Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns

Representing Maryknoll Fathers & Brothers, Maryknoll Sisters, and Maryknoll Lay Missioners
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Trade: No Fast Track for Human Traffickers

The following article appeared in the July-August 2015 NewsNotes.

On June 12, at the height of the Fast Track fight on Capitol Hill, the following opinion piece by Maryknoll Sister Helene O’Sullivan in support of the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) bill’s "No Fast Track for Human Traffickers" amendment was published in The Hill, an influential news source on Capitol Hill.

On June 29, the TPA package, including the human trafficking amendment, was signed into law. (See related article here.)

However, during the week of July 6, a Senate and House conference committee will meet to determine the final version of a customs and enforcement bill which could overwrite the language in the TPA law signed into law last month. Sr. Helene’s request to lawmakers to put the dignity of human life before corporate profit remains an urgent plea.

[In late May], the horrors of human trafficking in Malaysia became known to the world with the uncovering of unmarked graves near an abandoned migrant camp. This discovery confirms Malaysia’s designation by the State Department as a "Tier 3 country," indicating that it has serious human trafficking problems and is not making significant efforts to fight the scourge of modern-day slavery.

This grim reminder of the possible fate of migrant workers is a strong argument for the inclusion of the "No Fast Track for Human Traffickers" amendment in the Trade Promotion Authority bill passed by the U.S. Senate.

The amendment, promoted by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), bars Tier 3 designated countries, such as Malaysia, from inclusion of U.S. trade deals subject to fast track consideration. And there is good reason for this.

In his letter "21st Century Slavery—the Human Rights Dimension to Trafficking in Human Beings," Pope John Paul II said human trafficking "constitutes a shocking offense against human dignity and a grave violation of fundamental human rights … in particular the sexual exploitation of women and children."

Our trade agreements should not support governments that turn a blind eye to trafficking and are not taking clear steps to prevent it. All people have inherent human dignity and worth. Countries that tolerate or condone trafficking of people condone the violation of this sacred gift.

As a Maryknoll Sister, I have worked with survivors of trafficking in Hong Kong and Cambodia. Our center in Phnom Penh provides room and board, counseling, primary and middle school education and job training for employment in four- and five-star hotels for young women as they start a new life in the city.

One illustration of the reality of this modern day slavery is a young woman from the Cambodian countryside named Sina. She had been poor and came from a dysfunctional family that abused her. She ran to a friend’s house and together they ran away from home. When they ran out of the little money they had, her friend brought her to a house and sold her. She soon realized the house was a brothel where she joined seven other girls who were tied up and made to use their bodies for sex. If she refused, the brothel owner would pull one of her teeth, starting in the back of her mouth. When I first met her, all of her teeth were gone. Sina was rescued by the anti-trafficking police unit and brought to our center for help. We took her to a dentist and provided her support through this traumatic experience and to help her find a fresh start.

Through my work, I have also traveled throughout Southeast Asia and I collaborate with a network of Catholic sisters in the region. Trafficking is a huge problem in Southeast Asia overall and must be taken into consideration as Congress considers Fast Track authority for trade agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

If the TPP were allowed to bypass fulsome debate in Congress through Fast Track, I worry that it will be difficult to enforce robust labor standards that ensure the dignity of work for all individuals.

Although the TPP is being negotiated with only 11 countries right now (including Malaysia), it is a docking agreement so other countries could possibly join, including Thailand, which is also a Tier 3 designated country. We shouldn’t trade with countries that are willing to shield and condone slavery of human life in any form.

… The Senate voted to stand against modern day slavery in trade agreements. Now it is up to our U.S. Representatives to ensure that future trade agreements place the value of human life before corporate profit. I urge the U.S. House of Representatives to remember Sina and the 21 million other victims of human trafficking worldwide and protect the "No Fast Track for Human Traffickers" amendment.