Focused look at human trafficking could reveal better data, top US official says

by Ellen Wulfhorst | @EJWulfhorst | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 29 October 2019 23:03 GMT

A victim of forced labor speaks during a Reuters interview in a village at Buthidaung township in northern Rakhine state in Myanmar, June 10, 2015. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

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About 25 million people are estimated to be victims of forced labor, many working in factories or on building sites, farms and fishing boats

By Ellen Wulfhorst

WASHINGTON, Oct 29 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The United States could fight human trafficking effectively with more refined measuring tools which could distinguish young victims from old, or those trapped in domestic jobs from forced farm work, its top anti-trafficking official said on Tuesday.

Ambassador-at-Large John Richmond, speaking after a top-level government anti-trafficking commission meeting, said targeted questions investigating slavery could expose detailed - and possibly more useful - results.

Some 24.9 million people around the world are estimated to be victims of forced labor, working in factories or on building sites, farms and fishing boats, according to the United Nations' International Labour Organization.

The ILO has called the estimate conservative.

Counting and classifying people trapped in slavery in a targeted "industry-specific and geographically restricted" way could refine results, such as distinguishing boys trafficked for sex from adults trafficked into farming, Richmond explained.

"Instead of measuring how much trafficking is there in Kenya, ask the question 'How much forced labor victims are in the domestic workers' industry in metropolitan Nairobi?'" he said by way of example.

Diverse methods of measuring slavery would turn up "a different set of questions, a different set of traffickers, a different set of victims, a different set of coercive means," Richmond said.

"I think we have some room to grow in terms of our ability, in terms of developing good methodologies around how to measure the prevalence of trafficking."

"It would be really helpful as we move forward to figure out ... what programs are actually having an impact."

Richmond, who took up his post at the end of 2018, serves as Ambassador-at-Large and leads the State Department's anti-trafficking office.

He spoke to reporters following a meeting of the President's Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, a cabinet-level group started in 2000.

Top government officials including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reported on progress and plans their departments and agencies have to fight human trafficking.

Many detailed outreach and training efforts, plans to weed out forced labor in supply chains and support programs for survivors.

The U.S. Congress approved an anti-trafficking program in 2017 which it has funded with $75 million so far, with the aim of measuring the prevalence of trafficking, Richmond said.

"My hope is just that more people would do studies and try different methodologies and test them against each other," he said. "I think there are ways that we can improve and work in this area."

An estimated 400,000 people are believed to be trapped in modern slavery in the United States, according to the Global Slavery Index which is published by the human rights group Walk Free Foundation.

(Reporting by Ellen Wulfhorst, Editing by Chris Michaud

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