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UN expert calls for continued efforts against trafficking in persons in the US, with a stronger focus on labor exploitation

GENEVA (20 December 2016) – At the end of her first official visit* to the United States of America, the Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, Maria Grazia Giammarinaro, called for more effective action to detect cases of trafficking for forced labor and labor exploitation and to provide workers with remedies, including compensation.

The United States does have an impressive number of laws and initiatives to prevent and combat trafficking in persons says Special Rapporteur Giammarinaro, including the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000, which has been re-authorized and amended four times. “This is an indication of the ongoing commitment to address emerging forms of trafficking in persons, and adopt a victim centered approach,” the human rights expert said. She also acknowledged the recent Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2014, which further strengthens the role of survivors to provide strategic advice to the Government. “I urge the new administration to ensure that this important endeavor continues”.

While the U.S.’s anti-trafficking action has mostly focused on trafficking for sexual exploitation, the Special Rapporteur calls for a coordinated approach to improve proactive responses to better protect vulnerable populations and to detect situations of trafficking for labor exploitation, forced and organized begging and trafficking for organ removal.

“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 the agriculture or in 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.”

Prevention must also be strengthened, particularly in relation to labor trafficking in the supply chains. “I praise the government for its zero tolerance policy against trafficking for labour exploitation in relation to public acquisitions in federal contracts. I also note that considerable efforts will now be required to implement and enforce these measures,” she said.

Regarding trafficking for sexual exploitation, she urges the competent authorities to stop the practice of arresting persons engaging in prostitution – especially women, girls and LGBTI. “They are potential victims of trafficking. However, the fear of prosecution, detention and expulsion is a major obstacle for trafficked persons who want to report their traffickers and exploiters,” she warned.

Ms. Giammarinaro also said it is imperative to ban the detention of children.“In particular, I urge States that have not yet done so, to pass ‘safe harbour’ laws so that sexually exploited children are protected from prosecution and detention”

“I am concerned that in some states there is a shortage of shelters and services for victims. I call for increased funding to non-profit organizations and public agencies that provide services to victims, especially long term housing solutions.”

The need for consistency between anti-trafficking and immigration policy is also crucial stresses Ms Giammarinaro. “Walls, fences and laws criminalizing irregular migration do not prevent human trafficking,” she said.  “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.”

The Special Rapporteur said trafficked persons’ applications for immigration relief -  which enables them to regularize their status should be sped  up and claimants must be able to work while they awaiting a final decision.

“This will have a powerful impact on the process of regaining ownership of their lives, their sense of independence and freedom and their economic empowerment,” Ms. Giammarinaro said.

Figures for 2015 show that 75% of reported cases within the US were related to sex trafficking, 13% labor trafficking, 3% sex and labor trafficking and 9% not specified. Women and girls, migrant workers, unaccompanied and separated children, people fleeing conflict, young people running away from home, Native Americans, people from the LGBTI community and domestic workers - including those in diplomatic households - are at particular risk for labour and sex trafficking.

During her nine-day visit, the expert travelled to Washington DC, New York, California and Texas, where she met with victims, officials at Federal, State and local levels, representatives from civil society and businesses. 

(*) Read the Special Rapporteur’s end-of-mission statement: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=21049&LangID=E  

Ms. Maria Grazia Giammarinaro (Italy) was appointed as Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children by the UN Human Rights Council in June 2014. She has been a Judge since 1991 and currently serves as a Judge at the Civil Court of Rome. She was the Special Representative and Co-ordinator for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings of the OSCE, and served in the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Justice, Freedom and Security in Brussels, where she was responsible for combating human trafficking and sexual exploitation of children. Ms. Giammarinaro drafted the EU Directive on preventing and combating trafficking in human beings and protecting its victims. Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Trafficking/Pages/TraffickingIndex.aspx

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

UN Human Rights, country page – United States:  http://www.ohchr.org/EN/countries/LACRegion/Pages/USIndex.aspx

For more information and media inquiries, please contact Selma Vadala (+41 22 917 9108 / svadala@ohchr.org), Thibaut Guillet (+41 22 917 9674 / tguillet@ohchr.org) or write to srtrafficking@ohchr.org.

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