ABA President-Elect Vows to Help End Human Trafficking
American Bar Association President-Elect Laurel Bellows expressed confidence that the association would do its part to eliminate one of the fastest-growing crimes in the country.
“We are going to take the expertise of the ABA and end human trafficking in the U.S.,” she said. “But the ABA is not going to do it alone.”
Bellows was one of five speakers at a panel sponsored by the ABA Section of International Law titled, “Human Trafficking: Modern-Day Slavery on a Global Scale.”
Bellows, who has announced that human trafficking is a presidential initiative in the upcoming year, discussed how the ABA would partner with other organizations to tackle the issue. The programs already underway include the development of a uniform human trafficking law for states to adopt and business conduct standards for companies to use to eliminate slave labor from their supply chains. The ABA Task Force on Human Trafficking will also help train first responders to identify victims and promote pro bono work by lawyers to handle human trafficking cases. An awareness campaign is planned as well, something all five of the speakers agreed is necessary.
“Most people think of human trafficking as an international issue…but it happens here,” said Anita Alvarez, the Cook County (Ill.) State’s Attorney. “The people that are being trafficked are all local, not foreign-born.”
“This is a crime that will happen anywhere and everywhere,” added U.S. Ambassador Luis CdeBaca, senior adviser to the U.S. Secretary of State Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons.
According to the United Nations, human trafficking involves the act of recruiting, transporting, transferring, harboring or receiving a person through use of force, coercion or other means for the purpose of exploiting them. The U.N. says it is the third-largest criminal industry in the world.
However, the panelists discussed how the term “human trafficking” is not entirely accurate. Many victims have never been moved, and some are not involved in prostitution. They are forced to work in factories, homes and other places without pay.
“You can call it whatever you want to, but at the end of the day, it’s slavery,” CdeBaca said.
In the U.S., laws to prevent trafficking are inconsistent among the states. Forty-two have some criminal laws on the books, but only 10 states have a “complete package” including criminal prosecution, civil remedies and victim services, according to Anita Ramasastry, a law professor at the University of Washington. Ramasastry is also a vice-chair of the Uniform Law Commission’s Human Trafficking Drafting Committee, which is trying to develop a singular law on the issue that all states can adopt.
Illinois is one state with a more comprehensive approach. Alvarez calls the program “victim-centered, not victim-built.” One of the first steps involved changing the mindset of law enforcement that prostitutes are victims, not criminals. By decriminalizing juvenile prostitution, for example, victims are not pressured to testify, and they receive much-needed social services such as counseling. Another tool allows prosecutors to use wiretaps. Finally, those who solicit sex face increased fines and penalties—even their cars can be impounded. Alvarez says Cook County has charged 56 defendants under the law passed just two years ago.
Lawyers need to be aware of the risk to the companies they represent, CdeBaca added. Not only can illicit activity harm the reputation of the brand, he said, citing recent cases involving companies like Nike and Wal-Mart, but it also raises liability issues, especially as it relates to forced labor.
Serving as moderator for the discussion was Kenneth Thompson II , general counsel of Reed Elsevier, the parent company of LexisNexis. Thompson cautioned corporate lawyers about liability issues. “We need increased focus on the fact that this is a developing area of concern for business, from a reputational standpoint and a pure liability standpoint,” he said. Thompson explained that LexisNexis has made Combating Human Trafficking a key component of its Rule of Law Initiative. Its efforts aim to raise global awareness to help eradicate industry demand and encourage further pro bono efforts to end human trafficking.
A critical component to awareness of human trafficking has to be the survivors themselves, argued Karen Stauss, director of programs for Free the Slaves, a non-profit organization based in Washington, D.C.
“The greatest experts on this issue are the survivors,” she said. “They are starting their own organizations, and they are the most effective trainers.”
Portions of the award-winning documentary “Not My Life” were shown during the program.