Human Trafficking Sanctions Ineffective

Marshall Thompson 

The Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) is the main U.S. law to combat slave labor and sex slavery.  While most of its provisions appear to be having some positive effects on human trafficking worldwide, a key aspect of it has become little more than a sad joke.  To motivate international cooperation, the law requires the State Department to rank nations based on their anti-trafficking laws. Tier 3 countries, which have taken no actions to stop human trafficking, open themselves up to non-humanitarian sanctions.

At least in theory.

The law gives discretion to the president to provide waivers, if necessary.  This makes sense, to some degree.  Depressed economies create the conditions that support human trafficking.  Withdrawing aid under those circumstances may actually exacerbate the problem.  When the president provides a TVPA waiver to a Tier 3 country, he has to justify it in a memo.  President Obama’s justifications and waiversfollow an already easily recognizable pattern: If we give a country aid, then it gets a waiver. If we don’t give a country aid, then it doesn’t get a waiver.  The result is that a key provision of TVPA is essentially null.

An interesting thing to note is the comparison of waivers and U.S. military aid:

Tier 3 Nations

No Waivers /Partial Waivers               Full Waiver
Burma*                                                              Democratic Republic of Congo
Cuba                                                                   The Dominican Republic
DPRK                                                                 Kuwait
Eritrea                                                                Mauritania
Iran                                                                     Papua New Guinea
Zimbabwe*                                                        Saudi Arabia
*Some partial exceptions for infectious disease, education, and agricultural programs.

No Military Aid                                          Military Aid
Burma                                                                Democratic Republic of Congo ($2.67 million)
Cuba                                                                   The Dominican Republic ($1.15 million)
DPRK                                                                 Kuwait ($2.4 billion)
Eritrea                                                                Mauritania ($20 million—peacekeeping)
Iran                                                                     Papua New Guinea ($300,000)
Zimbabwe                                                          Saudi Arabia ($10 billion)
Sudan ($300,000 million)

It would probably be inaccurate to imply from these groupings that military aid is the main criteria for granting a TVPA waiver.  It’s possible that U.S. foreign aid mainly consists of military aid.  Still, it appears that military aid and foreign military sales makes up at least a part of the rationale for granting the waivers.  To put it another way, if the president granted no waivers, the worldwide defense industry would lose approximately $12,724,000,000 this year alone.

Considering the political and diplomatic barriers to enforcing this provision of the TVPA, it’s probably time to think of a new way to motivate countries to help us fight human trafficking.  Maybe a pizza party?

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