(Washington, DC) – Today, Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Rob Portman (R-OH), Al Franken (D-MN), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Susan Collins (R-ME), and Joe Lieberman (I-CT) introduced the End Trafficking in Government Contracting Act. Despite a “zero tolerance” policy, investigations have found that human trafficking by federal government contractors and subcontractors operating overseas remains a serious problem.
Congressmen Darrell Issa (R-CA), Elijah Cummings (D-MD), James Lankford (R-OK), Gerry Connolly (D-VA), and Chris Smith (R-NJ) introduced the companion bill in the House of Representatives. The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform will hold a hearing on this issue entitled “Labor Abuses, Human Trafficking, and Government Contracts: Is the Government Doing Enough to Protect Vulnerable Workers?” tomorrow morning at 10 a.m., at which Sens. Blumenthal and Portman will appear to discuss the legislation.
“Modern-day slavery by government contractors - unknowingly funded by American taxpayers - is unconscionable and intolerable,” said Blumenthal. “Current law prohibiting human trafficking is insufficient and ineffective, failing to prevent or punish abuses. By increasing preventative scrutiny and investigation, this legislation will stop egregious human rights abuses on U.S. military bases, increasing security for our troops, and preventing waste of taxpayer dollars."
“We have heard from the Commission on Wartime Contracting and the Inspectors General of the Defense Department and State Department that existing protections against human trafficking in connection with overseas government contracts are not sufficient,” said Portman, the Ranking Member on the Senate’s Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight. “This bipartisan legislation takes a measured approach to improve both prevention and detection of severely coercive and exploitative labor practices. American taxpayers deserve to know that our federal contracting dollars are being spent in a manner consistent with our deeply held values as a nation.”
“Everyday innocent people are suffering because the laws on the books to prevent human trafficking by government contractors aren’t working,” said Franken. “This legislation will help end the repulsive practice of human trafficking, improve safety for our troops on our military bases, and prevent Minnesotan’s tax payer dollars from being spent on an act that conflicts so greatly with our country’s beliefs and ideals.”
“Every day, real people are living in the modern day slavery of the human trafficking trade, with some operations actually funded by taxpayer dollars. This bill will help crack down on this dehumanizing practice, particularly in government contracting labor operations, and I am proud to support it as one more step we can do to punish human rights abuses,” said Rubio.
Said Collins: “American tax dollars should never be allowed to subsidize human trafficking. The exploitation of persons recruited by unscrupulous labor brokers and subcontractors who misrepresent pay, charge excessive recruiting fees, and often confiscate immigration and identity documents, cannot be tolerated in overseas contingency operations under contracts funded by American taxpayers. The United States has a zero tolerance policy for trafficking in persons. Most contractors are honorable and work hard to do the right thing, and this bill will shore up accountability for those efforts by requiring contractors to have compliance plans to prevent trafficking and strengthen oversight and investigation tools to hold those who do not do the right thing accountable.”
“The United States has long had an official policy of zero tolerance for contractors who engage in human trafficking,” said Lieberman. “This bill will provide better tools for actually enforcing that policy and keeping contract dollars out of the hands of those who engage in horrific abuses of their workers.”
Currently, more than 70,000 third country nationals, recruited from countries like Bangladesh, Fiji, and the Philippines, work for contractors and subcontractors of the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Defense Department, State Department, and USAID also rely heavily on third country nationals worldwide. Lured by the promise of lucrative jobs, these workers find themselves the unwitting victims of illegal and fraudulent employment practices. These individuals often find their passports confiscated, and many face conditions akin to modern indentured servitude, with minimal wages and heavy debts owed to labor brokers. Many more suffer harassment and repeated sexual abuse. Additionally, trafficking by contractors is a threat to the security and welfare of service members. The presence of unauthorized personnel in restricted military areas poses serious risks to deployed personnel.
The End Trafficking in Government Contracting Act addresses this problem by enhancing prevention, accountability, and enforcement with regard to these trafficking abuses:
Prevention. The proposal prevents trafficking abuses by requiring contractors with contracts of over $1 million to implement compliance plans to prevent trafficking, including: destroying or confiscating passports; misrepresenting wages or work location; using labor brokers who charge exorbitant recruiting fees; and activities that support the procurement of commercial sex acts
Accountability. The bill improves accountability by requiring that a contractor notify the Inspector General if he or she receives “credible evidence” that a subcontractor has engaged in prohibited conduct; requiring the Inspector General to investigate such instances; and requiring the Inspector General to investigate such instances and consider swift remedial action against the contractor.
Enforcement. The bill improves enforcement of anti-trafficking requirements by:
- Expanding the criminal prohibitions that prevent fraudulent labor practices typically associated with human trafficking of third country nationals to include employees on overseas contracts.
- Codifying the range of remedial actions available for violations of anti-trafficking requirements, including the removal of an employee or the suspension or debarment of the contractor.