Human Trafficking is a Scourge that Must be Fought at All Levels

Students across America are taught that slavery ended in the 19th century.  But, sadly, nearly 150 years later, the fight to end this global scourge is far from over.  Today it takes a different form, and we call it by a different name — “human trafficking” — but it is still a horrendous crime and an affront to basic human dignity in the United States and around the world.

President Barack Obama proclaimed January 2015 National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month.  The United States actively works to prosecute traffickers and help victims recover and rebuild their lives and our government has launched major initiatives to help healthcare workers, airline flight crews, and other private sector professionals to better identify and provide assistance to victims of trafficking.

The United States is also working with international partners and faith-based organizations to bolster anti-trafficking efforts across the globe, including in Ethiopia.  We are working with these partners to strengthen protections for trafficking victims, support the development of new tools to prevent and respond to this crime, and increase access to services that help survivors become self-sufficient.

Modern slavery occurs everywhere around the world, and governments, businesses, and consumers are responsible to respond to it.  It is shocking to note that the International Labor Organization (ILO) reports an estimated $150 billion in illegal profits generated by the labor and services of 20 million or more individuals victimized by traffickers.

Addressing human trafficking in supply chains for businesses requires both greater awareness by consumers and new partnerships with private sector leaders.  President Obama notes that “every citizen can take action by speaking up and insisting that the clothes they wear, the food they eat, and the products they buy are made free of forced labor.  Business and non-profit leaders can ensure their supply chains do not exploit individuals in bondage.”

The U.S. government has made efforts to address the roots of human trafficking, in both the United States and many countries around the world.  In Ethiopia, the U.S. government has partnered with World Vision and the Mennonite Economic Development Associates through the Ethiopians Fighting Against Child Exploitation (E-FACE) project to expand educational opportunities for thousands of youth who are considered the most vulnerable to exploitative labor and trafficking.  The project also provides support for families of children also considered at risk of human trafficking.  Just last month I joined Minister of Labor and Social Affairs Abdulfatah Abdullahi Hassan to visit the E-FACE program in southern Ethiopia and learn how it is fighting trafficking.  I came away impressed with how the program exemplifies the shared commitment between the United States and Ethiopia in fighting the scourge of exploitative child labor.

As a sign of our deep commitment to tackling the roots of trafficking, the U.S. government has also partnered with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to conduct the “community conversations” project, which is a grassroots-based approach to preventing human trafficking in Ethiopia.  These “community conversations” empower members of local communities across the country to design effective strategies to combat trafficking and teach their residents how to avoid becoming victims of human trafficking.

Human trafficking and modern-day slavery are problems that unfortunately continue to impact the United States and many of our partners around the globe, including Ethiopia.  We are confident, however, that with our sustained and joint efforts, we can make a real difference in not only fighting the human traffickers, but also in eliminating the root causes of human trafficking.