To Combat ‘Modern Slavery’
Published: October 1, 2012
Though much remains to be done, the Obama administration has begun meaningful new initiatives against human trafficking — a worldwide injustice that exposes more than 20 million poor and vulnerable individuals, especially women and children, to exploitation and degradation. The most notable of these is a strong executive order aimed at ending human trafficking activities by government contractors and subcontractors.
Related in Opinion
Op-Ed Columnist: In Obama’s Speech, Their Voices (September 27, 2012)
Connect With Us on Twitter
For Op-Ed, follow @nytopinion and to hear from the editorial page editor, Andrew Rosenthal, follow @andyrNYT.
The order, signed by Mr. President Obama on Sept. 25, contains an array of simple but potentially game-changing provisions that will help enforce the government’s existing zero-tolerance policy. These new rules forbid all contractors from charging new employees recruitment fees that often lead to indebtedness to loan sharks, misleading employees about living conditions and housing, denying access to passports or failing to pay transportation costs so employees can return home.
This should be the first of several steps to bolster the attack on a scourge that Mr. Obama described as “modern slavery” in a passionate address on the issue last week at the Clinton Global Initiative. Among other things, Mr. Obama should put the weight of his office behind a bipartisan bill in Congress, the End Trafficking in Government Contracting Act. The bill would strengthen the administration’s executive initiative by embedding into law safeguards against substandard wages, abusive working conditions and sexual and labor exploitation. It would also impose criminal penalties and create other enforcement tools beyond the scope of an executive order.
The legislation enjoys broad support among Republicans and Democrats in both the House and the Senate, and its approval should be on the must-do list for the lame-duck session following the election.
That list should also include another critical measure to fight trafficking, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. This statute, which also has significant bipartisan support, was enacted in 2000 and reauthorized in 2003, 2005 and 2008. Central to the nation’s anti-trafficking efforts, it aids in the prosecution of traffickers, imposing stiff penalties. It also offers important services and benefits to help victims rebuild their lives.
Regrettably, the bill’s reauthorization has been stalled in the House by political wrangling over a separate issue of victims’ reproductive rights. Continued delay on this bill would hurt victims and send a terrible message to the world. If he is re-elected, President Obama will have the enhanced political muscle he will need to break the logjam.