Photos by Paul Morse for the Clinton Global Initiative
President Barack Obama has denounced human trafficking calling it by “its true name: modern slavery.” Speaking to the crowd gathered at the 2012 Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting in New York City on Tuesday, Obama outlined new steps to combat the exploitation of men, women, and children both at home and abroad. “Now, I do not use that word, ‘slavery,” lightly,” he said, noting that it evoked a painful chapter in America’s history. Nevertheless, the global community needs to ramp up efforts to help the more than 20 million victims of human trafficking worldwide and put a stop to this “awful injustice” and “debasement of our common humanity,” he added.
Forced labor, the president said, is barbaric and has “no place in a civilized world.” Slavery, he observed, can take many forms today. “When a man, desperate for work, finds himself in a factory or on a fishing boat or in a field, working, toiling, for little or no pay, and beaten if he tries to escape—that is slavery,” he said. “When a woman is locked in a sweatshop, or trapped in a home as a domestic servant, alone and abused and incapable of leaving—that’s slavery. When a little boy is kidnapped, turned into a child soldier, forced to kill or be killed—that’s slavery. When a little girl is sold by her impoverished family—girls my daughters’ age—runs away from home, or is lured by the false promises of a better life, and then imprisoned in a brothel and tortured if she resists—that’s slavery.”
Forced labor, the president said, is barbaric and has “no place in a civilized world.”
Obama used to speech to affirm the United States’ role in dismantling known human-trafficking networks and “shining a spotlight on the dark corners where it persists.” He made mention of the government’s “comprehensive” strategy, referring to its annual trafficking report (which includes the United States for the first time), new outreach and partnerships with the international community, and renewed sanctions on some of the worst abusers, including North Korea and Eritrea.
“We’re partnering with groups that help women and children escape from the grip of their abusers,” he said. “We’re helping other countries step up their own efforts. And we’re seeing results. More nations have passed and more are enforcing modern anti-trafficking laws.”
The White House has taken steps to ensure that its contractors and sub-contractors don’t engage in forced labor.
Leading by example, the White House, one of the largest purchasers of goods and services in the world, has also taken steps to ensure that its contractors and sub-contractors don’t engage in forced labor. “I’ve signed a new executive order that raises the bar,” Obama added. “It’s specific about the prohibitions. It does more to protect workers. It ensures stronger compliance. In short, we’re making clear that American tax dollars must never, ever be used to support the trafficking of human beings. We will have zero tolerance. We mean what we say. We will enforce it.”
He also called for Congress to renew the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. “Whether you are a conservative or a liberal, Democrat or Republican, this is a no-brainer,” he said. “This is something we should all agree on. We need to get that done.”