Thursday, March 29, 2012

A Rare Bipartisan Effort Prevents You From Paying For Slavery

As a U.S. Taxpayer, you are funding human trafficking in Iraq, Afghanistan and hundreds of other locations across the globe because of American government contractor oversight and greed. And with the reauthorization of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act bogged down by divisive, election-year politics, those suffering from exploitive and modern slave labor don't seem to have much hope for improvement in their conditions anytime soon.

Fortunately, a bipartisan effort in Congress effectively addresses this crime against humanity. A new bill introduced on March 26, 2012 in the House and the Senate is meant to stop U.S. contractors and subcontractors from relying on human trafficking - sometimes called modern day slavery - for cheap labor. Some contractors will certainly oppose the law, but both the House and Senate versions of the bill deserve your support.

The End Trafficking in Government Contracting Act (S. 2234 and H.R. 4259) is sponsored by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Rep. James Lankford (R-OK) respectively, along with many cosponsors from both parties. The legislation is the long-awaited response to a variety of reports from war zones over the course of several years—including the Commission on Wartime Contracting’s final report, which found “tragic evidence of the recurrent problem of trafficking in person by labor brokers or subcontractors of contingency contractors.”

One important factor of the new legislation is that it expands the definition of “fraudulent recruiting” to include the recruiting of laborers who work on U.S. government contractors outside the U.S. Right now, the law only applies to those who are recruited to work in the U.S.  The bills also requires anti-trafficking in persons clauses to be included in contracts and assists contracting officers in holding contractors accountable.

Additionally, the bills require contractors with contracts over $1 million plans to implement anti-trafficking plans, and tell the U.S. government when its subcontractors are violating the law.  “The legislation would give the government sharper and more potent weapons to fight human trafficking in our contractor supply chain,” said Nick Schwellenbach, Director of Investigations for the Project On Government Oversight.

At a hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee, Luis CdeBaca, Ambassador-at-Large for the Office of Trafficking in Persons at the State Department, reaffirmed in his testimony that this legislation picks up where existing laws fail.

“We’ve come to understand that the role of government in fighting this crime need not be limited to law enforcement and the provision of victim services,” CdeBaca said. “Policies that apply what we’ve learned about supply chain monitoring, responsible labor recruitment practices, and honorable conduct to government procurement and contracting will have ripple effects far and wide into the private sector.”

With poplular, bipartisan support this legislation has a good chance of passing—but given previous contractor opposition to anti-trafficking rules, it’s likely that contractors will try to push back or water down some of its provisions. However, this legislation provides a tangible solution to an intolerant problem that has gone on too long. 

For more information on the trafficking crimes this legislation would address, listen to a recent podcast with Sam McCahon and Sindhu Kavinamannil, two activists who are making a documentary about the labor trafficking.

"The bill is well written and fairly comprehensive," said McCahon, a former federal prosecutor who has spent time in private practice working on the issue of labor trafficking on U.S. government contracts. "I think it is the best chance for change and I am supporting the measure.”

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