U.S. State Department Fails to Hold Countries Accountable for Human Trafficking

For release: July 27, 2015

Contact: Tania Stewart
[email protected], 202-478-6174

Malaysia Upgrade Discredits Integrity of Report, says ATEST

Washington, D.C. – The Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking (ATEST) criticized Secretary of State John F. Kerry’s decision to upgrade Malaysia in the State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report, released today, in light of the country’s failure to meaningfully address human trafficking.

The TIP Report ranks governments worldwide, including the United States, into one of three tiers based on their efforts to combat and prevent human trafficking, forced labor and other forms of modern slavery. Many countries have improved their efforts to fight human trafficking to avoid the lowest ranking of Tier 3 and accompanying sanctions.

“The decision to upgrade Malaysia lacks credibility. Thousands of trafficked men, women and children are in dire jeopardy each day,” said Melysa Sperber, director of the Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking (ATEST), a coalition of 14 U.S.-based human rights organizations. “Allowing political interests to influence how governments are held accountable for this horrendous crime calls into question both the TIP Report’s integrity and the United States’ commitment to preventing human trafficking.”

The Obama administration is currently considering a trade agreement with Pacific Rim countries. Advocates feared Thailand and Malaysia, two countries that were rightly downgraded to Tier 3 last year, would receive a “pass” and upgrade to Tier 2 due to trade negotiations. Despite a lack of progress in combating sex and labor trafficking, as required by Tier 2 countries, Malaysia was upgraded to the Tier 2 Watch List in this year’s report. Thailand received a Tier 3 ranking.

“We are incredibly disappointed by the State Department’s decision to unfairly upgrade Malaysia in this year’s Trafficking in Persons report,” said Sperber. “Downgraded just last year, Malaysia demonstrated virtually no progress in addressing major human rights violations. In fact, more egregious incidents of forced labor, mass graves and slave camps have emerged in recent months. It’s a blemish on President Obama’s legacy that he chose to promote trade over human rights.”

The United States received a top Tier 1 ranking for the sixth consecutive year, but with recent news exposing forced labor in industries like agriculture and nail salons, the U.S. must explore and implement new methods to ensure that American supply chains are not susceptible to human trafficking and rights abuses.

“The United States cannot expect others to clean up their act without taking meaningful action to prevent trafficking right here at home,” said Sperber. “We must show leadership and ensure that the goods and services Americans use are not tainted with slavery, that migrant workers are not deceived into exploitative jobs and saddled with debt, and that our most vulnerable communities are protected from traffickers.”

ATEST is calling on the U.S. government to:

  • Increase transparency and accountability in supply chains. Enact and enforce policies aimed at the supply chains of companies doing business in the United States and of the U.S. government itself. This means effectively implementing President Obama’s Strengthening Protections Against Trafficking in Persons in Federal Contracts executive order, and enacting federal supply chain transparency legislation;
  • Enact foreign labor recruitment legislation. Tighten foreign labor recruitment regulations, making them consistent across visa categories, and eliminate recruitment fees that can lead to debt bondage and other forms of human trafficking;
  • Protect runaway and homeless teens at risk of trafficking. Pass the Runaway and Homeless Youth and Trafficking Prevention Act, which provides housing and other critical services that prevent vulnerable youth from being preyed upon by traffickers;
  • Fund anti-trafficking efforts. Adequate funding that is on par with the scale and reach of the problem is critical to combating human trafficking and providing long-term services to survivors.

ATEST also expressed concern over Cambodia maintaining its rank on the Tier 2 Watch List. Over the past dozen years, the State Department’s TIP Report has been an important source of political pressure on Cambodia to address what was once one of the worst situations of young child sexual exploitation in the world. However, data shows that there has been a sea change with regard to the prevalence of young children available for commercial sexual exploitation in Cambodia. Despite this progress, there are still significant gaps in Cambodia’s human rights practices. We hope the Cambodian government will apply the same model used to effectively combat child sex trafficking in order to address the significant labor trafficking situation in the country over the coming year and that next year the TIP report will reflect the changes made to address both sex trafficking and labor trafficking.

Several ATEST members weighed in on the release of the 2015 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report:

“Slaves are not bargaining chips to be exchanged for profitable trade or other benefits. Fact-based TIP rankings demonstrably provoke progress by negligent or complicit governments. Rankings must remain untrammeled by considerations other than the vigor of government efforts to eradicate slavery. As friends of the State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Office, we urge that the TIP Report consistently reflect its values and record of professionalism.” — Maurice Middleberg, Executive Director, Free the Slaves

“The State Department’s Trafficking in Persons report illustrates the long road ahead in our efforts to eradicate modern slavery in the United States and around the world. We are disappointed to see countries like Malaysia upgraded in the report’s rankings in order to expand trade relations. Upgrades like this seriously weaken the U.S. government’s credibility as it works to defend the rights of millions of people suffering from forced labor, debt bondage, and sexual exploitation around the world.” –Bradley Myles, CEO, Polaris

“Right now, in America many youth are without a place to call home. Homelessness leaves young people unprotected, lacking essentials to survive, and extremely vulnerable to sex and labor trafficking. For the U.S. to truly be a world leader in ending human trafficking, U.S. Congress must act with urgency to pass the Runaway and Homeless Youth and Trafficking Prevention Act to provide housing and safety to the most vulnerable young people in America. Homeless youth programs have wait lists. Pimps and traffickers don’t.” –Darla Bardine, Executive Director, National Network for Youth

“As a sponsor of California’s Transparency in Supply Chains Act, we are very pleased to see the issue of supply chain transparency highlighted in this year’s TIP report. Survivors of forced labor we serve worked tirelessly to advocate for this cutting-edge law. Greater accountability and close collaboration between corporate social responsibility programs and NGOs working on anti-trafficking initiatives will advance the movement to end human trafficking and forced labor.” –Kay Buck, CEO of LA-based Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking.

“The Trafficking in Persons Report presents an important opportunity to examine prevention and protection strategies throughout the world on combatting human trafficking, particularly the exploitation of domestic workers spanning across international borders. But the work is not over. Here in the U.S., domestic workers leading the Beyond Survival Campaign will continue to urge the U.S. government to improve mechanisms to educate workers about their rights and ensure meaningful access to justice, safety and legal protections, and hold countries and their diplomats accountable for abuses against domestic workers.” –Sameera Hafiz, advocacy director, National Domestic Workers Alliance.


The Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking (ATEST) is a U.S. based coalition that advocates for solutions to prevent and end all forms of human trafficking and modern slavery around the world. ATEST member organizations include: Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST), Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), ECPAT-USA, Free the Slaves, Futures Without Violence (FUTURES), International Justice Mission, National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA), National Network for Youth (NN4Y), Polaris, Safe Horizon, Solidarity Center, Verité, Vital Voices Global Partnership, and World Vision. ATEST is a project of Humanity United.