Co-authored by Concordia's Director of Social Impact, Hanne Dalmut, and Ambassador Paula J. Dobriansky, Senior Fellow, Harvard University JFK Belfer Center and former Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs
Every February 1, since 1948, the United States has celebrated National Freedom Day. The day declared a national holiday by President Truman to honor President Lincoln’s outlawing of slavery, is an opportunity to reflect on how far we’ve come as a country in the past 152 years, and how far we’ve yet to go. With the Trump administration and Congress mapping out bold new foreign and domestic policies, we have an opportunity to make 2017 a successful year in the fight against slavery.
Although slavery was officially outlawed by every nation in 1981, there are over 20 million women, men, and children trapped in modern-day slavery. Many are trafficked for sexual exploitation, while others are put to work in brutal conditions across the seafood, textile, electronic, mining, and other industries. While this problem is most acute abroad, unfortunately, an estimated hundreds of thousands are trafficked into the United States. There is no officially recognized count. U.S. traffickers also engage in drug smuggling, violate immigration laws and commit other crimes. This state of affairs is both morally unacceptable and a law enforcement problem.
The American public is outraged by the existence of human trafficking in the U.S. and our private sector has demonstrated strong leadership in halting trafficking. The private sector is critical to addressing this challenge. According to the 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer, the majority of respondents believe that it is the only body capable of making meaningful change on big issues such as this. But the U.S. government, at both the national and state levels, should also do more. And President Trump has a unique opportunity to parlay his business experience and law compliance focus into a robust anti-slavery strategy.
To start, lawmakers at the national and state levels should pass legislation empowering the government to more effectively address this complicated, transnational challenge. Labor trafficking is not a partisan issue and there are a number of bills currently under consideration on Capitol Hill. The Coordinated Assistance To Catch Human Traffickers Act of 2017, or the Catch Act, which would enable the Department of Homeland Security to establish a national database for human trafficking investigations, provides an excellent starting point. Stiffening penalties for human traffickers is another priority. The U.S. government should continue to invest in technological innovation, utilizing the latest in surveillance and law enforcement technologies to identify and take down human trafficking networks. Both the law enforcement agencies and the intelligence community have to be involved in these efforts.
Finally, the administration should promptly reconvene the Inter-Agency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking to highlight the issue and coordinate government strategy. Bringing together the 15 departments and agencies sitting on the Task Force, under the leadership of the Secretary of State and with the high-profile involvement of the White House, would signal to domestic and international audiences that anti-slavery fight is a priority for this administration.
After 152 years, it’s time for America to take another major step forward in ensuring that slavery is a thing of the past.
This piece is featured in The Huffington Post here.