Human Trafficking is one of the greatest human rights tragedies of our time. It’s modern day slavery and should not exist, especially not in the United States. Yet each year, hundreds of cases are reported and many more go unreported. According to estimates by the Department of State, 45,000 to 50,000 women and children are trafficked into the United States annually and trapped in slavery-like situations – including forced prostitution.
To combat this human rights scourge, the House passed legislation this week, the “Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Act” (H.R. 3887) that will take a proactive role in combating forced slavery. This legislation would create flexible and tough enforcement tools to punish human exploitation. One of the key provisions in this legislation may come as a surprise to some. It is the prevention and punishment of diplomats who abuse their servants.
Currently, no government agency tracks instances of forced domestic labor at the hands of diplomats. Last year the State Department issued 1,957 domestic worker visas. In the plush residencies of some unscrupulous diplomats, servants’ passports are held, they are paid extremely low wages equal to a little more than a dollar per day and suffer emotional and physical abuse. Diplomatic immunity has made it difficult to prosecute these individuals. While the Department of State has indicated that some diplomats are asked to leave the country, it appears very few are actually tried for their crimes.
But under this new trafficking legislation, greater transparency will be brought to diplomatic abuse. Consular offices would now be required to notify job applicants that slavery and other forms of exploitation are prohibited. Additionally, visa contracts for employees of diplomats would be required to be issued in the language of the applicant. The Secretary of State would also be required to report on the feasibility of monitoring applicants, and to report on diplomatic missions and international institutions where there have been cases of involuntary servitude.
I look forward to seeing these new provisions implemented by the Department of State and plan to continue working with my colleagues to eliminate all forms of modern slavery. Better educating employees and providing information in their native language will go a long way towards cracking down on domestic abuse by unscrupulous diplomats.