The U.S. State Department released their annual Trafficking in Persons Report on Monday following a four-week delay. The report analyzes 188 countries efforts to comply with basic standards needed to end trafficking of men, women and children for sexual exploitation or forced labor. The countries are rated through a tier system, with Tier 1 being the most compliant and Tier 3 being reserved for those who continue to fail to comply with the standards put in place.
Non-Government Organizations have criticized the State Department for removing both Cuba and Malaysia from tier 3. Anti-trafficking organizations aired their concern at the political motivations behind this year’s rankings which they claim call the integrity of the report into question.
The Trafficking in Persons report was originally published in 2001 and has become a key diplomatic tool that U.S. leaders engage foreign leaders on human trafficking. Under American law, the countries on the tier 3 could result in non-trade related sanctions, restricted U.S. foreign assistance and access to global financial institutions such as the World Bank.
Cuba has spent the last 12 years on the tier 3 level and the sudden upgrade comes on the heels of the reopening of the American embassy in Cuba as well as the rebuilt diplomatic relations following 50 years of estrangement. Last year’s report strongly criticized Cuba’s trafficking record which included allegations of child prostitution and forced labor by the communist government. Democrat Senator Robert Menendez said the upgrade was politically motivated. “You have to earn your way up the ladder, not just have political expediency be the reason that you get moved from tier 3.”
State Department officials continue to insist the upgrade is based on improved cooperation between Cuba and the United States on eliminating human trafficking and ensuring better protection of victims as well as Cuba beginning to share information on the prosecution of traffickers.
Despite being accused of forced labor in its electronic industry, Malaysia was upgraded to tier 2 after spending a year on tier 3. The upgrade comes as President Obama continues to fight for the acceptance of the Trans Pacific Partnership, a US trade deal with Malaysia and 11 other Southeast Asia countries. Malaysia’s upgrade comes after the discovery of mass graves in jungle trafficking camps near the border which State Department officials say were discovered after the cut-off date for evidence gathering for the TIP report. The State Department acknowledged Malaysia is not complying fully with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so.
“In 2014, the government consulted with civil society stakeholders to draft and propose amendments strengthening the existing anti-trafficking law and addressing concerns raised in previous Trafficking in Persons reports, including by allowing trafficking victims to move freely and work, and for NGOs to run the facilities.” the report says.
Secretary of State launched the report saying, “The bottom line is that this is no time for complacency. Right now, across the globe, victims of human trafficking are daring to imagine the possibility of escape, the chance for a life without fear, and the opportunity to earn a living wage. I echo the words of President Obama and say to them: ‘We hear you, and we will do all we can to make that dream come true.”
Just last week, President Obama confirmed Susan Coppedge as the head of the US State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking. She replaces Ambassador Lou CdeBaca who departed last year.