Trafficking Across the Globe: A Summary Report on U.S. Policy

Fiona Cox
Publication Date: 
Tuesday, August 24, 2010

In June 2010, the U.S. Department of State released its tenth annual edition of the Trafficking in Persons Report (the “TIP Report”). The TIP Report is comprehensive; it includes the definition of trafficking, relevant international conventions, country narratives, and individual stories. The TIP Report highlights trafficking in persons as a human rights issue and views this issue as related to fundamental rights of civil liberties.

The TIP Report can be found at

Fact sheet:

Introductory letters from U.S. Secretary of State, Hilary Rodham Clinton, and Ambassador Luis CdeBaca:

In her letter opening the TIP Report, the U.S Secretary of State, Hilary Rodham Clinton states that: “The 10th annual Trafficking in Persons Report outlines the continuing challenges across the globe, including in the United States. The TIP Report, for the first time, includes a ranking of the United States based on the same standards to which we hold other countries. The United States takes its first-ever ranking not as a reprieve but as a responsibility to strengthen global efforts against modern slavery, including those within America. This human rights abuse is universal, and no one should claim immunity from its reach or from the responsibility to confront it.”

Ambassador Luis CdeBaca’s letter encourages governments and civil societies to work in partnership to identify victims and punish traffickers. He aspires for a dramatic change that would make this year that we imagine a world without slavery.

10 Years of Fighting Modern Slavery

The TIP Report surmises that in the last 10 years, much has been learned about the crime of human trafficking and how to respond to it. However, while the Report reflects upgrades for 22 countries in recognition of long overdue results, it downgrades 19 countries for demonstrating sparse victim protections, desultory implementation, or inadequate legal structures.

 The Law:

In 2000, the United States enacted the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), and the United Nations adopted the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress, and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, also known as the Palermo Protocol. The Palermo Protocol focused the attention of the global community on combating human trafficking.

The TIP Report lists which countries have ratified the relevant International Conventions, which include:

  • Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, Supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime
  • International Labour Organization Convention 182, Convention Concerning the Prohibition and Immediate Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour
  • Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography
  • Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child in Armed Conflict
  • ILO Convention 29, Forced Labour
  • ILO Convention 105, Abolition of Forced Labour

The definition of Trafficking in Persons under the TVPA:

Under the TVPA, a person may be a trafficking victim regardless of whether they once consented, participated in a crime as a direct result of being trafficked, were transported into the exploitative situation, or were simply born into a state of servitude.

The TVPA defines “severe forms of trafficking” as:

  1. sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age; or,
  2. the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery. A victim need not be physically transported from one location to another in order for the crime to fall within these definitions.

Most people are trafficked for forced labor than for commercial sex. Trafficking can occur without movement across borders or domestically. Men comprise a significant number of trafficking victims. And traffickers often use sexual violence as a weapon against women to keep them in compelled service, whether in a field, a factory, a brothel, a home, or a war zone.

For Human Trafficking by the Numbers, see Page 7 of the Report.


The Department of State prepared the TIP Report using information from U.S. embassies, government officials, NGOs and international organizations, published reports, research trips to every region, and information submitted to

Tier Placement: The Department places each country in the TIP Report onto one of three tiers as mandated by the TVPA. This placement is based more on the extent of government action to combat trafficking than on the size of the problem, although the latter is also an important factor. The analyses are based on the extent of governments’ efforts to reach compliance with the TVPA’s minimum standards for the elimination of human trafficking. While Tier 1 is the highest ranking, it does not mean that a country doesn’t have an human trafficking problem. On the contrary, a Tier 1 ranking indicates that a government has acknowledged the existence of human trafficking, has made efforts to address the problem, and meets the TVPA’s minimum standards. Tier rankings and narratives in the TIP Report reflect the following:

A Guide to the Tiers:

Tier 1: Countries whose governments fully comply with the TVPA’s minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking.

Tier 2: Countries whose governments do not fully comply with the TVPA’s minimum standards but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards.

Tier 2 Watch List: Countries whose governments do not fully comply with the TVPA’s minimum standards, but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards AND:

a)       the absolute number of victims of severe forms of trafficking is very significant or is significantly increasing;

b)       there is a failure to provide evidence of increasing efforts to combat severe forms of trafficking in persons from the previous year, including increased investigations, prosecution, and convictions of trafficking crimes, increased assistance to victims, and decreasing evidence of complicity in severe forms of trafficking by government officials; or,

c)       the determination that a country is making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with minimum standards was based on commitments by the country to take additional steps over the next year.

Tier 3: Countries whose governments do not fully comply with the minimum standards and are not making significant efforts to do so.

Penalties for Tier 3 Countries may include withholding of non-humanitarian, non-trade-related foreign assistance among other things.

Major forms of Human Trafficking:

Forced Labor: The International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates that for every trafficking victim subjected to forced prostitution, nine people are forced to work. Also known as involuntary servitude, forced labor may result when unscrupulous employers exploit workers made more vulnerable by high rates of unemployment, poverty, crime, discrimination, corruption, political conflict, or cultural acceptance of the practice. Immigrants are particularly vulnerable, but individuals also may be forced into labor in their own countries. Female victims of forced or bonded labor, especially women and girls in domestic servitude, are often sexually exploited as well.

Sex Trafficking: When an adult is coerced, forced, or deceived into prostitution – or maintained in prostitution through coercion – that person is a victim of trafficking. All of those involved in recruiting, transporting, harboring, receiving, or obtaining the person for that purpose have committed a trafficking crime. Sex trafficking can also occur within debt bondage, as women and girls are forced to continue in prostitution through the use of unlawful “debt” purportedly incurred through their transportation, recruitment, or even their crude “sale” – which exploiters insist they must pay off before they can be free.

Bonded Labor: When traffickers or recruiters unlawfully exploit an initial debt the worker assumed as part of the terms of employment. Workers may also inherit debt in more traditional systems of bonded labor. In South Asia, for example, it is estimated that there are millions of trafficking victims working to pay off their ancestors’ debts.

Debt Bondage Among Migrant Workers: The attribution of illegal costs and debts on these laborers in the source country, often with the support of labor agencies and employers in the destination country, can contribute to a situation of debt bondage. This is the case even when the worker’s status in the country is tied to the employer as a guest-worker in the context of employment-based temporary work programs.

Involuntary Domestic Servitude: A unique form of forced labor is the involuntary servitude of domestic workers, whose workplace is informal, connected to their off-duty living quarters, and not often shared with other workers. Such an environment, which often socially isolates domestic workers, is conducive to nonconsensual exploitation since authorities cannot inspect private property as easily as they can inspect formal workplaces.

Forced Child Labor: The sale and trafficking of children and their entrapment in bonded and forced labor are among these worst forms of child labor, and these are forms of trafficking. A child can be a victim of human trafficking regardless of the location of that nonconsensual exploitation. Indicators of possible forced labor of a child include situations in which the child appears to be in the custody of a non-family member who has the child perform work that financially benefits someone outside the child’s family and does not offer the child the option of leaving.

Child Soldiers: Involves the unlawful recruitment or use of children – through force, fraud, or coercion – as combatants or for labor or sexual exploitation by armed forces. Many children are forcibly abducted and used as combatants. Others are unlawfully made to work as porters, cooks, guards, servants, messengers, or spies. Young girls can be forced to marry or have sex with male combatants. Both male and female child soldiers are often sexually abused and are at high risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases.

Child Sex Trafficking: According to UNICEF, as many as two million children are subjected to prostitution in the global commercial sex trade.

Forced and Child Marriages: Forced marriage is one entered into without full consent and under duress, where the individual has no right to choose a partner or ability to say no. Trafficking and forced marriage intersect when marriage is used both in conjunction with force, fraud, coercion, or abuse of power and as a means to subject wives to conditions of slavery, often in the form of domestic or sexual servitude.


Other forms of Human Trafficking:

Diplomats and Domestic Workers: Because diplomats generally enjoy immunity from civil and criminal jurisdiction while on assignment, legal recourse and remedies available to domestic workers in their employ – and the criminal response otherwise available to the host government – are often significantly limited. The U.S. government has undertaken a number of steps to reduce the vulnerability of domestic workers employed by diplomats to all aspects of labor exploitation, including trafficking offenses.

Contract Fraud and Contract Switching: Contract switching increases a migrant worker’s vulnerability to human trafficking. Upon arrival in destination countries, many migrants find the jobs and working conditions differ substantially from those they agreed to in their original employment contracts, whether written or oral. Some employers make employees sign new contracts at their destination, while others alter contracts without the knowledge or consent of workers. Labor recruiters, labor agents, sponsors, and employers can use such fraud in original employment offers as a tool to induce workers into forced labor.

Government contractors and government procurement of labor: Governments are massive consumers of services and goods. Therefore, government contracts should address modern slavery to ensure that government funds do not inadvertently contribute to trafficking offenses. Too often it is reported that workers – particularly in combat zones – have been misinformed about their contracts, are poorly housed, have their passports confiscated, and are required to pay back large recruitment fees. Bidding for government business is often based in part on cost, but governments must let contractors and subcontractors know up front any cost advantage will be, at best, illusory if obtained by force, fraud, or coercion. 


Women comprise at least 56 percent of the world’s trafficking victims. They are exploited in fields and brothels, in homes and conflicts, and in factories and fisheries. More women are being pushed out of developing countries due to economic, familial, and societal pressures – becoming ever more vulnerable to modern slavery.

Women continue to be enslaved in commercial sex around the world. They are often arrested for participating in a crime that victimizes them when they should instead be provided with services and benefit from a well-trained police force implementing proven and compassionate victim identification measures. Women continue to toil in sweatshop factories without food or break, sewing garments, peeling shrimp, and weaving carpets under threat of violence. Bonded by debt and force, they pick cotton, mine conflict minerals, and harvest rice alongside their children. They toil in diplomatic households and suburban residences as domestic workers often without anyone knowing they are there let alone being abused.

Trafficking in persons does not include: Illegal adoptions, as it does not necessarily involve the use of force, fraud, or coercion to compel services from a person; the trade in human organs, traffickers use coercive means, such as force or threats of force to secure the removal of the victim’s organs; child pornography, unless a child is actually induced to perform a commercial sex act for the purpose of producing the pornography; or prostitution by willing adults.

The 3P Paradigm:

In March 1998, President Bill Clinton’s Executive Memorandum on the Trafficking of Women and Children was issued. Since then, the U.S. government has advocated a policy structured by the “3P” paradigm: prosecution, protection, and prevention.

Prosecution: Criminalization is mandatory for all parties to the Palermo Protocol, and the importance of prosecution is reflected in the U.S. law enforcement approach. Passing modern laws that prohibit all forms of trafficking by focusing on the enslavement of victims rather than the recruitment and transportation of workers or people in prostitution is an important first step in complying with the Palermo Protocol and meeting the TVPA minimum standards.

Protection: Law enforcement alone without victim protections is an inadequate response. A victim-centered approach does not mean assisting a potential witness just long enough to get his or her testimony; it means meeting needs and fulfilling obligations that extend beyond the confines of a criminal case.

Prevention: While prevention is an important goal, neither the Palermo Protocol nor the TVPA as amended give much guidance in setting forth prevention activities beyond the obvious: public awareness campaigns, addressing root causes, and conducting law enforcement-related or border security activities. A decade later, governments are expanding their understanding of prevention to include policies and practices that cut off modern slavery at the source. This includes initiatives that both combat the demand for commercial sex and ensure that the demand for low prices is balanced by a demand for traceability, transparency, and worker protections throughout the supply chain.

It is imperative that the “3P” paradigm is used instead of a competing, more unfortunate, paradigm: the “3D” phenomenon of detention, deportation and disempowerment.

The Report sites the following guidelines in developing good anti-trafficking law:

  • A broad definition of the concept of “coercion” that covers its many manifestations in modern forms of slavery, including the threat of physical, financial, or reputational harm sufficiently serious to compel a reasonable person to perform or to continue performing labor or services in order to avoid incurring that harm.
  • A well-articulated definition of trafficking that facilitates effective law enforcement and prosecutorial responses and allows for the collection of meaningful data. The definition should incorporate all forms of compelled service in addition to forced prostitution. The definition should not simply criminalize the recruitment or transportation of prostituted persons. The definition should not include related but distinct crimes, such as alien smuggling or prostitution.
  • A mechanism of care provided to all suspected victims of trafficking through which they have the opportunity to access basic services – including shelter, food, medical care, psycho-social counseling, legal aid, and work authorization.
  • Explicit immigration relief for trafficking victims, regardless of their past legal status, and relief from any legal penalties for unlawful activities committed by victims as a direct result of their trafficking.
  • Specific protections for child victims of trafficking ensuring a responsible chain of custody and a priority placed on the best interests of the child in all decisions made in providing services to them.
  • Explicit provisions ensuring identified victims have access to legal redress to obtain financial compensation for the trafficking crimes committed against them. In order to be meaningful, such access must be accompanied by options to obtain immigration relief. Trafficking victims should not be excluded from legal services providers who can assist with these efforts, whether NGOs or government programs.

The TIP Report warns that immigration enforcement, developed and implemented without taking into account anti-trafficking standards and victim care responsibilities, is an aggressive response that ignores basic tenets of victim protection. Beyond hindering the effectiveness of anti-trafficking efforts, harsh anti-migration responses can contribute to new cases of human trafficking. Migrants who were not yet in trafficking situations become more vulnerable to forced labor and forced prostitution when exploiters can effectively use the threat of their detention and deportation – without the opportunity to seek legal redress for human trafficking complaints – to obtain or maintain the migrants’ forced labor or service. They also become vulnerable to trafficking when expelled to third countries with no protections for undocumented foreigners.


The TIP Report lists the following 10 governmental practices to fighting human trafficking:

  1. Complicity of law enforcement officials in trafficking offenses.
  2. Legal and administrative penalties imposed on trafficking victims as a direct result of their enslavement, including, but not limited to, penalties for engaging in prostitution or immigration offenses.
  3. Guestworker programs giving “sponsors” or employers inordinate power over migrant workers’ legal status and basic freedoms and denying victims any ability to make a complaint.
  4. Lack of meaningful legal alternatives to the involuntary repatriation of victims.
  5. Trade policies and agreements/regimes that fail to safeguard against forced labor and labor exploitation, particularly when involving states that have a poor record of addressing labor exploitation.
  6. Barriers to citizenship. Without birth certificates, national identification cards, or other identity documents, stateless persons and some indigenous groups are vulnerable to being trafficked.
  7. Bilateral labor agreements between source and destination governments that allow employers to confiscate/withhold travel documents and allow summary deportation of workers without trafficking victim protections.
  8. Lack of education available to women, girls, and other populations, which blocks them from mainstream economic advancement and leaves them vulnerable to trafficking.
  9. Internal migration controls. When populations within a country can move within the country’s borders only with special permission, they often turn to the underground economy where traffickers flourish.
  10. Clumsily conceived “anti-trafficking” activities, such as wholesale raids of worksites or brothel districts without initial investigation to determine whether trafficking is occurring, or of the suspension of emigration or immigration or other activities (in the name of fighting trafficking) for an entire country or nationality.

TIP Report recommendations for human trafficking considerations in disaster response:

According to the TIP Report, natural disasters can lead to increased physical and economic insecurity. These disasters disproportionately affect the most vulnerable sectors of society – migrants, job seekers, and poor families – making them easy targets for exploitation and enslavement.

The TIP Report lists the following useful considerations (in brief) for the international community and governments responding to modern slavery in the context of natural disaster response:

  • Counter-trafficking interventions must start in the emergency phase of disaster response.
  • Definitions matter. The key question under the Palermo Protocol is not whether someone has been moved, it is whether they are in compelled service, whether such service is termed enslavement, involuntary servitude, debt bondage, sex trafficking, forced labor, or practices similar to slavery.
  • Institutional support is the key to sustainability. International efforts should focus on supporting the government in playing the predominant role, avoid fostering dependence on the international community, and be well coordinated to leverage resources and avoid duplication of efforts.
  • Engagement of local stakeholders and consideration of cultural factors are essential. Sustainable trafficking interventions depend on the robust engagement of civil society with government. They also should take into account cultural factors, such as practices surrounding child custody.
  • Trafficking interventions should pay particular attention to the most vulnerable sectors of the population. Efforts should be made to rapidly identify, register, and provide interim care for separated and unaccompanied children while family tracing is done. Special care should be taken to protect women and girls from gender-based violence, particularly in spontaneous settlements and displaced persons camps.
  • Governments should assess the existing vulnerabilities and ensure policies, legislative tools, and social norms are adequate to respond.

Human trafficking research: informing policies and programs

The TIP Report refers to several recent studies that have made inroads and suggests that the findings of these studies would be useful for law enforcement and service providers:

  • Finding Victims of Human Trafficking (University of Chicago); and Understanding and Improving Law Enforcement Responses to Human Trafficking (Northeastern University)
  • Global Database on Human Trafficking (IOM)
  • Male Trafficking in Serbia (The Victimology Society of Serbia)
  • Strategic Information Response Network (SIREN) (United Nations Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking in Bangkok, Thailand)
  • Trafficking of Men – A Case Less Considered: The Case of Belarus and Ukraine (IOM and the NEXUS Institute)

TIP Report Heroes

Each year, the Department of State honors individuals around the world who have devoted their lives to the fight against human trafficking. These individuals are NGO workers, lawmakers, police officers, and concerned citizens who are committed to ending modern slavery. They are recognized for their tireless efforts – despite resistance, opposition, and threats to their lives – to protect victims, punish offenders, and raise awareness of ongoing criminal practices in their countries and abroad. The TIP Report lists nine such individuals.


In addition to the aforementioned information, the TIP Report includes a comprehensive review of Human Trafficking country-by-country that spans over 200 pages of the report.