Human Trafficking:

Better Data, Strategy, and Reporting Needed to Enhance U.S. Antitrafficking Efforts Abroad

GAO-06-825: Published: Jul 18, 2006. Publicly Released: Aug 14, 2006.

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Human trafficking is a worldwide form of exploitation in which men, women, and children are bought, sold, and held against their will in involuntary servitude. In addition to the tremendous personal damage suffered by individual trafficking victims, this global crime has broad societal repercussions, such as fueling criminal networks and imposing public health costs. In 2000, Congress enacted the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) to combat trafficking and reauthorized this act twice. This report reviews U.S. international antitrafficking efforts by examining (1) estimates of the extent of global trafficking, (2) the U.S. government's strategy for combating the problem abroad, and (3) the Department of State's process for evaluating foreign governments' antitrafficking efforts.

The U.S. government estimates that 600,000 to 800,000 persons are trafficked across international borders annually. However, such estimates of global human trafficking are questionable. The accuracy of the estimates is in doubt because of methodological weaknesses, gaps in data, and numerical discrepancies. For example, the U.S. government's estimate was developed by one person who did not document all his work, so the estimate may not be replicable, casting doubt on its reliability. Moreover, country data are not available, reliable, or comparable. There is also a considerable discrepancy between the numbers of observed and estimated victims of human trafficking. The U.S. government has not yet established an effective mechanism for estimating the number of victims or for conducting ongoing analysis of trafficking related data that resides within government entities. While federal agencies have undertaken antitrafficking activities, the U.S. government has not developed a coordinated strategy for combating trafficking abroad or developed a way to gauge results and target its overall assistance. The U.S. government has established coordination mechanisms, but they do not include a systematic way for agencies to clearly delineate roles and responsibilities in relation to each other, identify needs, or leverage activities to achieve greater results. Further, the U.S. government has not established performance measures or conducted evaluations to gauge the overall impact of antitrafficking programs abroad, thus preventing the U.S. government from determining the effectiveness of its efforts or adjusting its assistance to better meet needs. The Department of State assesses foreign governments' compliance with minimum standards to eliminate trafficking in persons; but the explanations for ranking decisions in its annual Trafficking in Persons Report are incomplete, and the report is not used consistently to develop antitrafficking programs. It has increased global awareness, encouraged government action, and raised the risk of sanctions against governments who did not make significant efforts to comply with the standards. However, State does not comprehensively describe compliance with the standards, lessening the report's credibility and usefulness as a diplomatic tool. Further, incomplete country narratives reduce the report's utility as a guide to help focus U.S. government resources on antitrafficking programming priorities.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In their June 2006 comments on the report, State agreed that more research would help in the fight against trafficking in persons. In 2007, according to State, discussions were held within the Trafficking Research subcommittee of the Senior Policy Operating Group (an interagency coordination group chaired by State's Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (G/TIP)), on the most effective means for gathering statistical data and other research informing trafficking policy but no specific actions were identified to us. In December 2008, Congress passed the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 that, among other things, called for the establishment and maintenance of an integrated database housed within the Human Smuggling and Trafficking Center (a multi-agency center) and maintained in consultation with State's G/TIP. The database was intended to, among other things, be a mechanism for quantifying the number of victims of trafficking on a national, regional, and international basis. The House report accompanying the law cited GAO's findings as the rationale and support for mandating the establishment of the database. According to a June 2010 letter from State, in response to the law, the Human Smuggling and Trafficking Center has secured resources and hired a consulting firm to develop a database on human trafficking. State and the Department of Justice are working on a trafficking statistics and datasets research project to develop a catalog of current U.S. statistics and datasets.

    Recommendation: To improve efforts to combat trafficking in persons abroad, the Secretary of State, in her capacity as Chair of the Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking, should consider working closely with relevant agencies as they implement U.S. law calling for research into the creation of an effective mechanism to develop a global estimate of trafficking. This could include assigning a trafficking data and research unit to serve as an interagency focal point charged with developing an overall research strategy, collecting and analyzing data, and directing research.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: While State has taken some actions towards implementing the recommendation, these actions are still in process and not yet complete, leaving the recommendation partially unimplemented. Due to the age of this recommendation, GAO is no longer tracking State's efforts to implement the recommendation. According to State, in March 2008, the Senior Policy Operating Group (SPOG) established the Global Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Coordination Subcommittee to allow for consultation earlier in the program planning process, and to institutionalize information-sharing to enhance the complementarity of U.S. government international anti-trafficking programs. As of July 2009, State stated that the Subcommittee had begun assessing indicators used by member agencies to create common government-wide indicators for TIP programming as well as best practices. In November 2011, State reported that these indicators were being reviewed and finalized in consultation with stakeholders, including Office of Management and Budget and congressional staff. In addition, in April 2009, State posted information to its website that provided an overview of U.S. government agencies' principal roles to combat trafficking in persons.

    Recommendation: To improve efforts to combat trafficking in persons abroad, the Secretary of State, in her capacity as Chair of the Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking, should consider, in conjunction with relevant agencies, developing and implementing a strategic approach that would delineate agency roles and responsibilities in relation to each other, strengthen mechanisms for integrating activities, and determine priorities, measurable goals, time frames, performance measures, and a methodology to gauge results.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In a June 2006 letter, State noted that it would continue to increase the comprehensiveness of the report and seek to provide more detailed explanation where appropriate for tier rankings. State has taken steps to include more comprehensive narratives in the annual trafficking in persons reports. We re-applied our methodology to analyze the 2008 report and found significant improvements. For example, a comparison of the tier 1 country narratives in the 2008 report with the 2005 report showed that the percentage of narratives that contained unclear descriptions or failed to mention certain criteria decreased overall and the rationale for the tier rankings had improved. The 2008 country narratives also showed a vast improvement in affirmative compliance of the minimum standards, particularly in the areas of prosecution, protection, prevention. With the increase in tier 1 countries whose governments affirmatively comply with minimum criteria and with the increased clarity and citation of relevant criteria in the report's country narratives, the State Department has strengthened their support for their rankings and has improved the credibility of the report.

    Recommendation: To improve efforts to combat trafficking in persons abroad and to improve the credibility of State's annual report on trafficking in persons, the Secretary of State, in her capacity as Chair of the Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking, should ensure that the report clearly documents the rationale and support for tier rankings and improve the report's usefulness for programming by making the narratives more comprehensive.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

 

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