WASHINGTON DC – In remarks on the Senate floor, Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) announced the inclusion of a critical anti-human trafficking amendment to the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) legislation being considered by the full Senate.
After negotiations brokered by Menendez and Senate Finance Committee Ranking member Ron Wyden (D-OR), and consultations with major Human Rights groups, the two Senators said they are introducing an amendment that would prohibit expedited consideration of trade agreements with countries ranked with the worst human trafficking records in the State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP). Additionally, the modified language directs the Secretary of State to submit a waiver to the appropriate congressional committees – Foreign Relations, Finance, Ways & Means, and Foreign Affairs – for Tier 3 countries if they have taken “concrete actions to implement the principal recommendations in the most recent TIP report.” To ensure transparency, this narrow exception must also be made public and contain a description of the concrete actions taken by said country.
Below are Senator Menendez’s remarks as prepared for delivery:
“M. President, I rise today on behalf of the thousands and thousands of men, women, and children around the world who are the victims of human trafficking. I rise in their defense, on their behalf, and in the interest of responsible trade policy that recognizes that there can be no reward to nations who ignore the problem and do nothing to end the scourge of what amounts to modern day slavery – one of the greatest moral challenges of our time.
“After negotiations with the White House, USTR, and my colleagues on the Finance Committee, Senator Wyden and I are introducing an amendment to the trade bill to make sure that any Tier-Three-rated nation hoping to benefit from the Trans Pacific Partnership will have to address the problem of human trafficking in their countries. They will have to make concrete efforts to meet the standards stipulated in the Trafficking Victims Protection Act or they will not have the benefit of privileged, fast-track access to our markets – Period!
“This modification – to my original amendment – allows for a narrow exception – not just a waiver, as we do with most of our restrictions on the executive branch. This exception may apply only to a country that has been certified by the State Department as having taken, and I quote: ‘concrete actions . . . to implement the principal recommendations’ of the Trafficking in Persons Report.
“That has real meaning – those recommendations are the roadmap we layout for countries to move from Tier 3.
“This is an historic change to the nature of trade agreements now and in the future. For the first time, we have – on the Senate floor – trade promotion authority that says we cannot provide fast track for a trade deal with countries that have done nothing to stem the tide of human trafficking. For the first time, we have an amendment in a major bill that would impose real consequences – real repercussions – for turning a blind-eye to recruiting, harboring, transporting, providing, or obtaining a person for compelled labor or commercial sex acts through the use of force, fraud, or coercion.
“For the first time, we have given teeth to State Department’s TIP Report and will hold nations accountable for their inaction. While the report has provided us with important information, it has relied on moral authority but has had no real-world impact on real-world suffering.
“Now, should this bill pass and be signed into law, at least we will not reward nations with the worst record on reigning-in human traffickers with the benefits of a fast-track to American markets.
“My mother was a seamstress in Northern New Jersey. No one worked harder. She came home tired but she came home to her family and was proud of her work. Not held hostage by her employers, forced to hand over her salary, her passport or worse.
“Thanks to the hard work of the community of advocates against trafficking, and the commitment of my colleagues on the Committee, the No Fast Track for Human Traffickers amendment is in the legislation we are debating on the floor.
“I understand there were those who would prefer to see this amendment disappear, but, just like those it protects who are suffering around the world, it will be alive in every trade agreement now and in the future.
“This amendment says that we will not be silenced. We will not be bowed because some want free trade at any cost – at any human cost – even if it means letting those nations that our own State Department has determined to be negligent, at best, in dealing with the scourge of human trafficking in their countries.
“This amendment speaks volumes about how we approach trade, how we approach the concept of fast-track policy. We – Congress – set the terms that shape fast-track negotiations… not the other way around.
“Before any country gains access to U.S. markets they must show that they have taken meaningful steps to eliminate human trafficking – or there will be no fast-track – not for Tier 3 nations at the bottom of the State Department list.
“As Benjamin Franklin said – ‘Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.’ Well, let us be outraged and make sure this amendment remains a key element of American trade policy.
“I want to thank Senator Wyden for helping to develop compromise language that has preserved the full-intent of the amendment. And I want to thank all of the human rights and trafficking groups who have come forward, worked hard, helped draw attention to the problem, and provided a new public mechanism to hold the this Administration – or any Administration – accountable for their efforts to end human trafficking around the world – and not reward the very worst human traffickers with access to our markets.
“M. President, this is a victory for those fighting the scourge of human trafficking. Fast-track is no longer a given no matter what a nation’s record is on how it deals with those who would traffic in human beings for profit.
“This amendment is for all those who have been subjected to sexual exploitation, forced labor, forced marriage, debt-bondage, and the sale and exploitation of children around the world. It’s for the world’s 50 million refugees and displaced people – the largest number since World War II, many of whom are targets of traffickers...
“It’s for the 36 million women, and 5 million children around subjected to involuntary labor or sexual exploitation. For the victims of these crimes, the term ‘modern slavery’ more starkly describes what is happening around the world, and – sadly – what is happening in our backyard – too often in the nail salons in our neighborhoods.
“I will continue to fight against human trafficking in all its forms. All of us must remain vigilant – constantly aware that the cost of human trafficking is not just far away -- across the ocean in a distant country. It’s moral crisis of international proportions that has reached our shores -- right here in our own backyard.
“Again, let me thank Senator Wyden for his efforts, to my colleagues for voted for my amendment in the Finance Committee, and most importantly, let me thank all of the human rights groups who have worked closely with me to ensure that we do not reward nations with the worst record on addressing human trafficking with fast-track access to our markets.
“Let all those who are suffering around the world at the hands of traffickers be the face of any future trade agreements.”