Trafficking in Persons Report: State Department Lists China and Russia As Worst

The State Department this week released their annual Trafficking in Persons Report, a survey of 188 countries in which they listed for the first time China and Russia as two of the most egregious human traffic violators in the world, a demotion that could result in sanctions against the countries later this year.

The lowest classification, Tier 3, is reserved for those countries plagued with pervasive trafficking problems and no substantial measures to address them. The report cites China’s one-child policy, and Russian labor camps, as the source of many of the issues in countries. The two join Iran, North Korea, Cuba, Sudan, and Zimbabwe, all of which also carry Tier 3 designation.

“Ending modern slavery must remain a foreign-policy priority,” writes Secretary of State John Kerry in the report’s introduction. “Fighting this crime wherever it exists is in our national interest. Human trafficking undermines the rule of law and creates instability. It tears apart families and communities. It damages the environment and corrupts the global supply chains and labor markets that keep the world’s economies thriving … we have a moral obligation to meet this challenge head-on.”

But aside from a new round of wrist-slapping, the report reveals nothing new. China and Russia are notorious for poor human rights conditions and minimal government action to alleviate them. Earlier reports have had China listed on the Tier 2 Watch List, the second to worst category, for nine consecutive years; Russia has been on it for eight. And there they likely would have remained for diplomatic reasons if it hadn’t been for Congress revising the Trafficking Victims Protections Act in 2008, adding a clause stating that a country can only be given the second-worst designation for two consecutive years before either being promoted or demoted. The secretary of state is given the power to waive Tier 3 classification twice, and only under certain circumstances.

The report notes China’s family size regulations as a key source of a culture of trafficking that has become pervasive in the country.

“The Chinese government’s birth-limitation policy and a cultural preference for sons, create a skewed sex ratio of 118 boys to 100 girls in China, which served as a key source of demand for the trafficking of foreign women as brides for Chinese men and for forced prostitution.”

The report also cites the controversial laogai, or the state-sponsored ‘re-education through labor’ facilities that the Chinese government uses, exposed publicly last year when a woman found a hand-written plea for help inside a box of made-in-China Halloween decorations. 

The report then chastises Russia, where it says as many as one million people are subjected for forced labor in preparation for the 214 Winter Olympics in Sochi, as well as an impending deal with North Korea to transport a large number of laborers to work the Russian logging industry under forced conditions.

“You follow the facts and the law to their logical conclusion and sometimes it’s an inescapable conclusion,” said Ambassador Luis CdeBaca, head of the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. “I think that what we’ll see is that at the end of the day we are not going to flinch from looking at the results on the ground, applying the law, and applying the facts.”

A package of sanctions is being prepared to be submitted to President Obama later this Fall, which would cancel cooperative programs between U.S. and the offending countries. This comes at a delicate time as Obama has been making widely-publicized attempts at improving talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping, holding the first ever summit between the two this month in California, as well as with Russian President Vladimir Putin at this month’s G8 summit. It seems unlikely that either country will take any substantial action voluntarily, given how long both have been on the Tier 2 Watch List, though sanctions carry with them mountains of potentially unsavory political implications.

“This report is not about pointing fingers,” Kerry writes, taking a stand on an issue that was one of the most important to his predecessor, Hillary Clinton. “Rather, it provides a thorough account of a problem that affects all countries. It also lays out ways that every government can do better. In the year ahead, we will use this Report to help guide our engagement on the issue.”