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Strengthen preventative measures for victims of forced labour, UN expert tells United States

UN Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, Maria Grazia Giammarinaro.
UN Photo/Evan Schneider
UN Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, Maria Grazia Giammarinaro.

Strengthen preventative measures for victims of forced labour, UN expert tells United States

Following an official visit to the United States, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons is calling for improvements to legislation and additional resources to combat cases of forced labour and labour exploitation.

Maria Grazia Giammarinaro noted that while the United States has made great strides in combatting trafficking among persons who are forced into sexual slavery, mechanisms were lacking among those who are trafficked for labour exploitation and domestic servitude.

“In order to identify trafficking and protect trafficked persons’ rights, it is necessary to adopt a preventive approach and minimize vulnerabilities of people exposed to trafficking, especially undocumented migrants,” Ms. Giammarinaro said.

“For example, the temporary visa for migrant workers, in agriculture or other sectors, which ties every worker to a particular employer, exposes them to the risk of exploitation and trafficking, as they are prevented from denouncing exploitation for fear of losing their job or their residence status,” she explained.

The Special Rapporteur’s report follows her visit to victims, officials, and representatives from civil society and businesses during a nine day visit to Washington D.C., New York, California, and Texas. According to data from 2015, 75 per cent of reported trafficking cases within the US are related to sex trafficking, 13 per cent to labour trafficking, three per cent sex and labour, and nine per cent unspecified.

She noted that women and girls, migrant workers and unaccompanied children, runaway youth, Native Americans, LGBTI individuals, and domestic workers are especially at risk. Both American citizens and foreign nationals – predominantly from Central America and South East Asia – are trafficked within and into the US.

The expert urged the incoming administration to continue to support important legislation such as the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000 and the recent Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2014. She noted, however, that authorities continue to arrest people who engage in prostitution, despite the fact that many of those people are victims of trafficking.

“The fear of prosecution, detention, and expulsion is a major obstacle for trafficked persons who want to report their traffickers and exploiters,” she warned.

She also called for the each state in the country to ban the detention of children and to pass safe harbour laws to protect children who are sexually exploited from prosecution and detention. In some states, she noted, there are not enough shelters or services for victims and there is a lack of consistency between anti-trafficking laws and immigration policy.

“Walls, fences, and laws criminalizing irregular migration do not prevent human trafficking,” the Special Rapporteur stated. “On the contrary, they increase the vulnerabilities of people fleeing conflict, persecution, crisis situations, and extreme poverty, who can fall easy prey to traffickers and exploiters.”

Instead, she advises that applications for immigration relief for people who are trafficked be expedited and that such people are authorized to work as they await a final decision.

Independent experts and Special Rapporteurs are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a specific human rights theme or a country situation. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.