Today, Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Rob Portman's (R-OH) Ending Trafficking in Government Contracting Act was passed by the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee by voice vote. The legislation was cosponsored by Senators 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. 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 on the Senate's 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."
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 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.