Trafficking in Persons Report 2011

On 27 June, the US Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, released the 11th Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report assessing the effort and achievements of 184 governments around the world in combating trafficking in persons.

Each year since 2001, the US Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons has produced a report outlining major trends and issues in combating trafficking and providing country by country analyses and ratings. The TIP reports have evolved over time, and have increased in breadth of coverage and depth of analysis. The US Government regards this report as its "principal diplomatic tool to engage foreign governments on human trafficking".

Each TIP Report assesses countries' achievements or otherwise not against relevant international instruments, most particularly the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, but against minimum standards set out in US domestic law -- the Trafficking Victim Protections Act 2000 (TVPA) -- giving it significant and remarkable extraterritorial reach. (A 2003 amendment added to the law a new requirement for foreign governments to provide the State Department with data on investigations, prosecutions, convictions, and sentences if they were to be considered to comply fully with the TVPA’s minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking.)  According to the State Department, the TVPA standards are "largely",  (but, therefore, not entirely) consistent with the framework for addressing trafficking established in the United Nations Protocol. 

The TIP Report groups countries into four categories according to the State Department's assessment of governments' efforts to combat trafficking:
  • Tier 1 -- countries deemed to fully comply with the TVPA's minimum standards
  • Tier 2 -- countries whose governments are deemed to not fully comply with the TVPA's minimum standards but are making significant efforts to do so
  • Tier 2 watch list -- tier 2 countries in which: 1) the number of victims of trafficking is very significant or increasing; 2) the State Department has found no evidence of increasing efforts to combat trafficking (e.g. increased investigations or prosecutions); or 3) the determination that a country was making significant efforts was based on commitments by the country to take additional steps in the coming year, and
  • Tier 3 -- countries whose governments are deemed not to fully comply with the TVPA's minimum standards and who are not making significant efforts to do so.
Tier 3 countries may be subject to limited, unilateral sanctions whereby the US Government may withhold non-humanitarian, non-trade-related foreign aid, and oppose them receiving such assistance from international financial institutions such as the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund. (These sanctions may fully or partially applied, or be waived for reasons which include US national interest.)

 In 2010, President Obama determined to sanction in the 2011 fiscal year two of the 13 countries given a Tier 3 rating (Eritrea and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK)), and to impose partial sanctions upon four others (Burma, Cuba, Iran and Zimbabwe). The 2011 Report places 23 countries on Tier 3, four of these in the Asia Pacific Region (Myanmar, Micronesia, DPRK and Papua New Guinea -- click here for a complete list of country rankings).

Australia has consistently been ranked in Tier 1 since its first appearance in the 2004 TIP Report. The United States government’s anti-trafficking efforts were ranked for the first time in the 2010 Report (Tier 1).

Unsurprisingly, since its inception the TIP report has provoked controversy and diplomatic friction, and continues to do so. Some governments, NGOs and commentators have reacted sharply to countries’ ratings or analysis, or to the fact that it is another country rather than an international body monitoring performance and imposing sanctions (see herehere and here, and the list of news reports listed at the end of the blog). Some have asserted that the integrity of the TIP Reports has been compromised by “inconsistent application of the minimum standards” and “superficial country assessments” (see also this report by the US Government Accountability Office).  Critics point to the fact that the country narratives do not specify the nature or number of sources upon which the ranking is based, and that data are not fully explained or attributed. Others note the incongruity of basing assessments upon US rather than international legal standards (see articles by Gallaghar and Chung cited below). Recently the Chairman of Subcommittee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs, U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Jim Webb, criticised the rankings saying that the methodology lacked clarity and caused “confusion and resentment” among Asian nations.

While acknowledging that there is room for improvement, Luis CdeBaca (Ambassador-at-Large, State Department's Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking In Persons) points to the role of the TIP Report in raising global awareness of people trafficking and of spurring at least some governments to action.  While the extent of its influence is impossible to measure with any precision, the TIP Reports' significance is undoubted, particularly given the delay in establishing an effective monitoring and reporting mechanism under the UN Protocol.

The 2011 TIP Report notes that Australia is primarily a destination country for trafficking for forced prostitution and forced labour. As at 30 June 2010, the most recently published aggregate data, 155 people had been referred the Support for Victims of Trafficking Program (144 women, 11 men), of which 23 were victims of labour trafficking outside the sex industry. (As at 31 December 2010, 65 clients were receiving support under that program.)

Perhaps surprisingly to some readers, the TIP Report also identifies Australia as “a source country for a small number of child victims of sex trafficking, primarily teenage girls, within the country.” No source or explanation is given for this statement.  According to Australian Government data, no minors trafficked for sexual exploitation have been referred to Support for Victims of Trafficking Program. In 2009–10, the AFP investigated several referrals of minors as suspected victims of labour trafficking (not in the sex industry), but no evidence of trafficking was found. However, the TVPA definition of trafficking encompasses all forms of child prostitution.  In Australia such offences would generally be dealt with as state criminal offences and would not be reflected in trafficking data; this may explain the apparent anomaly.

The 2011 TIP Report makes a number of recommendations for the Australian Government, including conducting a review of the legal framework and more proactively prosecuting labour trafficking cases. Other recommendations include improving victims’ access to financial compensation and civil remedies. On this point, in February 2011, the Australian Government concluded its public consultations on the Criminal Justice Response to Slavery and People Trafficking; Reparation; and Vulnerable Witness Protections, and another on the related issue of forced and servile marriage. The Government has not yet announced the outcome of these consultations.

Image sourced from:

Media articles:

  • 'Report on human trafficking in Ireland flawed, say NGOs', The Irish Times, 19 June 2007
  • 'Credibility of US report on human trafficking questioned', Agence France Presse, 14 August 2006
  • 'Proposal to raise UN criticism threshold in line with rules, China Daily, 20 June 2007
  • 'US listing draws Syed Hamid’s ire', New Straits Times, 14 June2007
  • 'Moscow accuses US State Dept of bias in Trafficking in Persons report', Interfax: Russia and CIS Newswire, 20 June 2009
  • 'Minister raps US over visa criticism', The Australian 14 June 2007
Journal Articles:

  • Anne Gallagher, 'Improving the Effectiveness of the International Law of Human Trafficking: A Vision for the Future of the US Trafficking in Persons Reports', Human Rights Review, 12 (December 2010) DOI 10.1007/s12142-010-0183-6
  • Janie Chuang, 'United States as Global Sheriff: Using Unilateral Sanctions to Combat Human Trafficking', Michigan Journal of International Law. 437 (2005-2006) pp 437 to 494;


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