Today, the Ending Trafficking in Government Contracting Act of 2012 was passed by the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee by voice vote. The legislation was introduced by Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Rob Portman (R-OH), Joe Lieberman (I-CT), Susan Collins (R-ME), Al Franken (D-MN), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), and Marco Rubio (R-FL) in March.
Despite U.S. government's "zero tolerance" human trafficking policy, investigations have found that human trafficking by government contractors and subcontractors who operate overseas is still an issue. For example, in 2011, the Commission on Wartime Contracting - an independent, bipartisan legislative commission established to study wartime contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan - concluded that "[e]xisting prohibitions on such trafficking have failed to suppress it." The commission also concluded that "evidence of the recurrent problem of trafficking in persons by labor brokers or subcontractors of contingency contractors."
More than 70,000 third-country nationals work for contractors and subcontractors of the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Defense Department, State Department, and U.S. Agency for International Development also rely heavily on third-country nationals worldwide. Recently, the Defense Department and State Department Inspector Generals concluded that the government does not sufficiently monitor labor practices by U.S. contractors and subcontractors, who, by necessity, rely on a vast number of third-country nationals to do overseas contract work.
"Modern-day slavery by government contractors - unknowingly funded by American taxpayers - is unconscionable and intolerable," said Blumenthal. "Current law prohibiting human trafficking is insufficient and ineffective, failing to prevent or punish abuses. By increasing preventative scrutiny and investigation, this legislation will stop egregious human rights abuses on U.S. military bases, increasing security for our troops, and preventing waste of taxpayer dollars."
"A number of government investigations have identified a need to enhance existing protecting against human trafficking in connection with overseas government contracts," said Portman, the Ranking Member of the Senate Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight. "Although the overwhelming majority of U.S. contractors are honorable and law-abiding, we need to ensure that the best practices adopted by those contractors become standard practice across the industry to prevent and detect exploitative labor practices that violate the values Americans hold dear."
"The exploitation of people through human trafficking is completely contrary to the values of freedom and human rights that America stands for. Our ability to encourage other countries to stop trafficking around the globe is undermined if we don't stop it under contracts that are paid for by our own tax dollars," said Lieberman, Chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee. "This bill will ensure that the U.S. government, and its contractors and subcontractors, do a better job of halting these horrific abuses."
"American tax dollars should never be allowed to subsidize human trafficking. The exploitation of persons recruited by unscrupulous labor brokers and subcontractors who misrepresent pay, charge excessive recruiting fees, and often confiscate immigration and identity documents, cannot be tolerated in overseas contingency operations under contracts funded by American taxpayers," said Collins, Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee. "The United States has a zero tolerance policy for trafficking in persons. Most contractors are honorable and work hard to do the right thing, and this bill will shore up accountability for those efforts by requiring contractors to have compliance plans to prevent trafficking and strengthen oversight and investigation tools to hold those who do not do the right thing accountable."
"Our bill to help end the despicable practice of human trafficking is now one step closer to becoming law," said Franken. "And that means that we're one step closer to protecting innocent people from being exploited and abused by government contractors. This bill will also improve safety for our troops on our military bases, and prevent Minnesotans' taxpayer dollars from being spent on something so deeply at odds with our country's values. The full Senate should take up and vote on this legislation as soon as possible."
"It makes me sick to my stomach to think that on top of wasting taxpayer money, some of these bad actor agencies and contractors are giving money to companies involved in human trafficking. How do these people even look at themselves in the mirror knowing this is going on? It's just disgusting," said McCaskill, Chairman of the Senate the Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight. McCaskill and Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) founded the Commission on Wartime Contracting.
"There is much work to be done to end the human trafficking trade, and one thing we can do immediately is stop some of these operations from being aided by taxpayer dollars. This policy is an important measure to crack down on this dehumanizing practice, particularly in government contracting labor operations. I am proud to support it as one more step we can take to punish human rights abuses," said Rubio.
Third-country nationals often become the unwitting victims of illegal and fraudulent employment practices (i.e. passport confiscation) - lured by the promise of lucrative jobs. They usually receive minimal wages and often owe heavy debts to labor brokers. Third-country nationals also experience verbal harassment and sexual abuse. Ultimately, human trafficking by contractors and subcontractors is a threat to the security and welfare of third-country nationals and American service members.
The End Trafficking in Government Contracting Act of 2012 addresses this problem by clarifying existing protections in federal law with regard to human trafficking abuses and enhancing prevention, accountability, and enforcement with regard to these abuses:
Prevention: The legislation would prevent trafficking abuses by requiring a contractor with contracts of over $1 million to implement compliance plans to prevent trafficking and related abuses such as destroying or confiscating passports, fraudulently misrepresenting wages or work location, and using labor brokers who charge exorbitant recruiting fees.
Accountability: The legislation would improve accountability by requiring the following: 1.) A contractor notify the Inspector General if he or she receives "credible evidence" that a subcontractor has engaged in prohibited conduct; requiring the Inspector General to investigate such instances; and 2.) The Inspector General to investigate such instances and consider swift remedial action against the contractor.
Enforcement: The bill improves enforcement of anti-trafficking requirements by: 1.) Expanding the criminal prohibitions that prevent fraudulent labor practices typically associated with human trafficking of third country nationals to include employees on overseas contracts; and 2.) Codifying the range of remedial actions available for violations of anti-trafficking requirements, including the removal of an employee or the suspension or debarment of the contractor.