When Rep. Ed Royce, R-Fullerton, convenes a hearing Tuesday to raise awareness about and identify ways to combat human trafficking, it will be personal for his chief of staff, Amy Porter.
In volunteering trips to Cambodia and India, Porter saw firsthand the harsh realities of children and others being sold or forced into labor or sex trades as she worked on their behalf. When she returned she had a lot to tell her boss, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
"These hearings came about partly from Amy's charity work with trafficking victims," Royce told the Register on Friday. "There's a tremendous problem in the U.S. and in Europe and beyond. We see cases in Los Angeles and Orange County. The goal will be to try to highlight the problem and get legislation that addresses solutions at local, state and federal level," he said.
Every year between 14,500 and 17,500 people, primarily women and children, are trafficked to the United States, according to nonprofithumantrafficking.org. Catholic Relief Services estimates 12.3 million people are trafficked worldwide, including 1 million children, but other sources say the true magnitude is hard to assess. Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton last year said as many as 27 million people worldwide are in modern slavery.
Royce noted that the Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force has served more than 300 victims of trafficking over the past 10 years. And last month, Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckus told the Register that human trafficking will be one new focus for his office and that prosecutors will work with law enforcement and the community in a new Human Exploitation and Trafficking unit.
California's Proposition 35, passed in November with 81 percent approval, is a step in the right direction, Royce said. It increases prison terms of human traffickers and requires convicted sex traffickers to register as sex offenders, among other provisions. In addition, a 2012 California law requires retailers and manufacturers to disclose how they monitor and guard against slavery and human trafficking throughout their supply chains.
Still, getting to the root cause will require cooperation from governments that too often simply allow or profit from human trafficking. Royce intends to use the sunshine effect of his committee and the leverage of the U.S. government to sanction and even shame those governments that violate international laws on human trafficking.
Here's how he expects his efforts to play out: In June, the State Department will release its annual Trafficking in Persons Report in which a number of the 186 countries being monitored for their anti-human trafficking efforts will be either promoted to Tier 2 or demoted to Tier 3. Tier 2 countries may not fully comply with minimum standards, such as protection, prosecution and prevention, but are making a significant effort to comply. Tier 3 countries are subject to U.S. sanction for failure to comply with the standards and failure to make significant efforts to do so.
For the first time, "the administration unavoidably runs into the limits set by Congress in 2008 on how long a country can avoid the worst, Tier 3 designation, by sitting on the Tier 2 Watch List," Royce explained to a subcommittee last month.
In short, there's no more hiding for the offenders. Royce told the Register that politically sensitive countries, such as China or Russia "who have been parked and who have avoided diplomatic fallout" of being criticized for not complying with international agreements on trafficking, will now be in the spotlight -- as bright a one as he can make. Royce plans to meet with the State Department later this month as well as with Foreign Affairs Committee members to "broaden the front on which a number of us have been agitating for some time." And he will hold a hearing after the State Department releases its report.
"So these meetings and hearings give us the opportunity to put the (State Department) on notice and also to try to convince some of these governments who are complicit, like Cambodia, or who turn a blind eye, that they will be on the worst-of-the-worst list unless they comply with international rules for human rights," Royce said.
It will all lead to proposed legislation "that will probably focus on how we can change existing law to make it harder for governments who are complicit, where there is evidence for example of kickbacks to government officials, and to expose that type of corruption so we can bring leverage and more pressure on foreign governments because we need their cooperation" to combat human trafficking, he said. The State Department, he says, in the past has "too often let them off the hook."
Those scheduled to testify Tuesday include Don Knabe, a Los Angeles County supervisor; Bradley Myles, executive director of the Polaris Project, which operates an international victims' hotline; and Shawn MacDonald, director of programs and research for Verite, a firm that helps companies understand and resolve labor issues in their supply chains.