About the Author: Ambassador Mark P. Lagon is Senior Advisor to the Secretary of State and Director of the U.S. Department of State’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. Ambassador Lagon's previous post: Human Trafficking: The Basics.
In every country around the world, including the United States, there is human trafficking. Men, women, and children are held in domestic servitude, exploited for commercial sex, forcibly recruited as child soldiers, or abused in factories and sweatshops. These forms of human trafficking are, in fact, modern-day slavery, and I have the privilege in my role as director of the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons to draw attention to their plight and work toward abolition.
This year, America commemorates the bicentennial of the outlawing of the transatlantic slave trade. The same lie which underpinned the transatlantic slave trade of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, namely that some people are less than human, is the very lie that fuels human trafficking.
Consider the treatment of Nirmala Bonat, an Indonesian maid who has relentlessly pursued justice in Malaysian courts for nearly four years since being brutally beaten and burned on her breast with an iron in 2004 by her Malaysian employer, for which the employer faces criminal charges. Despite having to stay in Kuala Lumpur – where she is sheltered by the Indonesian Embassy – to continue with court proceedings and being humiliated in court on many occasions, she has stood her ground, refusing to go home and give up her case. In doing so, she has become an inspiration worldwide for abused trafficking victims seeking to claim their rights. She is a hero in our 2008 Trafficking in Persons Report, which I joined Secretary Rice in releasing last week. This report raises awareness and stimulates action to address this crime. It is an invaluable tool in drawing the world’s attention to the existence of modern-day slavery.
Those who commit or facilitate the crime of trafficking in persons—including fraudulent recruiters, exploitative employers, and corrupt government officials—must be held to account.
This year’s report highlights the issue of demand, and the role it plays in perpetuating the phenomenon of trafficking. So-called “customers” of the “sex industry” must realize how the demand for commercial sex can directly or indirectly fuel sex trafficking. With respect to the forced labor side of trafficking, companies can play an important role by working to ensure that the products they provide for consumers are not derived wholly or in part from forced labor. Consumers need to be aware of the tainting of production chains with this modern-day slavery.
As we continue to shed light on emerging global trends for trafficking in persons, we are steadfast in support for countries willing to partner with us in this global fight. We remain committed to act as a voice for the many voiceless victims of this crime—the prostituted woman or child, the exploited domestic worker, the trapped agricultural laborer. Their bondage demands our attention and action. Let us together restore the human dignity of all those affected by this dehumanizing and horrific crime.