Administrator Samantha Power at the Annual Meeting of the President’s Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons

Speeches Shim

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

January 25, 2022

Thank you, Secretary Blinken of course, right with our State Department colleagues, our Justice colleagues, all the people we’ve heard from today, it is a whole of government frontline effort more and more. It has been really inspiring—and extra motivating—to hear from so many colleagues and agencies about all that they are doing. And especially to hear the extent to which this work clearly stems from deep personal commitments, as well as the leadership of President Biden and Vice President Harris, which as you noted, Secretary Blinken, also itself follows the leadership in a bipartisan manner now over several decades. 

As many have said today, human trafficking—the second largest criminal industry in the world, after the drug trade—affects 25 million people each year. But today I want to start by talking about one person, who has given us permission to share his story: Saiful Islam. 

Saiful was the youngest of seven children, born to a poor family in Northeast Bangladesh. Despite his modest upbringing, he earned a bachelor’s degree, found temporary work at a rural solar company, and married and had a daughter. But when Saiful’s short-term work contract expired, he was unable to find another job. A local recruiter offered him an attractive job as an electrician in Singapore, with a decent salary. Saiful sold the little land he had inherited to pay the $7,000 for his airfare and fees.

But and we all know where this story goes, when he arrived in Singapore, his world began to unravel. He was told he would work as a mason, not an electrician, for half what he was originally promised. And even that proved a lie—in the end he got no pay and barely enough to eat. After a year of fundraising by his wife, he was finally able to afford a ticket home, having lost his land and his money, and he had no better prospects than he had before. 

Then, he heard about an event sponsored by USAID to counter human trafficking. Through the program, he received counseling for his trauma, but also entrepreneurship training. Soon after, he opened a market stall to sell electronics, bringing in not only enough income to support his family—but enough to create a fund to support other survivors of human trafficking. I use that word very intentionally—survivor.

For decades, the human trafficking community had come to see people who experienced the horrors of forced labor, sexual exploitation, or violence as victims. Through President Biden’s National Action Plan, and USAID’s newly updated Counter Trafficking in Persons Policy, released in December, we have recognized that trafficking survivors need to be leading the change that we seek in the world. 

For 20 years, USAID has contributed to the U.S. government’s global anti-trafficking effort, providing over $340 million in assistance in 83 countries. Our new policy builds on that legacy, and works to empower survivors, creating programs that aren’t just focused on them, but that are led by them. The policy also identifies key priorities that serve to implement the National Action Plan. 

The first is a focus on marginalized populations. As Vice President Harris noted, marginalized populations are frequently the target of human traffickers. By some reports, women and girls account for 99 percent of all victims in the commercial sex industry and 58 percent in other forced labor sectors. Through our global labor initiatives, we are fighting gender-based violence and harassment in workplaces, facilitating stronger female representation in labor organizations and unions, and increasing dignified work opportunities for women and other marginalized populations. 

Second, we are elevating the importance of migration and forced labor that is hidden in the global supply chain as they relate to human trafficking. Others have spoken to this but as our world grows more interconnected, criminal enterprises are taking advantage of these flows—of people and goods—to subject millions to the hell of trafficking. We’re working with global labor leaders to shed light on dark corners of the supply chain, like the cotton trade in Xinjiang or the fishing industry off the coast of Thailand. And we are working to tackle the root causes of migration—like climate shocks, local violence, and a lack of jobs—in order to keep desperate people from making desperate choices to trust their fates to duplicitous criminals.

Finally, we are prioritizing partnerships with local organizations in the countries in which we work—organizations like the one Saiful established—to counter trafficking and protect survivors on the frontlines of this fight. By supporting these local organizations, we can help raise local awareness about trafficking, improve identifications and investigations, and strengthen the data collection and sharing about trafficking that helps others caught up in these criminal networks.   

Today Saiful, in addition to supporting survivors of trafficking financially, also counsels families through visits and phone calls. As he put it, “As long as I am alive, I will try my best to help them.”

I want to thank President Biden and Vice President Harris, and the strong bipartisan support of our allies on Capitol Hill, for their leadership in empowering voices like Saiful’s. And I want to thank all of you for the collective efforts you’re making to end the horror of trafficking.

Thank you so much.

Last updated: May 20, 2022

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