How the Obama administration fought human trafficking

President Barack Obama with a 16-year-old trafficking victim from Myanmar, in Kuala Lumpur, 2015.

Story highlights

  • Obama administration prioritized fighting human trafficking, say Susan Coppedge and Amy Pope
  • Combating the crime is truly a bipartisan issue, they say

Susan Coppedge is the U.S. Ambassador-at-Large to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons and Senior Advisor to the Secretary of State. Amy Pope is the Deputy Homeland Security Advisor and Deputy Assistant to the President at National Security Council, The White House. The opinions expressed in this commentary are theirs.

(CNN)President Obama has declared this January "National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month," marking the United States' commitment to end human trafficking -- one of the most important human rights causes of our time.

Through force, fraud, and coercion, traffickers exploit more than 20 million adults and children in brothels and factories, on farms and boats, and in countless other industries around the world. Combating human trafficking is not easy, but President Obama and his administration have taken on the challenge and made fighting this insidious crime a priority over the last eight years.

'United in our efforts'

Fighting human trafficking requires a whole-of-society effort, with lawmakers, law enforcement officials, NGOs, survivors, the private sector, and consumers all united in our efforts. Under President Obama we have made a number of significant policy achievements to reorient our anti-trafficking efforts to better assist survivors, support prosecutors going after traffickers, and prevent the inadvertent use of goods or services involving forced labor in supply chains.
The President's Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons has forged unprecedented collaboration in the federal government and increased prosecutor capacity and improved victim identification and assistance efforts in the United States.
Throughout this Administration, federal law enforcement agencies have initiated over 6,000 human trafficking cases and secured over 4,000 convictions. Additionally, law enforcement investigations have identified more than 2,000 victims of human trafficking -- a statistic that is now available through the Victim Assistance Database, a resource that did not exist prior to December 2011.
In 2016, the Administration convened the first U.S. Advisory Council on Human Trafficking, made up of 11 human trafficking survivors appointed by President Obama. This Council is helping ensure that our anti-trafficking policies are grounded in the experiences of those most affected by these horrific crimes.
In 2012, the President issued an Executive Order strengthening protections against trafficking related activities in federal contracts, such as forbidding contractors from charging recruitment fees to workers and confiscating identification documents. To bolster this Executive Order, the State Department partnered with labor rights NGO Verité to launch www.ResponsibleSourcingTool.org, which offers contractors and other private sector companies tools and resources to analyze, prevent, and address human trafficking in their supply chains.
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In 2015, Congress took another step forward with the passage of the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act. Signed by the President, this Act gives U.S. Customs and Border Protection broad authority to prevent entry of imported goods that are suspected to be made with forced labor. In its first year, the Act was used to withhold the release of products from four different companies.

A bipartisan issue

Strong congressional leadership also led to the creation of new funds to support an anti-trafficking initiative aimed at reducing the prevalence of modern slavery around the globe. This effort, spearheaded by Senator Bob Corker, is unique in that it aims to galvanize investment money from the private sector and foreign governments to support innovative anti-trafficking initiatives. This type of public-private sector partnership and congressional-executive collaboration will be vital to the future success of our anti-trafficking efforts.
Fighting human trafficking is truly a bipartisan issue. The fight against modern slavery has benefited from strong congressional leadership on both sides of the aisle. Dating back to 2000 when Congress passed the landmark Trafficking Victims Protection Act, which provided the tools to combat modern slavery both abroad and domestically, both Democrats and Republicans have collaborated on this important human rights and law enforcement issue.
We also continue to engage diplomatically at the highest levels to urge other nations to continue developing and expanding their anti-trafficking laws and victim services frameworks.
This Administration, along with members of Congress, carries this message to foreign heads of state, legislatures, and civil society groups all over the world. The Department of State has worked closely with governments to support the passage, amendment, and implementation of anti-trafficking laws‎. Since 2009, 194 pieces of anti-trafficking legislation have been passed in countries around the world.
While many challenges remain, the United States is contributing to a strong foundation to fight this crime. With continued bipartisan support, I am confident the United States will continue to be a leader in the effort to rid the world of the exploitation of human beings for profit.