This week we celebrate the 72nd anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the momentous document created in the aftermath of World War II.
The United Nations included this statement as Article 4 of the declaration: “No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.”
All 192 current members of the United Nations have signed this declaration.
In 2000, the United Nations decided the article needed fleshing out and adopted the Palermo Protocol, which defines human trafficking and requires its participants to introduce national trafficking legislation that criminalizes trafficking and protects victims.
The purposes of the protocol are “(a) To prevent and combat trafficking in persons, paying particular attention to women and children; (b) To protect and assist the victims of such trafficking, with full respect for their human rights; and (c) To promote cooperation among States Parties in order to meet those objectives.”
Only 117 countries became signatories.
Why the disparity? Is it because some countries benefit from human trafficking and are not committed to protecting the human rights of trafficking victims?
The lack of commitment to human rights is borne out by data from the International Labor Organization, which says that 4 million of the 24.9 million victims of forced labor are being victimized by their own governments.
This is alarming, and it’s also shocking how little is being done to address this issue.
Two countries that are well known for state-sponsored, forced labor are top trading partners of the United States: China and Russia. China is the top trade partner of the United States, and Russia is in the top 30.
Talk to your congressperson and senators about this so real progress in this fight might be attained.
The United States Congress passed the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) in 2000. This act requires the U.S. Department of State to compile an annual report evaluating the progress of every country regarding its fight against human trafficking.
Countries are judged on many criteria, but the three purposes of the Palermo Protocol are included. From this report, we can get an idea of how much or little progress is being made.
In 2020, 189 countries were included in the Trafficking in Persons report.
Thirty-eight countries are in “Tier 1,” which means those governments meet the minimum requirements of the TVPA.
Another 88 countries are in “Tier 2,” signifying those governments “do not fully meet the TVPA’s minimum standards but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards.”
The “Tier 2 Watch List” contains 44 countries. This means they do not meet the minimum requirements but are making significant efforts to bring their countries into compliance.
However, it also indicates “the estimated number of victims of severe forms of trafficking is very significant or is significantly increasing and the country is not taking proportional concrete actions” or “there is a failure to provide evidence of increasing efforts to combat severe forms of trafficking in persons from the previous year.”
The 19 Tier 3 countries’ governments “do not fully meet the TVPA’s minimum standards and are not making significant efforts to do so.”
According to these numbers, 63 countries have signed the U.N.’s Declaration of Human Rights, which included the anti-slavery article, but do not meet the minimum requirements of the TVPA and aren’t really trying or aren’t making efforts proportional to the trafficking problem in their country.
Of those 63 countries, five are top trading partners of the United States: China, Malaysia, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam.
Our top trade partner, China, is on Tier 3, meaning they do not meet the minimum requirements and are not making significant efforts to bring their country into compliance.
The U.S. imports over $500 billion in products from China each year. Our government should exert pressure on China to substantially improve its record on human rights in general and human trafficking, specifically.
The United States should not be trading with countries that do not meet minimum standards for fighting human trafficking.
Sadly, it seems we can’t count on any governments to do the right thing for vulnerable people. The only actions we can control are our own.
Unfortunately, valuing human beings isn’t something that can be mandated.
As long as some people believe they have more worth than others and persuade the others – whether by force, fraud or coercion – that they are worthless, the problem of human trafficking will never end.
We must start with ourselves.
Do we pay caregivers at least minimum wage?
Do we hire contractors based on a low price and not consider whether they are paying their employees the legal minimum wage?
When men or boys talk about watching porn or buying sex, do you laugh it off? Or do you educate them about the harms to themselves and the people they are objectifying and buying?
The value of other human beings is learned at home. Do you teach your children to always buy the cheapest products or to consider how much the workers were paid?
Start now to teach your children to be conscious consumers. One easy way to know you are buying products made by people paid a fair, living wage is to buy Fair Trade Certified products.
So, on this 72nd anniversary of the UDHR, I’m asking you to prohibit “slavery and the slave trade” by taking concrete steps in your life because that’s the best place for each of us to start.
Editor’s note: This article is part of a series this week for Human Rights Day (Dec. 10). The previous articles in the series are:
No Room for Debate: Trans People Have Rights | Junia Joplin
Do We Observe Human Rights or Practice Hypocrisy? | Wendell Griffen
Nationality: Your Right to Belong in This World | Brent Hamoud
4 Ways You Can Help with Migrant Crisis | Sue Smith
Founder of Eastern North Carolina Stop Human Trafficking Now. She is a member of Oakmont Baptist Church in Greenville, North Carolina.