State Department played politics with human trafficking report

An investigation by Reuters recently found that the State Department's annual human trafficking report had been massively politicized to raise the grades of at least 14 countries, including Malaysia, Cuba, China, India, Uzbekistan, and Mexico. 

Of course, gaming the process makes the report useless, so Congress will hold hearings this week to determine just how much influence was wielded outside the office responsible for human trafficking in order to alter the report's conclusions.


Amy Sobel, vice president of Human Rights First’s anti-trafficking campaign, said Reuters' findings pointed to broader political interference, which risked "eroding the effectiveness" of the report and undermining international efforts.

State Department spokesman Mark Toner insisted the rankings are decided through “rigorous analysis” and said, "We stand by the process." But he acknowledged that allegations of political bias could damage perceptions of the report's credibility.

Analysts in the anti-trafficking office disagreed with U.S. diplomatic bureaus on ratings for 17 countries, the sources said. The analysts, who are specialists in assessing efforts to combat modern slavery, won only three of those disputes, the worst ratio in the 15-year history of the unit.

The number of rejected recommendations suggests a degree of intervention not previously known by top State Department diplomats in a report that can lead to sanctions.

The analysts' recommendation to downgrade China, the world's second-biggest economy, to the worst ranking was overruled despite the final report's conclusion that Beijing did not undertake increased anti-trafficking efforts in the past year.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry, asked about the Reuters story, said Beijing was "resolute" in the fight against human trafficking. But it chided the United States for "thoughtless remarks" and for grading other countries' efforts.

Malaysia's upgrade from the lowest grade could smooth the way for an ambitious proposed U.S.-led free-trade deal with the Southeast Asian nation and 11 other countries.

I suppose it's just coincidence that most of the countries whose grades were fudged have something the U.S. wants.  Cuba is obvious, of course, as is Mexico.  Uzbekistan offers an important supply line for our troops in Afghanistan.  And the administration is in no mood to tick off China.

In the long skein of things, the report has minimal impact outside shaming countries that get bad grades.  It won't do anything to reduce human trafficking or the suffering of trafficking victims.  But the politicization of government continues – right on up to reporting on a serious global problem that usually flies under the radar of public perception.

If you experience technical problems, please write to