Secretary Antony J. Blinken At the 2021 Trafficking in Persons Report Launch Ceremony
ANTONY J. BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE
DR. KARI JOHNSTONE, ACTING DIRECTOR
OFFICE TO MONITOR AND COMBAT TRAFFICKING IN PERSONS
BEN FRANKLIN ROOM
JULY 1, 2021
MS JOHNSTONE: Good afternoon, and welcome. My name is Kari Johnstone. I am the acting director of the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons.
Thank you all for joining us virtually to mark the release of the 2021 Trafficking in Persons Report, or the TIP Report. I am grateful to be here with Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
A quick word about our program today: First, Secretary Blinken will offer remarks on this year’s report. We will then honor this year’s eight wonderful TIP Report Heroes, who have dedicated their lives to combat human trafficking, and we will hear briefly from each of them in a pre-recorded video. I will offer brief closing remarks and then we hope you will click over to state.gov to access the report online.
I would like to start by thanking our colleagues across the State Department, including our overseas embassies, for the strong collaboration and time spent to produce an accurate and comprehensive report. And I want to give a second thank you – a special thank you and kudos to the staff of the Trafficking in Persons Office for your dedication and commitment. Your long hours and hard work producing this report make a difference. And finally, thank you to our colleagues across the U.S. Government as well as our vital partners in NGOs and international organizations, those with lived experience of human trafficking, and other experts who contributed to the TIP Report and work to facilitate progress in addressing human trafficking year-round.
And it is now such an honor to join Secretary Blinken here today. Thank you, Mr. Secretary, for elevating the issue of human trafficking and for hosting today’s event. Under your leadership, we look forward to advancing our efforts to combat human trafficking.
Ladies and gentlemen, Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you, Kari. Thank you very much for that introduction, but especially thank you for the terrific work leading the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons here at State. You and your team – and I know some of the team members are here with us today – did exceptional work producing this year’s report under the difficult circumstances of COVID-19.
Thanks to everyone else who’s here for joining us for what is a very important occasion. And a special thank you to the Heroes that we’re celebrating today, women and men around the world who have dedicated their careers to stopping human trafficking. They’re advocates, public servants, leaders of NGOs, and they help stop trafficking in all kinds of ways by supporting victims, helping to bring traffickers to justice, creating national action plans, addressing the root causes of trafficking.
In many ways, the fight against trafficking is fought on the local level, one community at a time. And we celebrate the brave people leading the fight, often at great risk to themselves. Trafficking in persons is an appalling crime. It’s a global crisis; it’s an enormous source of human suffering. By its nature, it’s often hidden from view. Exact figures are sometimes hard to determine. The estimate we often cite is that nearly 25 million people worldwide are victims of human trafficking. Many are compelled into commercial sex work. Many are forced to work in factories or fields, or to join armed groups. Millions of trafficking victims are children.
This crime is an affront to human rights; it’s an affront to human dignity. We fight it, you fight it, because it’s the right thing to do. It’s also in our interest to stop trafficking. We know it’s destabilizing to societies and to economies. So we must do everything we can as a country, but also as a global community, to stop trafficking wherever it occurs.
The State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report is indeed the world’s most comprehensive resource of the anti-trafficking efforts being undertaken by governments around the globe. It reflects the United States longstanding commitment and bipartisan commitment to this issue. We see it from administration to administration, we see it in Congress, and it’s something that we should take pride in. It’s the product of a great deal of work by our team here in Washington, our embassies around the world, and by NGOs, by journalists, academics, and survivors who help us to identify and document trends in human trafficking so that governments worldwide can more effectively combat it.
Part of this report is our country data. This year, we assessed 188 countries, including the United States. Some made encouraging progress; some slid backward. It’s important to remember that progress against trafficking is rarely linear. Traffickers are constantly adapting their methods, and every country, including the United States, must keep adapting our own strategies to stay ahead of them. We’ve got to identify and acknowledge our own shortcomings and be willing to course correct when needed. The TIP Report can help us do that by laying out the significant steps the United States and other countries must take to fight this crime and protect victims.
In addition to the country data, this year’s report explores a few topics in depth. The first is the impact of COVID-19. In many places, as governments diverted resources to try to control the pandemic and address its secondary impacts, human traffickers seized the opportunity to grow their operations. People who were pushed into dire economic circumstances by the pandemic became more vulnerable to exploitation. And as more people spent hours online for school and work, traffickers used the internet to groom and recruit potential victims.
So the pandemic has had a real impact on this fight. It’s another reason why it’s so important to stop the pandemic as quickly as we can and help communities around the world. The longer it takes, the more people will become vulnerable to trafficking.
We applaud those governments that found ways to step up their work against trafficking even during COVID. For example, in Paraguay, as thousands of citizens abroad sought to return home, the government established temporary quarantine facilities at the border. They asked everyone screening questions, and through those questions they were able to identify nearly 300 victims of human trafficking. That’s nearly four times the average number of victims they had identified in previous years. Then the Paraguayan Government moved those victims to their own dedicated facilities, where they began receiving critical health and social support services right away. It was a brilliant strategy for moving fast to help victims of trafficking when the opportunity presented itself.
Second, this year’s report focuses on state-sponsored human trafficking. We documented 11 countries where the government itself is the trafficker – for example, through forced labor on public work projects or in sectors of the economy that the government feels are particularly important.
For the 10th year in a row, the report documents how the Cuban Government has profited from exploitative overseas medical missions. They send doctors and other medical personnel abroad, fail to inform them of the terms of their contracts, confiscate their documents and salaries, threaten them and their family members when they try to leave.
We also report on what’s happening in Xinjiang, in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China. The Chinese Government has detained more than 1 million people in as many as 1,200 state-run internment camps throughout Xinjiang. Many detainees are subjected to physical violence, sexual abuse, and torture to induce them to work producing apparel, electronics, solar equipment, agricultural products.
And while the practices are the most egregious in Xinjiang, this year’s report notes that China has subjected its citizens to coercive labor practices in other parts of the country as well. The United States has taken measures to stop Chinese goods made with forced labor from making their way into our country. For example, last year, the Departments of State, Commerce, Treasury, and Homeland Security issued a Xinjiang supply chain business advisory to alert U.S. companies of the economic, legal, and reputational exposure to or in connection with operations, supply chains, or laborers from Xinjiang.
We’ll continue to call on our partners around the world to join us in condemning China’s genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang and in taking steps to prevent goods made with forced labor from entering our supply chains. Governments should protect and serve their citizens, not terrorize and subjugate them for profit.
And third, the report explicitly acknowledges the connection between systemic inequality and human trafficking. This is something many countries need to grapple with, including the United States. Part of doing right by our people means taking a hard look at the ways that our history and our policies have created the conditions for crimes like human trafficking, because traffickers prey on those who are vulnerable – those who are less likely to have access to good jobs or educational opportunities, who are less likely to be treated as equal by police or the justice system, and who are less likely to be believed when they report that they’re being targeted or abused.
If we’re serious about ending trafficking in persons, we must also work to root out systemic racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination, and to build a more equitable society in every dimension. These goals go hand in hand. So let’s keep that in mind as we work to build back better from the devastation of the pandemic.
I often talked about how the most urgent challenges facing our world cannot be solved by any one country acting alone. That’s true for stopping COVID, it’s true for dealing with the climate crisis, it’s true for the fight against human trafficking. We need to work together, share information, hold each other accountable. That’s how we’ll create a world where no one is exploited by trafficking and everyone is able to live in safety and in dignity.