Anti-Trafficking in Persons Day

Remarks by Ms. Elizabeth Pelletreau as prepared for delivery Chargé d’Affaires, a.i., of the United States of America in the Kingdom of Lesotho On the Occasion of the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Day

His Majesty the King
The Right Honorable the Prime Minister
Honorable Minister
Your Excellencies Heads of Diplomatic Missions and International Organizations
Senior government officials
Distinguished Guests
Colleagues and Friends
Bo-M’e le Bo-Ntate

“Trafficking in persons,” “human trafficking,” “modern-day slavery” —These terms have all been used to describe the criminal act of exploiting someone for the purposes of compelled labor or a commercial sex act through the use of force, fraud or coercion.

Victims of trafficking, whether of sex trafficking or forced labor, come from a variety of backgrounds and their stories often begin with dreams of a better life but a lack of options to get there.  Traffickers ruthlessly exploit this reality.  In particular, people seeking employment– at home or abroad – face the risk of fraudulent and abusive recruitment that can lead to human trafficking.  In such cases, they find that they are compelled to work in mines, factories, and agricultural fields, or as domestic workers, or in the commercial sex trade for little or no pay and with no way to leave or escape.

With more than 20 million people today trapped in human trafficking, it is a crime that happens almost everywhere and affects virtually everyone.  From Maseru to New York, Leribe to Los Angeles, human trafficking affects us all.

Earlier this week, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry released the 2015 Trafficking in Persons Report – the TIP Report.  This annual report, mandated by the U.S. Congress, looks at the efforts of every nation in the world to combat trafficking in persons.  More than simply reporting, Congress has directed that any nation that fails to take reasonable steps to prevent human trafficking, prosecute wrongdoers and protect victims may be barred from receiving many forms of U.S. foreign assistance.  The purpose of this report, as Secretary Kerry said, is to bring to the public’s attention the full nature and scope of a $150 billion illicit trafficking industry. …We want to provide evidence and facts that will help people who are already striving to achieve reforms to alleviate suffering and to hold people accountable.  We want to provide a strong incentive for governments at every level to do all that they can to prosecute trafficking and to shield at-risk populations.”

And in conveying these messages, let me acknowledge that even in the United States we have a trafficking problem and we need to listen and improve.

The theme of this year’s report is “Human Trafficking in the Global Marketplace,” and it focuses on how governments, businesses and individuals can work together to combat trafficking and protect workers around the world.

Governments must continue to combat human trafficking through strong law enforcement efforts and effective victim protection. The U.S Government stands prepared to help the government of Lesotho meet these responsibilities. Businesses can create anti-trafficking policies and map their supply chains to identify gaps in transparency and vulnerabilities; address the trafficking-related risks in their operations; and balance growth with anti-trafficking efforts. Individuals can use consumer awareness tools like SlaveryFootprint.org, to better understand how human trafficking affects their daily purchases and can leverage their buying power to demand that companies take steps to prevent modern slavery in their supply chains.

Individuals can and must also stay vigilant to trafficking in our midst.  If you see children who are forced to work rather than go to school – say something.  If in a hotel lobby, night after night, you see the same woman lurking around and looking afraid – talk to her, ask if she is ok.  If someone in your village is offered a job far away that sounds just too good to be true – help them understand the risks.

The Trafficking in Persons Report is a public document available to everyone and I encourage you to visit our Embassy website, maseru.usembassy.gov, to view the document.  You can read chapters dedicated to every country around the world, including a chapter about the problem in the United States, and how we are seeking to combat trafficking both globally and at home.

When you read the chapter on Lesotho, you will see that it paints a complex picture of both progress made and challenges still to be met.  As the report notes, Lesotho is a source, transit, and destination country for women and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking, and for men subjected to forced labor. In Lesotho and in South Africa, Basotho women and children are subjected to domestic servitude, and children endure commercial sexual exploitation. Some Basotho men, including those who migrate to South Africa for work in agriculture and mining, become victims of forced labor or are coerced into committing crimes.

Last year, Lesotho made a positive step forward with the launch of its National Strategic Framework and Action Plan to Combat Trafficking in Persons.  Now is the time for the government of Lesotho to move ahead with the prompt and comprehensive implementation of that plan with dedicated staff and budget to support the anti-trafficking fight.

Another area where urgent engagement is needed is in resolving the jurisdictional issues that thus far have prevented the effective implementation of Lesotho’s 2011 Anti-Trafficking Act.  Despite 11 victims of trafficking being identified last year, and four state prosecutors assigned to handle trafficking cases, no trafficking prosecutions were initiated in 2014.  The penalties in the 2011 Anti-Trafficking Act are designed to deter trafficking and hold wrongdoers to account, but if the law is not actively enforced, traffickers feel that they can act with impunity.  So it is critical to increase efforts to investigate and prosecute all trafficking offenses.

Human trafficking is a world-wide problem and it will take a coordinated international response to end this scourge.  The United States is proud to support Lesotho and other countries around the world as we collectively seek to bring traffickers to justice, support and empower the victims, and prevent the crime – because that’s what trafficking is, not a problem to be managed, it is a crime –the crime of modern-day slavery.  And it must be stopped.