but we hope this guidance will advance the integration of a trauma-informed approach into any new crisis-related adaptations.
For the last few years, we have sought to increasingly highlight through our report the importance of governments engaging with survivors and implementing trauma-informed approaches when doing so. We have done so, and our report is all the stronger for it. For the second year, Network experts developed the “Topics of Special Interest” for this year’s report – one about the unique complexities in familial trafficking and another about unifying trauma-informed practices and survivor leadership.
The Network also helped us evaluate and improve the process we use to select photos for the TIP Report. We did this in response to recommendations made in previous years by experts with lived experience of human trafficking. You will notice as you flip through the introduction that there are more photos that include the input of those survivors being photographed. I know we still have a long way to go to truly realize a trauma-informed approach across our anti-trafficking efforts, but I am thankful for the Network experts who helped us to make concrete improvements this year. We will continue to raise the importance of survivor engagement in building a truly effective, comprehensive anti-trafficking response – not just on paper through the TIP Report – but in our year-round engagement with governments around the world.
We know that we can do even better, and we will seek to hold ourselves and – accountable and be transparent in our efforts. I am encouraged by the innovative adaptations of governments, NGOs, and survivor leaders to ensure that our anti-trafficking response is comprehensive and addresses issues as they arise. I look forward to working with all of you to continue the fight against human trafficking.
Thank you again for joining us today, and please remember to go to state.gov to access this year’s TIP Report online. Thank you all.