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WASHINGTON – President Obama today signed an executive order that would give better protections to vulnerable workers at U.S. military and diplomatic missions who are employed by government contractors.
The order, announced in conjunction with the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, lays out new requirements for U.S. government contractors and their subcontractors operating overseas to prevent human trafficking and forced labor. It prohibits contractors and subcontractors from charging recruitment fees and requires prime contractors to take responsibility for ensuring that their subcontractors are not engaging in trafficking or forced labor. It also mandates the creation of new guidance and training for contract officers responsible for enforcing the new anti-trafficking provisions.
“This executive order is a huge step forward in the fight against human trafficking,” said Devon Chaffee, ACLU legislative counsel. “This modern-day slavery has no place in our society and certainly no place in contracts funded by U.S. government.”
For many years, U.S. government contractors providing services to the military have engaged in the trafficking and forced labor of reportedly thousands of men and women from low-wage countries such as Nepal, India and the Philippines. Recruited from impoverished villages, they are charged exorbitant recruitment fees, often lied to about what country they will be taken to and how much they will be paid. Many are left with no choice but to live and work in unacceptable and unsafe conditions serving as security personnel, cooks, janitors, cleaners and construction workers on U.S. military bases and embassies in Afghanistan and Iraq.
”Today’s executive order will help ensure that workers who provide valuable services to our troops and embassies are not trafficked or forced into indentured servitude on the taxpayer’s dime,” said Steven Watt, ACLU senior staff attorney. “The order brings the U.S. government a step closer to realizing its often touted zero-tolerance policy on human trafficking.”
Last month, the ACLU released a joint report with Yale Law School, Victims of Complacency, which documents the ongoing trafficking, forced labor and abuse of these workers. The report made a number of recommendations, some of which are effectively implemented by the executive order signed today. There is also legislation pending in Congress, the End Trafficking in Government Contracting Act, aimed at ending trafficking and forced labor under U.S. government contracts.