Victims of Complacency: The Ongoing Trafficking and Abuse of Third Country Nationals by U.S. Government Contractors

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June 28, 2012

A report released by the ACLU and Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Law Clinic at Yale Law School in June 2012 examines the ongoing trafficking and abuse of Third Country Nationals (“TCNs”), tens of thousands of whom are hired yearly through U.S. Government contracts to work in support of U.S. military and diplomatic missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. This large and diverse civilian workforce, or “army behind the army,” hails primarily from developing countries such as Nepal, India, the Philippines, and Uganda, and performs low-wage but essential services, including construction, security, and food services.

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Although the U.S. Government has adopted a “zero-tolerance” policy against trafficking, TCNs are often subjected to illegal recruitment through deceptive hiring practices, trafficking, forced labor and other labor abuses in violation of U.S. and international anti-trafficking laws. Moreover, the U.S. Government response to this contractor malfeasance hasto-date been wholly inadequate.

In light of these ongoing abuses, this report aims to:

  1. Shed light on the system by which U.S. Government contractors continue to traffic and abuse TCNs, as well as explain in detail how this system operates, whom it benefits, and how it affects TCNs;
  2. Explain how this system violates U.S. and international prohibitions against human trafficking and labor abuse;
  3. Demonstrate that U.S. Government measures to address these problems are failing to prevent contractors from engaging in trafficking and labor abuse; and
  4. Recommend concrete steps the U.S. Government should take in order to eliminate trafficking and abuse from the U.S. contracting industry.

The report offers a number of detailed recommendations for the elimination of trafficking and labor abuses from the U.S. contracting industry including:

  1. Preventing trafficking and labor abuses by encouraging direct hire of TCNs and ensuring all U.S. Government contracts explicitly affirm the U.S. Government’s “zero tolerance” policy against trafficking,as well as guarantee passport access, fair pay and time off, safe and hospitable living conditions, medical care and insurance, regular contact with home and family, and the right of return;
  2. Improving oversight and monitoring of contractors’ compliance with the prohibitions against trafficking and forced labor by conducting regular audits and inspections, implementingformal mechanisms to receive and process reports of trafficking and labor abuse, and investigating reports of abuses; and
  3. Improving enforcement and accountability for trafficking- and labor-rights violations by expanding federal criminal jurisdiction to include all government contractors, prosecuting U.S. contractors who engage in violations of TCN rights under federal criminal law, and imposing stringent penalties on every contractor who engages in or fails to report such abuses.

On July 21, 2011, on behalf of the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project, the ACLU filed a legal complaint to compel the production of government documents relating to the trafficking, forced labor and abusive treatment of Third Country Nationals on U.S. military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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