WASHINGTON (BP) -- President Obama has issued an executive order to strengthen the United States' zero-tolerance policy against human trafficking through government contractors and organizations.
"As the largest single purchaser of goods and services in the world, the United States Government bears a responsibility to ensure that taxpayer dollars do not contribute to trafficking in persons," Obama wrote in the order. "This order will help to protect vulnerable individuals as contractors and subcontractors perform vital services and manufacture the goods procured by the United States."
The executive order will provide better tools and training for detecting traffickers and increase resources for trafficked victims, according to the White House. The order forbids federal contractors from using "misleading or fraudulent recruitment practices during recruitment of employees" including, for example, recruitment fees and the destruction or confiscation of an employee's identity documents such as a passport and driver's license. All contractors are required to provide more information about their foreign employees and must submit a compliance plan if their foreign services exceed $500,000.
Barrett Duke, a Southern Baptist ethics leader, expressed appreciation for Obama's desire to end human trafficking and acknowledged the order would help combat labor trafficking, but he said it would "do little to impact sex trafficking."
"While his order mentions the issue of commercial sex, it addresses it within the context of unfair or coercive labor practices in the procurement of government services," said Duke, vice president for public policy and research of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. "Very little, if any, of the horrific worldwide business of sex trafficking is associated with our government's day-to-day business dealings with contractors.
"The president's executive order is principally about labor trafficking, not sex trafficking. ... I grieve for the hundreds of thousands of children and young women around the world, including here in the United States, whose lives are being stolen from them by those who engage in the vilest form of slavery that is sex trafficking. Our country can and should do more on this front as well," Duke said.
Obama, on Sept. 25, said he has "made it clear that the United States will continue to be a leader in this global movement." Speaking at a Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) meeting in New York City the same day he issued the order, the president said, "We've got a comprehensive strategy. We're shining a spotlight on the dark corners where it persists."
Human trafficking is the world's second largest criminal industry, enslaving an estimated 20 million-plus people throughout the world. It also is prevalent in the United States, with an estimated 14,500 to 17,500 individuals trafficked into the country annually, in addition to Americans who become trafficking victims. About 80 percent are women and children.
"It is barbaric and it is evil and it has no place in a civilized world," Obama said at the CGI meeting.
International Justice Mission (IJM), a leading abolitionist group, had presented the White House with 73,000 signatures in June on a petition calling on Obama to "eliminate slavery in the U.S. supply chain." The president's order is exactly what its petition called for and was "a top IJM priority," Holly Bukhalter, vice president of government relations, said in a written statement.
"I am gratified to see the White House engage on slavery eradication in a way they have not done before. ... Slavery eradication is a priority for the American people across the political spectrum and Members and Senators from both parties have been active in developing the anti-trafficking policy and legislation," Bukhalter said.
The president's directive also encourages the faith-based community to continue leading the battle against human trafficking and raising awareness about it. The President's Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships will look for ways to partner with faith-based groups in focusing on sex trafficking in their communities.
The president's offer of partnership conflicts, however, with an action by his administration, said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council. Just last year, the Obama administration eliminated funding to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), which operated the largest trafficking victim support program in the country and has helped more than 2,700 victims. The Department of Health and Human Services refused to renew a grant to the USCCB because the bishops don't agree with the department's "abortion first" mindset, Perkins said.
"Unfortunately, the Obama administration is so intent on promoting abortion that it will step on trafficking victims to protect it," Perkins said.
Anne Reiner is an intern with the Washington bureau of Baptist Press.
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