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Bill to Stop Modern Day Slavery under Government Contracts

By Devon Chaffee, Legislative Policy Counsel, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 12:44pm

Last month the ACLU released a joint report with Yale Law School, Victims of Complacency, that documents the ongoing trafficking, forced labor and abuse of foreign workers hired through U.S. government contracts to work in support of U.S. military and diplomatic missions abroad. Recruited from impoverished villages in countries such as India, Nepal and the Philippines, these men and women – known as Third Country Nationals – are charged exorbitant recruitment fees, lied to about what country they will be taken to and how much they will be paid, and often have no choice but to live and work in unacceptable and unsafe conditions.  These abuses amount to modern day slavery; all on the U.S. tax payers’ dime. Now members of Congress want to act to ensure that federal funds are no longer facilitating such exploitative, abusive and illegal practices.  

To help put an end to this trafficking and forced labor under contracts funded by the federal government, Senator Richard Blumenthal (D- CT) and Representative James Lankford (R-OK)) have introduced the End Trafficking in Government Contracting Act of 2012. The bill has strong bi-partisan support in both the House and the Senate. This means that even during an election year with heightened partisan tensions in Congress, the bill is one of a handful of measures that has a good chance of becoming law. Recently, the Republican-controlled House adopted the provision—without opposition—as an amendment to a larger defense authorization bill.   

The End Trafficking in Government Contracting Act of 2012 will significantly increase oversight and accountability for employee recruitment under U.S. government contracts preformed abroad.  Currently many large U.S.-based government contractors refuse to take responsibility for the recruitment policies of their subcontractors that hire recruiters which in turn use fraudulent and illegal hiring practices to increase their profits. The End Trafficking in Government Contracting Act of 2012 works to address this issue by requiring all U.S. government contractors performing a substantial amount of their contract overseas to ensure that their subcontractors and the recruitment agencies they use comply with U.S. anti-trafficking laws, policies and practices. The bill also increases accountability by increasing reporting requirements and extending criminal prohibitions against fraudulent labor practices, including trafficking and forced labor, to contractors and subcontractors working overseas.

The Obama administration has long had a “zero tolerance” policy against human trafficking based on U.S. government contracts, but to date that policy has not been effectively implemented.  As documented in “Victims of Complacency” and numerous other government and non-governmental reports, hundreds of men and women have been trafficked on to U.S. military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan where they have been subjected to forced labor and other abusive treatment by U.S. government contractors and sub-contractors.  Yet, our government has failed to fully investigate these allegations; nor has it prosecuted or taken administrative action against a single contractor for involvement in such abuses. The End Trafficking in Government Contracting Act of 2012 is an important step towards making “zero tolerance” a reality, and to bringing an end to an unacceptable chain of profits based on trafficking, forced labor and taxpayer dollars.

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