The 21st annual Trafficking In Persons report by the US Department of State focuses on the impact of the pandemic on trends in trafficking and brings greater attention to the issue of state-imposed forced labour in places such as the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China.
It also makes explicit the link between systemic inequality and human trafficking, including not just material deprivation but also systemic racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination.
In remarks at the launch of the report in Washington D.C. on July 1st (pictured), Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken expanded on this theme, saying: “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.”
The report assigns all countries a Tier ranking based on their efforts to tackle human trafficking, with four minimum standards needing to be met to achieve Tier 1. Six countries received downgrades from Tier 1 to Tier 2: the Republic of Cyprus, Israel, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, and Switzerland.
Sondre K Høysæter, Norway Director at Hope for Justice, said: “It is disappointing to see Norway slip from Tier 1 to Tier 2 in the rankings this year but it does reflect our concerns about how certain authorities are treating reports of human trafficking. Too many cases are being closed by police without adequate investigation, as highlighted by the attorney general. This has a devastating effect on victims, because their rights are connected to police succeeding with prosecution. We would urge all police forces and levels of government to do everything possible to meet the standards required for Norway to regain our Tier 1 status, because ultimately this will mean more victims being freed from exploitation and more survivors receiving justice, support and restitution.”
A further 12 countries were downgraded from Tier 2 to Tier 2 Watchlist, including South Africa and Thailand, while two were downgraded from the Watch List to the lowest rung, Tier 3: Guinea-Bissau and Malaysia.
The State Department accused 11 countries of having government policies or officials that themselves were responsible for human trafficking, including the direct compulsion of citizens or foreign nationals into sex trafficking, forced labor, or use as child soldiers.
Kari Johnstone, acting director of the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, said at the launch event: “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.”
The full report can be accessed by clicking here.