They had been on the State Department’s watch list, but were further downgraded in this years’s Trafficking in Persons report.As a country that will celebrate February 2, 2014 like a national holiday, the United States has cause for some self-evaluation. Super Bowl XLVIII is expected to be responsible for the trafficking of 10,000 prostitutes into New Jersey to meet the influx of fans looking to pay for sex. Yet despite this dark underbelly to one of America’s favorite and most celebrated pastimes, the United States awarded itself a sterling Tier 1 grade in its 2013 Trafficking in Persons report, which was released on June 19.
Less fortunate were China and Russia, both of which were downgraded this year to Tier 3 after a respective nine and eight years on the Tier 2 “watch list.” A Tier 3 designation means a country does not comply with any of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act’s minimum standards and is not making any efforts to do so, whereas a Tier 2 county has made significant efforts to comply with those standards. A Tier 3 ranking also comes with sanctions, which could include withdrawing non-humanitarian and non-trade aid and halting U.S. participation in any cultural and educational exchange programs, though President Obama has the power to waive these sanctions.
Prior to its release, there had been some discussion as to whether Washington’s political and economic agenda would sway the findings of the report. These speculations are grounded in the government’s decision two years ago to save India — “the demographic epicenter of human trafficking” — from a Tier 3 ranking, which, according to former director of the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons Mark Lagon, likely had more to do with politics than anti-trafficking efforts. This year, Secretary of State John Kerry demonstrated a commitment to fighting modern day slavery by standing behind fact and no longer delaying the decision to downgrade several major powers to their deserved ranking.
This is not to say that the Trafficking in Persons Report has been without criticism. Representatives from both Russia and China have been extremely outspoken against their country’s demotions. A Foreign Ministry spokeswoman for China disregarded the State Department’s findings, countering that China “has achieved remarkable progress in fighting domestic and transnational trafficking.” She went on to attribute the Tier 3 ranking to Washington’s arbitrary and biased view of China.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry also dismissed the report, characterizing its findings as the result of “unacceptable methodology.” It continued on to mock the idea of following the dictates of another country in combating organized crime and trafficking in Russia. The report, however, describes Russia as lacking “any concrete system for the identification or care of trafficking victims.”
Russia and China, in addition to other Tier 3 countries, have 90 days before non-trade and non-humanitarian related sanctions come into place to prove their commitment to combat trafficking and protect victims.
Also worth noting is that Thailand, a U.S. treaty ally, and Malaysia were notified that without any significant changes, they would be downgraded next year to Tier 3 as well. Several countries, such as Iraq and the Congo, were promoted from the watch list to Tier 2 as recognition for significant strides made this past year.
Lizzie Rajasingh is an intern at Foreign Policy in Focus.