In a fitting move on the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, President Obama has taken major step forward in the fight against human trafficking, a shameful practice that he calls “modern slavery.” According to the ACLU:
President Obama 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…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.
Some U.S. government contractors providing services to the military have a shameful history of trafficking and forced labor. Thousands of men and women have been victimized. Most come 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
The Atlantic reports that under the new order, companies working for the U.S. government will have to comply with a series of basic conduct requirements, which include:
…prohibitions against using misleading ads about the nature, location, and payment of the work offered; charging employment fees; and destroying, confiscating, or otherwise denying access to identification documents. It also requires contractors to pay return transportation costs for employees traveling to take expatriate jobs, provide housing where appropriate, and to make themselves available to inspectors. And it prohibits contractors from engaging in “procurement of commercial sex acts, or the use of forced labor in the performance of the contract or subcontract.”
The executive order furthers the intent behind the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, which expired in 2011., and it has much in common with a bi-partisan bill making its way through Congress.
Many politicians and human-rights advocacy organizations have praised President Obama’s action—even some Republicans. One of them is Republican rising star U.S. Senator Marco Rubio.
Unfortunately, in today’s highly-charged, anything-Obama-does-is-bad political world, some Republicans are calling President Obama’s humanitarian action a politicization of the issue.
My two coins: People who object to a Presidential effort to end one of the 21st Century’s worst human-rights abuses need to crawl back into the caves they came out of.