Yesterday, Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio), and a strong bipartisan coalition secured inclusion of the End Trafficking in Government Contracting Act (S.2234) in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2013 (S.3254) through a vote on the floor of the U.S. Senate.
Despite a "zero tolerance" federal policy, investigations have found that human trafficking by government contractors and subcontractors operating overseas remains a serious problem that threatens the security and welfare of service members and government personnel. The End Human Trafficking in Government Contracting Act represents the most comprehensive legislative effort ever put forward by the U.S. Congress to address this problem.
Blumenthal said, "The Senate's decision to make this measure a part of the NDAA speaks to its national and international importance. Modern-day slavery by government contractors -- unknowingly funded by American taxpayers -- is unconscionable and intolerable. Current law prohibiting human trafficking is insufficient and ineffective, failing to prevent or punish abuses. By increasing preventative scrutiny, investigation, and prosecution, this legislation will stop egregious human rights abuses on U.S. military bases, increasing security for our troops, and preventing waste of taxpayer dollars."
Portman said, "I am very pleased that the Senate acted on legislation that Senator Blumenthal and I have championed for nearly a year to strengthen protections against trafficking in connection with overseas federal contracts. This bill will ensure that America's overseas wartime and reconstruction contracts are performed in accord with not only our mission, but also our deeply held values as Americans."
"The United States has long had an official policy of zero tolerance for contractors who engage in human trafficking," Lieberman said. "This bill will provide better tools for actually enforcing that policy and keeping contract dollars out of the hands of those who engage in horrific abuses of their workers."
"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, or confiscate immigration and identity documents cannot be tolerated, yet some government contractors have turned a blind eye to such despicable practices," Collins said. "This amendment is a result of members of both houses of Congress and of both parties working together to strengthen the United States' zero tolerance policy for trafficking in persons and hold accountable those who act contrary to this policy."
"Every day innocent people are suffering because the laws on the books to prevent human trafficking by government contractors aren't working," Franken said. "This legislation will help end the repulsive practice of human trafficking, improve safety for our troops on our military bases, and prevent Minnesotan's tax payer dollars from being spent on an act that conflicts so greatly with our country's beliefs and ideals."
"We are now one step closer to stopping the flow of taxpayer dollars to human trafficking operations. This will crack down on the atrocious practice of modern-day slavery as it exists in government contracting labor operations. Fighting human trafficking is a cause that should unite us as a people, and I am proud we got this done for the sake of victims everywhere," Rubio said.
Currently, more than 70,000 third country nationals from countries like Bangladesh, Fiji, and the Philippines work for contractors and subcontractors of the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan. In addition, the Defense Department, State Department, and USAID rely heavily on third country nationals worldwide.
Lured by the promise of lucrative jobs, third country nationals often find themselves the unwitting victims of illegal and fraudulent employment practices. Labor brokers frequently confiscate their passports and make them work in conditions akin to modern indentured servitude. Others are harassed or sexually abused.
The End Human Trafficking in Government Contracting amendment would address this problem by enhancing prevention, accountability, and enforcement with regard to these trafficking abuses:
Prevention: The proposal prevents trafficking by requiring contractors with contracts of over $500,000 to implement compliance plans to prevent trafficking, including: destroying or confiscating passports; misrepresenting wages or work location; using labor brokers who charge unreasonable placement or recruitment fees; failing to provide housing that meets basic safety standards; and prohibiting the procurement of commercial sex acts.
Accountability: The proposal improves accountability by requiring contractors to notify the Inspector General if a subcontractor has engaged in prohibited conduct; and directing the Inspector General to investigate such instances where appropriate and issue a report to the head of the agency.
Enforcement: The proposal improves enforcement of anti-trafficking requirements by:
Expanding the criminal prohibitions that prevent fraudulent labor practices typically associated with human trafficking of third country nationals to include employees on U.S. contracts performed overseas.
Codifying the range of remedial actions available for violations of anti-trafficking requirements, including the removal of an employee, the suspension or debarment of the contractor, or termination of the contract.