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John Kerry Remarks at the Release of the 2014 Trafficking in Persons Report

June 23, 2014 · 


John Kerry
Secretary of State
Ben Franklin Room
Washington, DC
June 20, 2014

SECRETARY KERRY: Ambassador Lou CdeBaca, thank you very, very much.
Thank you for your leadership, primarily. You're a visionary on this
and a relentless advocate on behalf of human rights. We are all
deeply grateful to you for your leadership. And Sarah Sewall, thank
you for your leadership and for being part of this great effort.

And thank you all for being here. This is an assembly of people who
have come here out of concern, a group of advocates, many of you part
of law enforcement, many of you members of NGOs, advocacy groups,
human rights activists - all of you deeply concerned. And I want to
emphasize this report, the Trafficking In Persons Report, June 2014,
this is not just a book, it's not just a report filled with stories
that will touch you. This is a call to action. It's a call to
conscience. It is a reminder of what happens in many dark places that
need light. And we have a responsibility to try to bring that light
to these individuals and to these places.

I'm very grateful to the heroes who are here. You'll hear in a little
bit about each of them as we hand out the awards. Their stories are
inspiring. I'm very grateful also to all of our distinguished guests
from the diplomatic corps, a number of ambassadors here. We are very,
very grateful to them for coming. In fact, all of you are a testimony
to the fact that trafficking in persons is one of those rare issues
that could bring everybody together, whatever their politics or their
ideology. I'm particularly grateful that one of the strongest
advocates in the United States Congress, Congressman Chris Smith, is
here and I thank him for his presence as well as for his leadership.

If the cries of those who are enslaved around the world today were an
earthquake, then the tremors would be felt in every single nation on
the continent on every continent simultaneously. For years, we have
known that this crime affects every country in the world, including
ours. We're not exempt. More than 20 million people, a conservative
estimate, are victims of human trafficking. And the United States is
the first to acknowledge that no government anywhere yet is doing
enough. We're trying. Some aren't trying enough. Others are trying
hard. And we all need to try harder and do more.

At our last meeting of our all of government, President Obama has
charged us with the responsibility of creating an all-of-government
response. So when we sit down on this, every single Cabinet officer
who has a responsibility, whether it's DHS, Department of Justice,
they're all there, all coordinating. And I, as the chair, instructed
this year that none of us should travel anywhere in the world and
fail to raise this issue with our interlocutors, no matter what
meetings, no matter where we are. This has to be on the agenda.

Whether it is a young girl trapped in a brothel or a woman enslaved
as a domestic worker or a boy forced to sell himself on the street or
a man abused on a fishing boat, the victims of these crimes all have
names, all had families. And they each have been robbed of the right
to lead their lives the way that they might choose to for themselves.
All of us in this room are really all too aware that there's perhaps
no greater threat to human dignity and no greater assault on basic
freedom than the evil of human trafficking, which is - as Sarah and
Lou have said, this is a form - not a form - it is slavery, even in
the 21st century. Now, I know that sometimes it's difficult to see
how or where somebody might be able to make a difference, but nothing
should give us more hope than the courage of those who stand up and
say loudly and clearly: We're going to stop this. No more, never

So let me begin by thanking Under Secretary Sewall. Because time and
again, Sarah has proven that when all the instruments of American
power complement one another, when they do come together, we can find
a way to tackle the most difficult challenges. She helped to get the
nuclear testing moratorium passed when everybody said it's
impossible. She helped to reinvent counterinsurgency at a time when
our force in Iraq was nearly broken and our efforts were at the
precipice. And she convinced the U.S. Government, including the
military, that it needed to think differently about genocide and how
to act. She is a very, very welcome addition to our team here at the
State Department.

I also want to thank our outstanding Ambassador-at-Large, Lou
CdeBaca, for everything he has done these past years. Part
conscience, part prosecutor, Lou has made it his mission to relegate
human trafficking to the history books where it belongs. And he's
changing the way businesses - (applause) - he's changing the way
businesses root out abuses in their supply chains - from government
contractors to private sector partners. And for Lou, the supply
chains are not just product lines. They represent lines of
responsibility. And we each have a responsibility to make sure that
the goods we buy, we buy free of forced labor.

Now, I want to pay a special tribute to all of Lou's team and
everybody in the Trafficking in Persons Office. There's an enormous
amount of work that goes into this. This isn't just a report churned
out in a few days when there's a deadline looming. This is not a
week-long, it's not even a month-long affair. This is a year-long
effort that requires an enormous amount of focus and energy and
ambition. And the Trafficking in Persons Report is common sense, it's
conscience, it's conviction - it's also facts - all rolled into one.
And it's a call to action to governments and citizens around the
world to uncover modern slavery and hold it accountable to identify
the victims, and bring their abusers to justice. There cannot be
impunity for those who traffic in human beings. It must end.
(Applause.) So that is the standard that we intend to hold ourselves

And when we put out a report like this, I want to say something. I
have received calls from different parts of the world, from ministers
and others who are concerned about this accountability and kind of
want to push back a little, suggest it should be otherwise. This is
not an act of arrogance. We hold ourselves to the same standard. This
is an act of conscience. It is a requirement as a matter of advocacy
and as a matter of doing what is right.

And the fight against modern slavery should matter to all of us. I
know that it matters to this Department, and I'm proud to lead a
Department that cares about it. When I was a prosecutor outside of
Boston in the 1970s, I worked to put people behind bars for rape and
for sexual assault, among other crimes. We were actually one of the
very first jurisdictions in America to establish a witness-victim
assistance program, in order to make sure that people weren't twice
victimized - once by the crime, and then by the system.

And my time as a prosecutor seared in me a very simple lesson: In the
fight for justice and equality, all of us are really interconnected.
And modern slavery does not exist in a vacuum. It's interconnected
with so many other 21st century challenges, from narcotics
trafficking to all of the criminal enterprises that traffic in arms
or other efforts - even global international crime creates the
channels and frameworks which are used to be able to abuse these
kinds of processes. And I learned that back when I was uncovering the
Noriega drug connections and the banking system that gave into it and
the willingness of people to entertain people, including Usama bin
Ladin, who was part of the clientele of a particular bank that we
uncovered. That's what happens. Other criminal activity is empowered,
and it all rips and tears at the fabric of rule of law and of viable
states remaining viable.

So we have to combat this. Obviously, there is no denying that we
face big challenges. Big countries tackle big challenges every single
day, and that's, I think, what defines us. So even as we know that
Iraq is in trouble and we're dealing with conflicts still in
Afghanistan and other places, that's no reason to back off. It's no
reason to turn away. There is no excuse for not pursuing all of these
things. We have the ability to multi-task, we have the ability to
stay focused, and in the end, they're all connected because the
networks that fund terrorists are the same networks that permit
people to move this kind of money illicitly around the world.

We are talking about real people - men and women, boys and girls,
transgender individuals - whose lives have been abandoned to the most
depraved instincts. Because on this World Refugee Day we are
especially mindful of our common responsibility to care for the most
vulnerable, for the displaced, and for those who migrate in search of
a better life.

Now, I know in today's world with all of the hurly-burly of everyday
life, with massive amounts of media coming at everybody, it's pretty
easy to miss the human faces behind the statistics. So I just want to
share with you a few stories, if I can, to put faces to this crime -
a few ways that you will see how modern slavery is a stain on the
conscience of the world.

Abeo is a young woman from Nigeria. And one night, she was abducted
from her home - from her home - and forced into prostitution. She
suffered unspeakable crimes - from beatings to rape to forced labor.
And after learning that she was pregnant from one of the many rapes
that she had endured, her traffickers sent her by boat to Spain. Her
traffickers told her that she owed them tens of thousands of dollars
for the cost of the journey, and they planned to force her into
prostitution there in order to pay for it. Her situation was horrific
by any standard. But Abeo did not just persevere. She reported the
threat to Spanish authorities, when she found a place that she was
able to go to where there was a system of law. And thanks to her
courage and thanks to the commitment of the authorities in Spain, the
human trafficking ring that abused her was broken up and its leaders
were brought to justice.

So here's the lesson that Abeo teaches us: Wherever rule of law is
weak, where corruption is most ingrained, and where populations can't
count on the protection of governments and of law enforcement, there
you find zones of vulnerability to trafficking. But wherever rule of
law is strong, where individuals are willing to speak out and
governments willing to listen, we find zones of protection against
trafficking. And that is what is possible if we double down on
dignity, which is what we are doing here today.

But if you dive deeper, you'll see that some of the worst abuses
happen in places that we rarely think to look - within the supply
chains of logging and mining industries, on board fishing vessels,
and in processing plants.

Oscar, a young boy from Peru. His cousin worked in the mining region
and he told him stories about being paid in chunks of gold. So Oscar
left home at 16 for Peru's forests with the dream of finding a job.
But those dreams became his nightmare the moment he arrived at the
gold mine. The owner told him that he had to work 90 days just to
repay the fee his cousin got for recruiting him. Oscar thought about
running away, but the owner controlled the river traffic. Escape was
simply not an option. So he stayed. He toiled in deplorable
conditions. He contracted malaria and was left to die in a hut. After
eight months, Oscar returned home only to come down with yellow
fever. He had to borrow money from his family to pay for a doctor. He
fell into debt and returned to the very forests he'd worked to escape
just months before.

Here's what Oscar teaches us: Exacting profits from exploiting people
often go hand in hand in illegal, unsustainable, and unregulated
industries - the very things we're trying to fight: unregulated,
unsustainable, exploited outside of the law. And they destroy all of
commerce, because they undermine the legitimacy of the rest of the
business world. From Latin America to Africa to Asia, to other parts
of the world, there are illegal mining and logging that can create
not only environmental degradation because it operates outside of the
law and regulatory concepts, but zones of impunity where trafficking
can prey on their victims. So we need to bring these industries and
these people that they exploit out of the shadows. And we need to
bring the perpetrators to justice.

Now obviously, it's not just illegal mining and logging where you
find this kind of a problem. And how do I know that? Because of the
story of a woman named Flor.

Flor was a seamstress from Mexico. She worked two jobs just to
support her young children. One day, she heard about a sewing
opportunity in the United States. Her recruiter told her that she'd
make a lot more money if she - than she did in Mexico, and therefore
she'd be able to give her kids a better life. So she headed for the
border. When she got there, the woman who arranged her trip stripped
her of her identification documents and her belongings. She was taken
immediately to a sewing factory and put to work - from four in the
morning until late at night. She was beaten, abused, and prevented
from leaving the factory. After 40 days of this hell, she managed to
escape to a local church. And they got the help she needed, and
today, she is a leader in the national survivors' caucus in the
United States.

So here's what Flor teaches us: We need to integrate anti-trafficking
efforts into all areas of our diplomatic and development work.
Trafficking is a criminal enterprise, plain and simple. The profits
alone exceed $150 billion a year. No company can compete with another
company that's willing to inhumanely commercialize its workforce. And
if we want to have our legitimate businesses compete on a fair
playing field, then we need to end the climate of impunity behind
these hidden sectors of the economy.

And that is why the State Department is working with civil society to
prevent corporate and federal dollars from abetting this crime.
That's why we're partnering with -[1] - in order to develop a risk assessment
tool that will help business leaders weigh the risks of trafficking
throughout their supply chains. And that's why we're teaming up with
Verite, an award-winning labor-rights NGO, in order to develop a
range of resources for businesses committed to eradicating this
scourge, from trainings and awareness programs to plans for
recruitment and fair wages and housing.

So my friends, in summary, the lessons here are as clear as they are
compelling: When we embrace our common humanity and stand up for the
dignity of all people, we realize the vision of a world that is more
caring and more just - a world free from slavery. That is the vision
that inspired generations of abolitionists who have preceded us.
William Wilberforce spent a lifetime fighting to end slavery
throughout the British Empire. Standing before parliament, he said:
"Having heard all of this you may choose to look the other way but
you can never again say that you did not know."

Today, thanks to Abeo, Oscar, Flor and so many other survivors,
thanks to the 10 that we will honor today, we all know about the
horrors of modern slavery. And we are determined, we will not look
the other way. That's what this year's report is all about. That's
our cause of action now, and together, I am convinced that we can and
we will make a difference.

Thank you all. (Applause.)


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