WASHINGTON – The State Department identified instances of forced labor in garment and cotton production in several countries, including Vietnam and Guatemala, in its annual human trafficking report released on Monday.
The “2015 Trafficking in Persons Report” places countries on different tiers based on a government’s actions to combat human trafficking, which the State Department equates to “modern day slavery.” Being downgraded to Tier 3 can trigger economic and military sanctions against a country.
The goal of the report is not to identify sectors where forced labor is found specifically, but to more broadly prod governments to combat and reduce human trafficking. It provides an assessment of governments’ efforts to comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking in persons, according to U.S. law. Still, in the country narratives, the trafficking report identified industries where forced labor is found, often as a result of human trafficking.
‘When the practice of using forced labor to catch fish, to process meat, to sew clothing, to assemble toys is exposed, then authorities will have a good reason to look at other industries – and consumers will then have cause to question the origins of the global supply chains of what they have chosen to buy and what is placed before them in stores or online,” said Secretary of State John Kerry.
Six countries – Vietnam, Guatemala, Jordan, Chile, Russia and North Korea – were identified as using forced labor in garment production. Forced labor in garment factories in Jordan, which has a free trade agreement with the U.S., was detailed extensively.
“Men and women from throughout Asia migrate to work in factories in Jordan’s garment industry, where some workers experience forced labor,” said the report. “Jordan’s sponsorship system places a significant amount of power in the hands of employers and recruitment agencies, preventing workers from switching employers or receiving adequate access to legal recourse in response to abuse.”
In the case of Vietnam, the second largest supplier of apparel to the U.S., the report said “some children are victims of forced and bonded labor in informal garment and brick factories or urban family homes and privately run rural gold mines.”
In Guatemala, the report said “men, women, and children are subjected to forced labor within the country, often in agriculture or domestic service, and agriculture in the garment industry, small businesses, and domestic service in Mexico, the United States, and other countries.”
Burma and Sri Lanka were identified as sources of migrant labor to other countries where workers often ended up in forced labor in garment production. The report also listed instances of forced labor in cotton production in Uzbekistan, Benin, Cameroon, Kyrgyzstan, Mali, Tajikistan, Togo and Turkmenistan.
The Cotton Campaign, a coalition of human rights organizations, NGOs, trade unions and businesses associations sent a letter to Kerry criticizing the agency’s elevation of Uzbekistan from a Tier 3 country to the Tier 2 Watch list.
“We agree that limited changes have taken place in Uzbekistan, but we do not see how the State Department could conclude that Uzbekistan has made significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with the minimum standards of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act while the country’s government mobilized more than a million of its own citizens to harvest cotton in 2014 and began this year by mobilizing thousands more to prepare the fields for the upcoming harvest,” the group said.
The report also generated controversy with the elevation of Malaysia, which is taking part in the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations, from a Tier 3 to Tier 2 Watch List country. Critics claimed the move was made so that Malaysia could remain part of TPP and charge there is little evidence that it has made strides to reduce human trafficking. But the report said Malaysia has made progress in its anti-trafficking efforts, though it does still not meet minimum standards.