Today, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) lauded a new Obama Administration executive order to combat human trafficking in government contracting, and urged additional action to crack down on abuses with criminal penalties and other strong enforcement tools.
The executive order is similar to legislation introduced by Blumenthal that requires overseas contractors to implement plans to counter human trafficking. Like the Blumenthal bill, it also enforces a ban on trafficking by prohibiting:
Misleading employees about living conditions and housing
Charging employees recruitment fees
Denying access by an employee to their identity documents such as passports or drivers' license
Failing to pay return transportation costs for employees to return home
The executive order requires contractors to maintain a compliance plan that includes:
An employee awareness program
Actions that will be taken against human traffickers
A process to report evidence of human trafficking
Like the Blumenthal bill, contractors must certify that they are in compliance with the plan and the Inspector General must investigate any reports from an Agency's contracting officers of human trafficking.
Blumenthal said, "President Obama's initiative is a strong step toward establishing a zero tolerance policy for human trafficking in government contracting. This executive order stops government contractors from using workers who are brought from other countries surreptitiously or illegally -- and who may be exploited by imposing substandard wages and working conditions, sexual exploitation, or other abuses. Since it is only an executive order, there is still a clear need for comprehensive legislation to impose criminal penalties and other tough enforcement tools that can end trafficking at home and abroad."
"This executive order reaffirms the need for Congress to enact a comprehensive bill to end trafficking in government contracting at home and abroad. Human trafficking is an unconscionable and intolerable human rights violation that perpetuates violence against women and children," Blumenthal continued. "That is why I have introduced The End Trafficking in Government Contracting Act that specifically codified a criminal act for human trafficking in our federal work abroad and requires the inspector general to investigate when indications of trafficking are uncovered. Current law prohibiting human trafficking is insufficient and ineffective and needs to be strengthened, and we must continue to work tirelessly in Congress to end this scourge. While this order is a bold and courageous step, I will continue to fight for even stronger enforcement tools, such as harsh new criminal penalties, that will help ensure compliance by contractors working abroad."
"Again it is Connecticut's own Senator Blumenthal who has shown leadership on the issue of human trafficking. Human trafficking has not gone away and the more global our society becomes the more we see these infringements on human rights, most often happening to women and children," said Teresa Younger, the Executive Director of the Permanent Commission on the Status of Women. "We applaud President Obama in the implementation of his executive order, but we know that is not enough. State laws and executive orders will not replace federal legislation and we support Senator Blumenthal's steadfast commitment and leadership on the End Trafficking in Government Contracting Act."
More than 20 million men and women around the world are victims of severe forms of trafficking in persons. Blumenthal has introduced the End Trafficking in Government Contracting Act (S. 2234) with 13 bipartisan cosponsors. The legislation provides our federal agencies, prosecutors, and contracting officers with the tools they need to put an end to these pernicious practices once and for all. By increasing preventative scrutiny and investigation, this legislation will stop egregious human rights abuses on U.S. military bases, increase security for our troops, and prevent waste of taxpayer dollars.
First, it improves prevention by expanding the scope of the current language prohibiting trafficking -- language that is already required in all federal contracts -- to make it clear that the abusive practices that are seen repeatedly in these cases are prohibited. Such practices include destroying or confiscating passports; misrepresenting wages or work location; using labor brokers who charge exorbitant recruiting fees; and the procurement of commercial sex acts. The legislation also requires contractors to design, implement, and certify internal compliance procedures designed to prevent prohibiting trafficking practices for larger federal contracts.
Second, the bill improves accountability by requiring contractors to notify the Inspector General of any "credible evidence" of trafficking occurring on the contract or any subcontracts. The Inspector General must investigate any such instances, and report any findings to the contract administrators to consider swift remedial action against the contractor, if appropriate.
The bill improves enforcement of these anti-trafficking requirements. It is a crime today for contractors to engage in the fraudulent labor practices typically associated with human trafficking for contracts performed within the United States. But this same conduct is not currently criminal when it occurs outside the United States. The glaring inconsistency is that a contractor engaging in human trafficking on a military base in Hawaii has committed a crime, but the same contractor engaged in the same trafficking at a military base in Afghanistan has not. Our legislation closes this glaring loophole.
The legislation also codifies 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 as warranted. It does so in a manner with an eye toward addressing prohibited activities in a fair and effective manner, remedying the problem as quickly and responsibly as possible without jeopardizing the ongoing mission. And the bill improves information sharing within Department of Defense and between the agencies to ensure that prior misconduct is taken into account for future government contracting decisions.
Together, these provisions will empower the ongoing efforts to combat trafficking in persons by the Department of Defense, the Department of State, the United States Agency for International Development, and the Department of Justice.