This article is the first of a five-part series. Read the second part here.
Before Ivanka Trump joined President Trump’s first presidential trip abroad, she hastily hosted a second White House meeting with some architects of a $1.5 billion Global Fund to fight human trafficking. During this meeting, Ivanka proclaimed, “Combatting human trafficking and modern slavery is both a moral and strategic interest domestically and abroad. “ One cannot argue with that, but there are strategic and ethical questions that need to be addressed before such support should be offered. This Global Fund, as proposed by some NGOs will certainly benefit them, but it replicates a model that has failed dismally for nearly two decades. NGOs coffers have grown while the scourge of human traffic has expanded exponentially across the globe. What is needed first is a blue ribbon commission to look honestly at the data, the programmatic approaches that have worked and those that have not, and realistic, measurable goals for mitigation of a global problem.
The history of the current Global Fund is interesting because it raises some ethical questions and something about how this fund became targeted for the benefit of a few NGOs to the exclusion of many of the groups that have been major sources of information and intervention in this arena. A couple of years ago, this Global Fund plan was put into motion after Senator Corker went to the Philippines on a junket with Gary Haugen, CEO and President of International Justice Mission (JMI), who today brags about his annual budget of $60 million. Years ago, Google donated $11 million to IJM.
Six months after the trip, Senator Corker of Tennessee announced a global campaign – as if there were none before – and his primary vehicle was this initiative, End Modern Slavery (EMSI), bipartisan legislation sponsored with Senator Robert Melendez of New Jersey.
In 2015, Senator Corker introduced Senate bill 533, the End Modern Slavery Initiative (EMSI) Act of 2015. The bill encountered opposition, and when the 2016 Omnibus bill was passed on December 18, 2015, it contained the $25 million seed money Corker wanted designated to start the Fund if S.533 passed in FY 2016. If it did not pass, then that $25 million “shall be made available for other programs to combat trafficking in persons and modern slavery…” S.533 never passed.
Corker reintroduced the bill in February 2016. Senators Cruz and Mike Lee (R-UT) led that opposition. The bill was not voted on, and a manager’s amendment was inserted into the NDAA (National Defense Authorization Act) authorizing the original $25 million plus $37.5 million for 2017-2020 in December 2016.
The NDAA does not mention EMSI. Instead, it states “The Secretary of State is authorized to make a grant or grants of funding to provide support for transformational programs and projects that seek to achieve a measurable and substantial reduction of the prevalence of modern slavery in targeted populations within partner countries or jurisdictions. Not eradication, but “reduction of the prevalence of modern slavery.”
Although EMSI disappeared legislatively, a deal obviously was cut with Ambassador Coppedge, an Obama hold-over, who heads the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons office. Her office was to publish an RFP (Request for Proposals) because the bill creating the EMSI could not pass with conservative opposition. On January 25, 2017, Coppedge’s office held an “educational” meeting to promote EMSI in spite of its failure to pass twice on Capitol Hill, and the fact that it did not exist statutorily.
On February 23, 2017, those private organizations behind the EMSI arranged a meeting at the White House with President Trump and Ivanka even though EMSI was no longer part of any legislation. It was in that meeting that the President quoted a figure supplied by Haugen of 27 million victims of human trafficking, a bogus number that has been discredited repeatedly. That was the same day Haugen was interviewed on CNN and provided yet another number, not based on reliable data, on the number of victims of human trafficking. Then, he claimed that there were 45 million slaves on the planet, and that 70% of them lived in 12 countries. He spoke of a Global Fund as if it were legislatively created, which it was not. Data clearly are not important, only the fund.
On March 7, 2017, State Department released an RFP to fund and create a private organization that would do what EMSI was originally designed to do. The deadline for submissions was May 15, 2017.
On May 17, 2017, Ivanka hastily called this second White House meeting. Several legislators discussed bills they were introducing. Senator Corker discussed EMSI as if it had been authorized. Gary Haugen bragged about his $60 million budget, and spoke about EMSI, which no longer exists. The interesting aspect of that meeting is the people who were not invited to attend, whose voices would not be heard in this important discussion.
Many within the human trafficking arena are proclaiming disappointment with the Trump administration for supporting this Global Fund; however, large non-government organizations, such as International Justice Mission, WeProtect, Humanity United and Polaris Project, and others are supporting this fund. Even Google, whose very engine is used by child pornographers and by traffickers, supports the fund. In recent years though, Google funded the defense efforts of Backpage when these same NGOs went after Backpage for its platform being used to traffic victims. The duplicity, complicity and lack of ethics in this area are endless.
It is imperative that before a Global Fund is created, if at all, the known false data be addressed. The large NGOs must stop tossing out bogus numbers that create false narratives, and making claims that are not grounded in fact. Most importantly, the Trump administration’s efforts will not achieve their intended results of reducing the number of enslaved worldwide if they adhere to failed models.
While the problem is global, solutions are nuanced, influenced by the culture, the socio-economic factors, the kinds of industries, government, legislative and law enforcement environments that exist; so the first question must be whether a global effort is appropriate. While human trafficking is a transnational business, and it has international cost ramifications, the conditions that allow it to flourish are varied and complex.
That is why we urge the White House to do two things: establish a blue ribbon commission that is inclusive of those who have experience in the field, not just those few who designed the current global fund initiative, and to move the responsibility for human trafficking to the Department of Justice.
While we applaud the interest the White House has taken and the well-intentioned initiative, this approach is in many ways antithetical to the America first agenda of this Administration, and is amorphous and lacks focus on the domestic issues that are fueling human trafficking here.
Christine Dolan is an investigative journalist, and the former CNN Political Director. She is an authority on human trafficking globally having covered it for over 17 years. She is the author of Shattered Innocence – The Millennium Holocaust, and In the Name of God, two authoritative investigations on the global phenomenon of human trafficking.