Following up on hearings by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and recommendations from the Commission on Wartime Contracting, a group of congressmen led by Rep. James Lankford, R-Okla., today introduced H.R. 4259, the End Trafficking in Government Contracting Act of 2012.
Despite a "zero tolerance" policy, government watchdogs and human rights organizations continue to report that labor exploitation and human trafficking by federal government contractors and subcontractors operating overseas remains a serious problem.
"My subcommittee heard stories of impoverished individuals from underdeveloped countries lured by the promise of lucrative jobs, only to have their passports confiscated, their wages slashed, and illegal labor broker debt mounting faster than they could possibly repay. Some third country nationals have suffered harassment and sexual abuse," said Rep. Lankford, who chairs the Oversight subcommittee on procurement policy. "These basic human rights infractions are immoral, unethical, and un-American. My colleagues and I are determined to ensure American contracting dollars will no longer support these practices. We are a nation that stands for freedom and against human trafficking."
The Defense Department estimates more than 70,000 third country nationals, recruited from countries like Bangladesh, Fiji, and the Philippines, work for contractors and subcontractors of the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan. Third country nationals also work on contracts for the Department of State, USAID, and other federal agencies.
The bill requires contractors to implement trafficking prevention programs to prevent activities that support or advance labor trafficking, and strengthens oversight and investigation of trafficking reports to eliminate trafficking on federal grants and contracts.
"The federal government is the largest purchaser of goods and services in the world. We have a responsibility to leverage that power to prevent human trafficking," said Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the full committee. "These individuals are ultimately being paid with U.S. taxpayer money, but they face conditions akin to modern indentured servitude."
"Although we have learned many important lessons over the past decade and have made great strides in combating the horror of human trafficking, traffickers continue to exploit vulnerable women, children and men seeking a better life," said Rep. Chris Smith, R-NJ, who wrote three anti-trafficking laws, including the landmark Human Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, and chair of the House subcommittee that oversees human rights. "Human rights start at home. It is critical that the U.S. make every effort to ensure that our government contracts are not being exploited by traffickers. This bill builds upon existing law--strengthens our "zero tolerance' policy regarding human traffickers--and ensures that U.S. contractors who traffic or don't aggressively vet their subcontractors will be severely penalized up to and possibly including losing their U.S. taxpayer contracts. We have no room for traffickers."
"The human rights and freedoms we honor in America are a model for peoples around the world, and by protecting those basic freedoms for US contract employees we ensure that America can be the shining city on a hill we strive for and an example for other nations," said Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., ranking member of the Oversight subcommittee on procurement policy.
A companion bill, S. 2234, was introduced by Senator Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Senator Rob Portman, R-Ohio, Senator Al Franken, D-Minn., and Senator Marco Rubio, R-Fla.
Senators Blumenthal and Portman testified on the legislation and the problem of human trafficking in government contracts at a hearing today chaired by Rep. Lankford entitled "Labor Abuses, Human Trafficking, and Government Contracts: Is the Government Doing Enough to Protect Vulnerable Workers?". Video will be posted as soon as it becomes available.