A Global Shame — Turn The Tide On Human Trafficking

Christine Dolan Investigative Journalist
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This article is the first of a four-part series. Read the second part here.

Human trafficking is a shared global shame. It is time to turn the tide of history on this global phenomenon with a Churchillian global call to action way beyond the bragging rights of what anti-trafficking leaders proffer to Capitol Hill. Models must be dismantled significantly where fertile grounds of human trafficking flourish. If large U.S. non-governmental organizations (NGOs) continue to assert their influence and falsely claim success where impact is slim and unsustainable, they will continue to create a toxic global tolerance harming victims and naïve donors.

The current model fighting human trafficking would be deemed bankrupt if in the private sector because the monies expended bring about pitiful results. The current model is not a wise return on investment. It is time for anti-trafficking leaders to tell the truth, and for donors to challenge the large U.S. NGOs and the U.S. State Department’s vision of creating yet another global slush fund that ultimately will fail. It is time for the curtain to be raised fully on the protracted fraud exerted on the global stage.

Matt Friedman, an anti-trafficking consultant and CEO of The Mekong Club in Hong Kong, has been in the arena for 25 years, “In the past, donors that were incentivized to address this problem would say “we don’t have time to collect data.  Go and help those people!”  This lack of emphasis has resulted in the counter trafficking world often setting up programs in the dark.  It is like being asked to plan a wedding without knowing: who are the bride and groom, where will the event be, how much money is available, how many guests will be invited, etc.  It is hard to get these things right without the relevant details.”

It is even harder to undo the lies when so-called leaders continue to brazenly repeat them. And, that is why more than ever, there must be a shift in the paradigm within the anti-trafficking community from the bottom up. When the data is inconclusive, the strategy will produce inevitable pitiful results, but most importantly, there is no sane reason to take this model to a global stage, or claim that you will, if you cannot.

The first order of business is for U.S. Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn) and his architectural cabal to stop pretending that Corker’s illusion of a law – the End Modern Slavery Initiative (EMSI) — that corporatizes, professionalizes, and institutionalizes the fight against human trafficking, is actually law, or based on empirical research.  EMSI will accomplish nothing more than creating yet another platform Corker and his architects have compared to The Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, a massively mismanaged model steeped in protracted fraud and corruption, as evidenced by their Inspector General investigations.

It is no small thing when the Chairman of a major U.S. Senate Committee embraces self-serving arrogance to mischaracterize a law in the hopes of bulldozing opponents and the public to commit hundreds of millions of U.S. federal funds. EMSI was only voted out of Corker’s committee, but never reached the Senate floor for debate.  

Challenging Senator Bob Corker, who has been in elective office less time than I have covered politics, or for that matter, covered human trafficking, and giving him the opportunity to admit that his Senate Bill 553 calling for the establishment of the End Modern Slavery Initiative Fund (EMSI) failed, and that his data are dangerously off track, has proven impossible. Senator Corker is not dealing with reality.

Not only did Corker’s bill not pass, he did not even bring it to the Senate floor for a vote. Instead, when he realized that sending it to the floor for a vote would result in failure, he worked with Senator John McCain to push more money to the State Department in the hopes that his relationship with the State Department Ambassador for anti-trafficking, Susan Coppedge, would result in the State Department doing through executive fiat what Corker could not do through the Congress.

This foolish approach involves appropriation of at least $175 million of U.S. taxpayers’ money, reduced from the $250 million of U.S. funds that would have been spent if his Bill had passed. It is time for some serious Presidential and State Department leadership before President Trump’s Administration allows a global slush fund to go forward that will have no legal obligation to fight human trafficking even if it raises its stated goal of at least $1.5 billion dollars based upon a fraudulent U.S. government imprimatur.  After all they could take the position that poverty is “the cause” of trafficking and spend it on anti-poverty programs—something that could dilute the impact of any effort.

In a written response to this journalist’s written questions, and no further reply to follow-up questions or an interview request after that, Corker claims, “The bill never “failed.” S.553 was unanimously approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in February 2015 and was reported to the full Senate. The bill was submitted for unanimous consent and we worked with a number of senators to address concerns. While the bill, with modifications, would have easily passed the Senate, due to limited opportunities for floor consideration, we instead sought to include the language in the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act. We worked with senators on the Armed Services Committee to ensure that the language could be included in the base text of the NDAA without objections and also worked with members of the House of Representatives to make additional modifications to ensure that the language could be retained in conference without objection.”

To the savvy reader, this claim rings false. If the bill would have passed, why did Corker wait to slip it into a 2017 National Defense Authorization bill —why did it take so long? Because pro-life and victim centered groups that oppose making sex trafficking legal would not support its passage, and the attention of a floor debate and vote would have exposed the many problems with Corker’s bill.

Senator Michael Lee (R-Utah) emphatically challenges Corker’s spin, “Noble in its original intention, the End Modern Slavery Initiative (EMSI) Act of 2015 (S.553 in the 114th Congress) never saw final passage. While funds were authorized to be given to State Department grant programs through the National Defense Authorization Act of 2017, the actual creation of a new quasi-autonomous non-governmental entity never passed into law. I hope that the funds, when obligated, will go to further existing anti-trafficking efforts; not to create new layers of bureaucracy and new pots of money that are co-mingled with funds not accountable to Congress.”

A U.S. Government tracking site even disagrees with Senator Corker: “This bill was introduced on February 26, 2015, in a previous session of Congress, but was not enacted.”

To supporters of this EMSI Fund, opposition is simply nitpicking and ignorance. That is hardly the case. The 2016 Consolidated Appropriations Act specifically states that only if the End Modern Slavery Initiative Act (EMSI) itself passed, would the first $25 million dollars inserted by Corker into the 2016 Omnibus Appropriations Bill be designated to that fund, the intent of which Corker and his architects wanted to use as seed money for the Global Fund to End Slavery to raise at least $1.5 billion. Since the EMSI Act did not pass, the State Department should not use those funds to carry out a plan that twice only made it as far as Corker’s Subcommittee, which he chaired and controlled.   The language is very clear, “Provided, That such funds shall only be made available in fiscal year 2016 to carry out the End Modern Slavery Initiative Act of 2015 (S. 553, 114th Congress), as reported to the Senate, if such bill is enacted into law:  Provided further, That if such bill is not enacted into law in fiscal year 2016, funds made available pursuant to this subsection shall be made available for other programs to combat trafficking in persons and modern slavery, following consultation with the appropriate congressional committees.”

A brief history of how Corker came to introduce the bill and the players behind it reveal a different reason for opposition—the EMSI Fund will harm victims, not merely waste money; create a Global Slush Fund with holes that expands the already broad definition of human trafficking, replicates policies that are proven failures, and acknowledges parties as experts who bend, massage, and conflate data, skew the success of their programs for further funding, hijack human trafficking for political agendas, and miss the mark on reducing the number of victims.

If the ultimate goal is to eradicate slavery in the 21st Century, Corker’s model for a global fund to end trafficking is a bankrupt model. It is nothing short of institutionalizing the effort, but not the strategy that will win this war.