State Department Downgrades China, Russia on Human Trafficking

State Department Downgrades China, Russia on Human Trafficking

China, Russia, and Uzbekistan are simply not committed to addressing human trafficking. That’s the takeaway from the State Department’s new 2013 Trafficking in Persons Report, out Wednesday afternoon. After nine years each for China and Russia, and six years for Uzbekistan, on the State Department’s watch list, the status of the three countries was downgraded this year to "Tier 3," the lowest rank, which includes "countries whose governments do not fully comply with the minimum standards [to address human trafficking] and are not making significant efforts to do so." Guinea-Bissau and Mauritania were also downgraded to Tier 3, joining the ranks of North Korea, Saudi Arabia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, among others.

According to the Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking (ATEST), Russia "ranks among the top 10 countries of origin for trafficked individuals," with as many as "130,000 sex trafficking victims … in Moscow alone." The State Department report notes that while several Russian law enforcement and judicial bodies conduct "periodic training" on trafficking issues, the government does not investigate reported abuses. This includes the forced labor, documented by Human Rights Watch, being used to construct facilities for the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Workers have had their passports and other documentation seized, pay withheld, and contracts violated.

The State Department report also includes a case study of 12 migrant laborers from Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. Trapped in Russia, they "were held captive for 10 years in a supermarket after being promised employment in Russia." The owners of the supermarket held their documents and "used threats of violence, beatings, and sexual violence to demand subservience." A brief investigation was closed after Russian "prosecutors claimed there was no evidence of a crime."

China is singled out in the report for, among other things, its "birth limitation policy and a cultural preference for sons," which has led to "a skewed sex ratio of 118 boys to 100 girls." To fill that imbalance, the report notes that China has an unusually high "demand for the trafficking of foreign women as brides for Chinese men and for forced prostitution." China is also the country of origin of many sex trafficking victims, with "Chinese sex trafficking victims … reported on all of the inhabited continents" over the past year. Chinese men in forced labor were reported across Asia, in African mining operations, and in European agriculture. The Chinese government has run a series of public service announcements to raise awareness about human trafficking, and has addressed the issue on social media, including the popular microblogging site Weibo. But, the report notes in a particularly damning observation, "the government continued to perpetuate human trafficking in at least 320 state-run institutions."

In 2008, Congress legislated that, rather than keep countries on the government’s watch list indefinitely, nations that did not show signs of improvement of human trafficking over a series of yeas would face automatic demotion, and China and Russia have since exhausted the maximum two years of waivers to prevent their downgrade. The Tier 3 designation opens China, Russia, and Uzbekistan to potential U.S. sanctions. In a statement, Rep. Ed Royce, chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, suggested that more countries should be downgraded to Tier 3 and that the State Department report was "pulling punches."

Representatives from the Russian and Chinese embassies did not respond to requests for comment.