Today, as part of Women’s History Month and in commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, Valerie Jarrett and I welcomed four remarkable women organizers to the White House. On a panel in front of more than 100 labor leaders, we invited them to share how each is organizing to make a difference in their workplaces, in their communities and in the lives of their families.
On March 25, 1911,146 garment workers – mostly young women and girls – either burned or jumped to their deaths when a fire ignited at the Triangle Factory in New York City. Within 18 minutes, due to hazardous working conditions, these workers were dead. A century later, the fire resonates with us, not only because of the magnitude of the tragedy, but also because it was a galvanizing moment for women standing up to demand better working conditions, safer workplaces, and the right to have their voices heard.
In communities across the country, courageous women are still standing up for those same things. And today, a select few of them gave us a glimpse into their lives and invited us into their struggles. From a child care worker in Ohio, to a nanny in New York, these women are fighting not only for a voice – they’re fighting for dignity and respect.
We were honored to have heard the hopeful stories of these brave women. They were a reminder of the obstacles that must be overcome in the workplace and of the very hard work we still have to do on behalf of all working people.
Secretary Clinton’s Remarks at the President’s Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons
SECRETARY CLINTON: I think we’re going to try to get started because we have a quorum and we have others who will join us. And we have some new faces around the table for the first time, which is particularly gratifying. Bob, thank you for being here.
This is, as you probably saw on your schedules, the President’s Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking In Persons. This is mandated by the Congress because it is an issue of such great and grave importance that Congress wanted as many members of the Cabinet and the heads of agencies to come together to discuss it once a year. So I thank you for taking time out of what are amazingly busy schedules between national security issues and weather security issues to gather here. And I’m joined today by Under Secretary Maria Otero and Ambassador Luis CdeBaca. They are helping to lead our efforts here at the State Department and within the interagency process.
Very fittingly, we meet today on National Freedom Day to discuss the latest steps in a journey that our country has been taking for more than 150 years. On this day in 1865, President Lincoln signed the joint congressional resolution that became the 13th Amendment to the Constitution outlawing slavery. Yet modern slavery, often hidden and unrecognized, persists today on every continent and, most tragically, right here in the United States, despite being prohibited by both domestic legislation and international law.
Anywhere from 12 to 27 million people are currently held in forced labor, bonded labor, or forced prostitution. That’s equivalent to all the people who live in London at the low end and the combined populations of New York City, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. at the high end. The victims range from the men and women enslaved in fields, factories, and brothels to the girls and boys whose childhoods have been shattered and stolen, to the parents whose children have vanished. Whether they are far from home or in their own villages, they need and deserve our help and the help of the world.
Now, since we last met together last year, everyone around this table and our entire government has really achieved a great deal. We continue to strengthen our efforts. An obvious sign of our growth here today is that we are joined, for the first time, by the FBI, by the Department of Agriculture, and the Department of the Interior. Today, I hope we can hear how we will take this work to the next level, how we can ensure that trafficking is an issue we continue to address within our agencies and throughout our government, and I hope we’ll take on another important task – ending the practice of punishing the victims of human trafficking. For all the millions who are held in servitude, fewer than 50,000 have been officially identified as victims. Too many others are either ignored, or even worse, treated as criminals. So we need to do more to identify the true victims of human trafficking and help restore them to participation in our society.
I just want to kick off by describing several of our State Department initiatives. First and foremost, we will publish another edition of our annual Trafficking in Persons Report. Some countries have been downgraded and may be downgraded again automatically from Tier 2 Watch List to Tier 3, because they have not taken steps adequately to address trafficking. Now, this is an uncomfortable position for them to be in and for us. And as I travel around talking to heads of state and governments and ministers, they watch this very closely, and they often raise questions about their position on this list.
Now, last year, for the first time ever under my direction, we included the United States in this report. As President Obama has made clear, we want to be the best champion for our own ideals, and we want to live up to those ideals ourselves. And we know we can do more to diminish involuntary servitude and slavery in our own country.
Now, beyond this report, our Bureau of Diplomatic Security will establish an anti-trafficking unit to support its field offices which already participate in the 39 Department of Justice-funded anti-trafficking task forces nationwide. This new unit will centralize case referrals and command at headquarters and offer training to all agents, particularly on how to work with victims. We will also begin an annual briefing for visiting diplomats and their domestic workers as part of an ongoing effort we launched last year – thanks to Hilda and others for their help on this – to protect domestic workers brought here by diplomats and raise awareness within the diplomatic community. Whether they’re diplomats or national emissaries of whatever kind, we all must be accountable for the treatment of the people that we employ. We will also work with federal contractors to identify best practices for preventing trafficking, help them protect victims, and hold them accountable if they do not follow the federal government’s anti-trafficking policies.
And finally, we are working with many partners to develop a voluntary international code of conduct for private security service providers. Companies that sign the code commit to not engage in human trafficking and report allegations to competent authorities. To date, nearly 60 private security companies have signed the code, including many that contract with the U.S. Government.
Now, before we hear from a number of you about what your agencies are doing, I have a request. I would like to ask this group to task the Assistant Secretary Level Senior Policy Operating Group with developing an overarching victims services strategy. One of our continuing challenges is that we’ve not yet made the American public fully aware of the protections that are already available to victims who are United States citizens. And we need to maximize our resources by looking at other federal programs to serve all trafficking victims. A victims services strategy would do a great service to victims in our own country and set an example around the world.
So I would hope that the Senior Policy Operating Group would work together to hold a public meeting, to get the word out on the work we’re doing to interact with civil society groups, would inventory existing juvenile justice and child welfare programs that affect at-risk youth. That’s one of our biggest problems, is that an underage child gets picked up on the streets, there’s nowhere for that child to be held, so that young boy or girl is put into jail as opposed to a safe place.
We want to develop standards and training to ensure that children in prostitution are treated as victims, not criminals, and given the help they need, and determine whether having separate outreach and service programs for foreign and domestic victims is truly in their best interest. We have seen several legislative proposals to address these issues, and the Trafficking Act will be up for reauthorization in this Congress. But I think through greater interagency cooperation, we can make improvements and really set the agenda for, hopefully, the next decade, at least.
Now, I’d like to call on some of our colleagues to discuss some of the issues that they are dealing with, and I want to start with our Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, who has been a real champion of everything having to do with people in every setting, but in particular this area.
SECRETARY SOLIS: Thank you so much, Secretary Clinton. And I’m happy to join you with the Department of Labor to be a representative on the President’s Interagency Task Force on Trafficking in Persons. I’m firmly committed to supporting the mission of the task force, which includes our strong cooperation with my colleagues here today. This commitment builds upon the long history of the Department of Labor to protect and assist vulnerable workers. And I’m proud of the work the Department has done over the past year to help combat trafficking, both domestically and internationally. And I’m pleased that the DOL is a member of the Federal Enforcement Working Group spearheaded by Attorney General Holder. Through this effort, I am confident we will achieve the goals of assisting victims and dismantling trafficking organizations through high impact prosecutions.
This March is the one-year anniversary of the implementation of a new regulation for H2-A programs. Agricultural workers are a group most at risk of trafficking. These new regulations, reinstated, requires that employers provide documentation as a part of their application, strengthen transportation safety requirements, and prohibited foreign recruiters from charging workers certain fees. Employers who have committed violations can be banned from filing future applications of similar visas. This regulation has strengthened protections for non-immigrant agricultural workers as well as domestic agricultural workers.
And I announced that the Department of Labor will begin exercising its authority to certify applications for new visas. This will provide an avenue for immigrant victims desperate to escape an abusive situation and willing to cooperate with law enforcement. My staff is working hard to finalize those protocols now. Recognition and inclusion of anti-trafficking provisions in contracts and grants is also equally critical. That’s why, at the Department of Labor, we’re including and requiring our anti-trafficking federal acquisition regulation provisions in our contracts and grants. And while it’s not currently required, all of the Department’s international grants include anti-trafficking language, and we’ll further explore how to integrate such language into all of our grants.
Last December, our department released three new reports on child labor and forced labor. For the first time last year, our major report, the findings on the worst forms of child labor identified gaps in government efforts and included specific suggestions for each government that would address those problems. We believe this information will be useful for Congress, the executive branch agencies to consider when developing labor and trade policy.
And I’m also proud that in May of 2010, the Department entered into a revised agreement with the Mexican Embassy and the Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs to ensure that Mexican workers in the United States are informed about their labor rights through their consular offices. This information can assist vulnerable workers, including persons who may have been trafficked. We are expanding the approach to now include more partnerships with embassies from Central America and the Caribbean. And on December 2nd, I met with several ambassadors from nine Central American and Caribbean countries who wanted to learn about the program. We are following up with those discussions now.
In conclusion, I would just say as a nation and as members of the global community, we reject the proposition that it is acceptable to pursue economic gain through force, fraud, and coercion of human beings. I’m delighted to be a part of this working group and also proud to represent our agency here today. Thank you so much, Secretary Clinton.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you so much, Hilda. Let me turn now to the Attorney General. Attorney General Holder, the Department of Justice has done a lot of good work on this. We appreciate it.
ATTORNEY GENERAL HOLDER: Well, I apologize to everyone for being late. Bob (inaudible) had given me a task that took a little longer than I anticipated. (Laughter.)
But thank you, Secretary Clinton. It’s an honor and a privilege to join my colleagues to mark the many breakthroughs that we’ve made over the past year and the momentum that we have generated for the year ahead in our fight to end human trafficking. Now this past year, and for the third year in a row, the Department of Justice has prosecuted more human trafficking cases than ever before. This modern day slavery is an affront to human dignity. And each and every case that we prosecute should send a powerful signal that human trafficking will not be tolerated in or by the United States.
Our prosecutions have been – have brought long overdue justice to victims from Nigeria, Togo, Ghana, the Philippines, Thailand, and Mexico, as well as from our own country. We have liberated adults, children, men and women exploited for sex and labor in virtually every corner of our nation. We have secured long sentences against individual traffickers and we have dismantled large transnational organized criminal enterprises that have exploited victims across the United States, depriving them of their freedom and of their dignity.
But we have more to do, and we have farther to go. On the 10th anniversary of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act last fall, I committed that the Justice Department would be launching a human trafficking enhanced enforcement initiative to take our counter-trafficking enforcement efforts to the next level by building on the most effective tool in our anti-trafficking arsenal: partnerships. Well, today, I am pleased to announce the launch of this initiative, which will streamline federal criminal investigations and prosecutions of human trafficking. The Departments of Homeland Security and Department of Labor have collaborated closely with the Justice Department in this historic effort, and I want to thank Secretaries Napolitano and Solis for their expertise and for their shared commitment.
Now, as part of this fight against human trafficking, specialized anti-trafficking coordination teams, known as ACT teams, will be convened in a number of pilot districts nationwide. Under the leadership of the highest-ranking federal law enforcement officials in the district, these teams will bring together federal agents and prosecutors across agency lines to combat human trafficking threats, dismantle human trafficking networks, and bring traffickers to justice. The launch of these ACT teams will enable us to leverage the assets and the expertise of each federal enforcement agency more effectively than ever before. But we will not rest until this unprecedented collaboration translates into the results that matter most, the liberation of victims and the prosecution of traffickers.
Now, we are all inspired by the courage of survivors who have escaped from bondage and energized by the strength of our partnerships. But above all, we are firm in our resolve to do more than ever before to end human trafficking. The efforts announced today and the work being undertaken across this government are an important step forward in winning this fight. Thank you very much.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you very much, Attorney General, for not only the work you’ve done but this new initiative.
Let me now turn to Secretary Napolitano. Obviously, the Department of Homeland Security plays an absolutely critical role in these efforts. Janet.
SECRETARY NAPOLITANO: Well, thank you. And thank you, Secretary, for hosting this meeting. We are, indeed, proud to play a strong role in combating human trafficking as demonstrated by ICE’s arrest last week at the JFK airport of a human trafficker who was one of its top ten most wanted persons. This past year, ICE, working with DOJ, initiated its highest ever number of cases with a nexus to human trafficking. Our success in combating human trafficking continues to be rooted in strong partnerships. This includes not only the partnership represented around this table today, but also state, local, tribal, international, nongovernmental, and private sector partners who see this problem every day on the ground.
Last year, the Department of Homeland Security launched a campaign to coordinate and enhance its anti-human trafficking efforts. It’s called the Blue Campaign. Under the Blue Campaign last year we provided new training for state and local law enforcement, offered new materials on how to assist victims, and conducted public awareness campaigns both in the United States and in Latin America.
Indeed, I was in Dallas yesterday to check out security for the Super Bowl, and between Dallas and Arlington, I saw at least two billboards advertising how to gain assistance under the Blue Campaign. So it is really rolling out everywhere.
This year, we’re also developing new public awareness materials and a new message to be played in DHS immigration offices and waiting rooms which informs potential victims that help is available. We’re expanding the campaign called No Te Enganas, or Don’t Be Fooled, in Central America and some United States cities to also raise awareness among potential victims.
We are developing comprehensive anti-human trafficking courses for our own personnel to address what role each and every DHS component agency plays in combating this scourge. And we are working with firefighters and first responders around the country who may come into contact with victims during their daily work.
As was indicated, we are working with a number of other agencies on joint initiatives including the anti-trafficking coordination teams the attorney general just announced and also initiatives with the Department of Labor. This is a fight that all of us around this table are committed to do. So I look forward to continuing on this work with my Cabinet colleagues and on all of our partners in order to combat this terrific problem.
Thank you, Madam Secretary.
It is a pleasure to be here with all of you today.
I want to say a special welcome to Senator Tom Harkin, a long time champion on these issues, and Tina Tchen, the Executive Director of the White House Council on Women and Girls.
Today, we are commemorating World Day Against Child Labor.
This year, the focus of World Day will be on girls. We want to focus on how we help girls to escape from the worst forms of child labor.
This year’s World Day is also an opportunity for us to mark the 10th anniversary of the adoption of the International Labor Organization’s Convention No. 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labor. The United States was one of the first of 169 countries to ratify this convention. Since that time, the U.S. has been a leader in supporting global efforts to combat child labor.
We have also demonstrated our commitment to combating child labor by including adherence to international child labor standards as an eligibility criterion for our trading partners.
Now, to put into perspective the issues we will be discussing today, I would like to show a brief video that we have prepared highlighting the Department of Labor’s commitment to combating child labor globally.
We are very fortunate to have with us specialists who are working to combat the worst forms of child labor and addressing the needs of girls around the world.
I want to let you all know how important I think your work is. Issues affecting girls are extremely important to President Obama and to me. In his recent trip to Egypt, President Obama underscored the importance that the United States places on women’s rights and education. President Obama affirmed that “a woman who is denied an education is denied equality. And it is no coincidence that countries where women are well-educated are far more likely to be prosperous. Our daughters can contribute just as much to society as our sons, and our common prosperity will be advanced by allowing all humanity — men and women — to reach their full potential.”
President Obama has also committed to working with other countries to support expanded literacy for girls, and to help young women pursue employment through micro-financing that helps people live their dreams.
It is in this same spirit that we observe the World Day Against Child Labor.
We must be the voices for children who cannot speak for themselves, and commit ourselves to ending exploitive child labor through universal education. Work performed by girls is often done in the shadows, tucked away from public view. We must recognize the special challenges of working with girls.
First, given the hidden nature of some of the forms of work where girls toil — including domestic service and commercial sexual exploitation — it can be extremely difficult to collect accurate and reliable data on the numbers of girls affected and their working conditions.
Second, girls who work in hidden forms of child labor are more vulnerable to extreme exploitation and abuse.
Third, it can be far more difficult to rescue girls from hidden forms of work and provide them with the services they need to turn their lives around.
And girls in child labor often carry an extra burden — working outside their homes while also being expected to spend long hours on household chores, including caring for younger siblings.
I want to focus on three key facets of our efforts to stop exploitive child labor, facets that I hope we can expand on in our roundtable discussion.
First — education. Spending resources to educate girls is one of the best investments a country can make in their economic future. We know that mothers who have received the benefits of education are far more likely to send their own children to school than those who did not receive schooling. Education is a key tool for breaking the cycle of child labor and poverty, and societies that do not invest in the education of their girls (and boys) do so at their own peril.
Second — poverty. While accepting that education is a vital necessity, we also need to find effective ways for parents to overcome the grinding poverty that may cause them to choose work over school for their children.
Third and lastly — awareness. To maintain the momentum of efforts that are bringing about change, we need to raise awareness about how child labor negatively affects children, limiting their future potential and that of our collective societies.
I am proud to announce that, this year, the Department of Labor will provide approximately $60 million for projects to combat child labor globally. We need to raise awareness about the costs of child labor and commit ourselves, as each of you have, to making a tangible difference in the lives of children.
Every child — every girl and boy — deserves a chance to develop to their full potential.
I am eager to hear from all of you about how together we can bring new hope and possibilities to so many children around the world.
It is now my great pleasure to introduce one of the true champions in the global campaign to end child labor — Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa.
Senator Harkin has been a tireless advocate of working children around the world, advocating for education as the best investment we can make for children and for society as a whole.
Senator Harkin, thank you for joining us today.
I am also proud to have here with us today Tina Tchen, whom President Obama recently selected to head the new White House Council on Women and Girls.
Ms. (Tina) Tchen has long been an active supporter of women’s rights. As a lawyer, she litigated on behalf of the Illinois Department of Child and Family Services and tried to get Illinois to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment.
Tina, thank you for joining us today.
I would also like to acknowledge the Department of Labor’s Deputy Under Secretary for International Affairs, Sandra Polaski.
Sandra heads up the Bureau of International Labor Affairs — otherwise known as ILAB — which has been at the forefront of the Department’s efforts to eradicate exploitive child labor around the world.
Thank you all so much for being so candid and for sharing your personal and professional experiences with us. We have discussed a number of challenges and opportunities in addressing exploitive child labor and providing children, particularly girls, with the chance for a better future. This conversation has reinforced my personal commitment to combating exploitive child labor, and I would like to share with you how I would like to follow up on it.
First, I would like to meet industry groups and employers that are actively working to find solutions to exploitive child labor in the production goods and services.
Second, I plan to raise this issue in international meetings and with key governments to try to establish partnerships that will sustain many of the efforts that are underway. As I have already done so in my recent trips to the G8 in Rome and the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad & Tobago, I will discuss child labor issues with a number of governments at the International Labor Conference in Geneva next week.
Third, the Department of Labor will take a very proactive approach to reach out to countries that have made the commitment to address child labor and provide technical assistance and share best practices to combat child labor. I hope that you will all join me in renewing your commitment to this issue.
I would like to encourage each of you as you leave this meeting to consider what new and concrete actions you can take to combat exploitive child labor and provide children and their families with a future free of exploitation. Together, I know, we can and will make a difference in the lives of children around the world.
Thank you for being here today and for your commitment to this issue.
Before you leave the building today, I would like to invite you to view a special collection of photos that we have on display on the second floor in honor of the 2009 World Day Against Child Labor.
Thank you all again for being here.