Earlier this year, before Olympic fever spread across the globe, the United States Department of State’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons released the 2012 Trafficking in Persons Report (‘TIP Report’). The Report, issued in June each year in accordance with the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, sets out to provide a comprehensive account of human trafficking and anti-trafficking efforts around the world. It acts both as a primary reference and as a source of information on government efforts to combat the trade. The Report reviews the work of 184 countries and then ranks them according to three tiers based on the extent of trafficking in the country and progress on combating it. These rankings act as the United States Government’s primary diplomatic tool regarding anti-trafficking efforts by foreign governments, representing an opening of dialogues with different states aimed at advancing anti-trafficking actions and better allocating resources.
At first glance, it is apparent that many countries are doing better in combating trafficking. While Bangladesh and the Dominican Republic were recently ranked as very poorly attending to trafficking, new legislation and the implementing of comprehensive strategies to encourage the Four Ps – prevention, protection, punishment and partnerships – have moved both countries up a tier. Meanwhile, the Czech Republic, which slipped down a tier last year, regained its Tier 1 status following developments in anti-trafficking laws and the securing of convictions under these new laws.
However, it is rather notable that the tier rankings of certain states have not improved over time, with some several countries falling down a tier again this year. Many of these countries are plagued with widespread violence and conflict. Such conditions have made the assessment of anti-trafficking efforts and developments more difficult. It remains, though, that while the Report aims to encourage better efforts regarding the Four Ps, certain states are not responding to the Report.
In large part, such a failure to respond may be the result of the United States being perceived as failing to allocate funds based on the recommendations of the tier system. While the Reports aim to improve anti-trafficking efforts through a carrot and stick approach of economic benefits for efforts to comply with standards and sanctions for continued failures to meet standards, the continued failure to apply sanctions on certain states whilst continuing to sanction others has led to a perceived bias. Such accusations of bias were articulated on 19 June 2012 by Russia, which expressed clear discontent at its continued placement in Tier 2, whilst other states, including the United States itself, continue to receive a Tier 1 ranking despite profound trafficking issues and large numbers of victims.
While clearly the Report does provide valuable information, such complaints highlight some valid issues around the nature of the evaluation system being used to rank countries. First, the criteria and requirements for tier placement are difficult to identify. They are mired in complexity, which, added to a lack transparency in the way in which data is collated and translated into ranking positions, leads the report to appear only partial. Second, the Report only assesses the actions of governments not the actions of other organisations operating within a country. Such a limitation means that organisations that may have significant impacts remain unaccounted for and not fully assessed. Third, the rankings adopt United States standards rather than internationally agreed standards, imparting culturally specific criteria that could result in unique factor operating in other countries being ignored. For instance, several Caribbean and South American states have pointed out that their child labour problem is being overstated, as it is common for young family members to help with harvests without being paid. They argue is a culturally normal, household-based, and non-exploitative form of labour in states where farming remains a family effort.
What all this evidences is a greater need for the United States to engage other countries and jurisdictions in formulating the Report for 2013. Developing co-operation around data collection and the matrices which inform the interpretative grid must occur both in before and after publication. The State Department must take heed of its own advice and focus on the fourth P, partnerships. By mobilising different resources and working with its critics, the Department will be able to build greater counter-trafficking resilience, understandings and interventions that push the fight against trafficking further along its path.