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Homeland Security

Background Briefing on the Trafficking in Persons Report

Special Briefing
Senior State Department Official
Via Teleconference
Washington, DC
June 30, 2016

MODERATOR: Great, thank you so much. And thanks to everyone for joining us on this call today. I'll say a few things at the top, then we'll turn this over to our senior State Department official.

First, I'd like to emphasize this is a call on process. We will not be previewing the rankings of this year's report, we will not be previewing the details of this year's report, but we will speaking – we will be speaking strictly on the process of compiling it hopefully to provide some context to your stories. This call is not embargoed. You may use this call immediately. However, it is on background. For your information, our senior State Department official is [name and title withheld].

Again, the call will be on process. As we take a look at tomorrow, I'll walk you through what our rollout plan is. Members of the medial will receive the embargoed copy of the report via a password protected website at 8:00 a.m. The Secretary then will be making the remarks at the Heroes Ceremony at 9:00. The embargo lifts at 9:00. And then at 2 o'clock, Ambassador Coppedge of the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons will be joining Spokesperson John Kirby at the 2:00 p.m. press brief.

With that, I'd like to turn this over to senior – our senior State Department official for some opening remarks, and then we'll take your questions. Senior State Department Official.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Hello. Thanks very much for joining us. Just a few remarks at the top to explain the process and also to highlight that our efforts to monitor and combat trafficking are integrated in our foreign policy year-round. That's part of what we do not only in our office but throughout the State Department here in Washington engaging with embassies and other colleagues and partners here in Washington as well as at our embassies and posts throughout the world.

The TIP Report that we will be releasing tomorrow is our principle diagnostic tool to assess government efforts across what we call the three Ps – to prosecute traffickers, protect and empower victims, and prevent future trafficking crimes. Most importantly, perhaps, the report is a means to effect global change and motivate tangible progress around the world.

Since it was first published in 2011, the TIP Report has prompted foreign governments to enact legislation, establish national action plans, and implement anti-trafficking policies and programs across these three Ps. Under our ambassador's leadership and the President and Secretary's leadership, the TIP Report is the product of a year's worth of research and reporting by our office and our U.S. embassies in collaboration with foreign government officials, NGOs, and international organizations around the world.

The TIP Report was launched as part of Congress' landmark Trafficking Victims Protection Act, or the TVPA, which was passed in 2000. The report provides country-specific narratives for 188 countries and territories including the United States. These narratives illustrate the scope of human trafficking and each government's efforts to combat what is commonly referred to as modern slavery.

As you may know, there are four tiers in the report. Tier 1 is for countries that are meeting the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking found in the TVPA. Tier 2 countries have not met the TVPA's minimum standards but are making significant efforts to do so. Tier 2 Watch List is for countries that are making significant efforts but deserve closer scrutiny. Finally, Tier 3 is for countries that have not met the TVPA's minimum standards and are not making significant efforts to do so.

If a government has not made sufficient progress to address human trafficking to merit an upgrade to Tier 2 or Tier 1 – sorry, this is for countries that have been on the Tier 2 Watch List. There are limitations in the U.S. law for how long a country can be a on the Watch List. If they've been on the Watch List for more than two years, the Secretary may waive for a year – up to two years total – through a provision the waiver of the statutorily required downgrade from Tier 2 Watch List to Tier 3. Each one-year waiver may be granted to any country for a maximum of two consecutive years.

According to U.S. law, any country ranked as Tier 2 Watch List for four consecutive years is no longer eligible for a waiver of a downgrade in the fifth year and must be ranked as Tier 3 if it does not meet the criteria to merit a ranking of Tier 2 or Tier 1.

Whatever the tier a country falls in, every nation can and should do more to combat human trafficking, which is why the TIP Report offers recommendations for improvements for every country including our own. The recommendations in many ways are the heart of the report. They're country-specific, specifically designed to help each government be clear about what more they can do to prevent the crime, protect the victims, and prosecute suspected perpetrators. Moving forward, these recommendations in turn guide U.S. diplomacy and engagement both public and private on the critical but complex issue of human trafficking. The recommendations serve as a roadmap to better address the problem – not for the sake of improving a tier ranking, but to make real institutional change that can put more criminal traffickers behind bars, provide more assistance to victims, and do more to prevent exploitation of the vulnerable. So in this sense, the report is a global anti-trafficking tool filled with best practices and resources for governments and advocates – again, including our own.

This year, in addition to the country narratives in the global TIP report introduction, it focuses on effective strategies to prevent human trafficking. We're very proud of the hard work of our colleagues throughout the State Department to produce this report every year, and we'll be happy to answer questions.

MODERATOR: That's great. Moderator, if you can queue a question?

OPERATOR: Certainly. And ladies and gentlemen, if you wish to ask a question, please press * then 1 on your touchtone phone. You'll hear a tone indicating that you've been placed in the queue. You may remove yourself from the queue at any time by pressing the # key. And if you're using a speaker phone, please pick up the handset before pressing the numbers. And once again, for any questions or comments at this time, please press * and then 1.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Can I also correct – I misspoke and I said the first TIP report was published in 2011. I meant to say 2001.


SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: This is the 16th annual report.

MODERATOR: Sixteenth annual report. Thank you, Senior State Department Official. We can go to our first question now.

OPERATOR: Certainly. Carol Morello with Washington Post, please go ahead.

QUESTION: Could you talk a little bit about what you do to make observations and to gather information on the ground? At least some human rights groups have said that they think that there have been occasions when you have upgraded some countries and it doesn't match with what they are seeing on the ground, that they think it's much more dire than you have stated it in the past. And I was hoping you could talk a little bit about how you collect information and how you make these determinations.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Thank you very much for the question; it's a good one. We collect information, as I said, year-round, both through our embassies and staff here at the State Department throughout the department, including in the TIP office. And that information comes from a variety sources, including NGOs, human rights groups. As you mentioned, it also comes from survivors and victims of human trafficking as well as other organizations, international and nongovernmental, that are working with trafficking victims and to address the problem. Ultimately, all of these sources of information are put together and we look across the board. Again, the tier ranking is assessing not the scope of the problem per se, but the focus is really on the efforts of the government. So there are several countries where the problem is big and the government is also robustly taking efforts across the three Ps to address the problem.

MODERATOR: That's great. Moderator, if we have additional questions – if not, we can close the call.

OPERATOR: We do have something from the line of Rosiland Jordan with Al Jazeera English. Please go ahead.

MODERATOR: That's great.

QUESTION: Hi. Thanks for doing the call. Given the global prominence of this report, how much pressure does the U.S. Government – whether at the embassy or consulate level, or in your office's purview – how much pressure do you get from governments, particularly those that are Tier 2 Watch or Tier 3 to change their status? Is there any effective lobbying that they can do, or is this really about what they have actually accomplished in trying to prevent human trafficking? Thanks.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Sure. Thank you for the question. As I said, we are engaging with governments around the world on a daily basis throughout the year, not just as we're preparing the report. We do also get information and assessments from governments about their own efforts, and a lot of the data that we include in the report – for example, law enforcement data – comes directly from governments. Many are not always happy with the tier rankings that we end up assessing in the report and may disagree with our conclusions that we draw, but that – the information they provide is only one data point, and we are looking at all of the data that we have gathered and measuring them against the minimum standards that are outlined in the TVPA.

MODERATOR: That's great. Thank you, Senior State Department Official. We're happy to move to our next question, Moderator.

OPERATOR: Certainly. Arshad Mohammed with Reuters, please go ahead. Your line is open.

QUESTION: I've been asked to ask you how many – and I realize you can't get into the substance of the actual recommendations or the rankings for tomorrow, but how many disputes there were between the regional bureaus and J/TIP this year – how many of those you won and how that sort of won/lost pattern compares this year versus previous years.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: So we don't discuss the details of internal deliberations, but I would like to just reiterate that the – ultimately, the report is the product of work and recommendations and the expert assessment of officials and experts throughout the U.S. Government, both at our embassies and within the TIP office, and those recommendations go to the Secretary of State who ultimately has the legal authority to both approve the final report and make the tier designations.

MODERATOR: That's great. And if we have any other questions, Moderator?

OPERATOR: Certainly. We do have something from the line of Carol Morello with Washington Post. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes. You said that in previous years, that your rankings have prompted change. Could you give two or three specific examples where a country reacted, and tell us what those countries are, after you gave them a less-than-satisfactory report?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Sure, thanks for the question. We actually hear from both government officials and activists who are working with governments, whether in nongovernmental organizations or international organizations. Regularly, we hear how the TIP report itself and the tier rankings help motivate progress both from within and as pressure from outside of the government.

Just this week, as part of the report's release, we will be honoring nine heroes that we've brought in from around the world. One of them is a police official from the Government of Botswana, and she has highlighted, for example, how the tier ranking in the past actually brought the issue to attention – not just that it put pressure on them to improve it, but in fact they weren't aware of the scope of the problem they had in Botswana before we started reporting on it in our report. So there's one example that we heard from inside the government. And she's – I'm sorry, I misspoke. She's a prosecutor, not a police official. We have several police officials, including from Nepal, amongst the heroes who also made the same point as someone from within the police.

In addition, the Philippines is another country in another region where we have seen progress over the last 10 years that we've been working with the government, and as the recommendations that we have made in the report they have fulfilled, their tier ranking has also gone up.

MODERATOR: That's great. That's all the – we have time for. Again, this call is not embargoed. It is on background. The attribution is to a senior State Department official. I want to thank you all for joining us. I want to thank our senior State Department official for the briefing. We look forward to seeing everyone tomorrow for the Trafficking in Persons rollout at 2 o'clock. Have a great afternoon.

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