Washington, D.C. – Yesterday, Senators Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) secured inclusion of the End Trafficking in Government Contracting Act (S.2234) in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2013 (S.3254).  Earlier this month, Portman and Blumenthal launched the Senate Caucus to End Human Trafficking.  The caucus will bring Senators together to combat human trafficking by promoting awareness, removing demand, supporting prosecution efforts, and providing appropriate service systems for survivors.

Despite the U.S. government’s zero tolerance human trafficking policy, investigations have found that human trafficking by government contractors and subcontractors who operate overseas is still an issue. For example, in 2011, the Commission on Wartime Contracting – an independent, bipartisan legislative commission established to study wartime contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan – concluded that “[e]xisting prohibitions on such trafficking have failed to suppress it.” The commission also concluded that “evidence of the recurrent problem of trafficking in persons by labor brokers or subcontractors of contingency contractors.”

More than 70,000 third-country nationals work for contractors and subcontractors of the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Defense Department, State Department, and U.S. Agency for International Development also rely heavily on third-country nationals worldwide.  The Defense Department and State Department Inspector Generals concluded that the government does not sufficiently monitor labor practices by U.S. contractors and subcontractors, who, by necessity, rely on a large number of third-country nationals to do overseas contract work.

“I am very pleased that the Senate acted on legislation that Senator Blumenthal and I have championed for nearly a year to strengthen protections against trafficking in connection with overseas federal contracts,” Portman said.  “This bill will ensure that America’s overseas wartime and reconstruction contracts are performed in accord with not only our mission, but also our deeply held values as Americans.”

“The Senate’s decision to make this measure a part of the NDAA speaks to its national and international importance.  Modern-day slavery by government contractors – unknowingly funded by American taxpayers – is unconscionable and intolerable,” Blumenthal said.  “Current law prohibiting human trafficking is insufficient and ineffective, failing to prevent or punish abuses. By increasing preventative scrutiny, investigation, and prosecution, this legislation will stop egregious human rights abuses on U.S. military bases, increasing security for our troops, and preventing waste of taxpayer dollars."

The End Trafficking in Government Contracting Act addresses this problem by clarifying existing protections in federal law with regard to human trafficking abuses  and enhancing prevention, accountability, and enforcement with regard to these abuses:

Prevention: The legislation would prevent trafficking abuses by requiring a contractor with contracts of over $1 million to implement compliance plans to prevent trafficking and related abuses such as destroying or confiscating passports, fraudulently misrepresenting wages or work location, and using labor brokers who charge exorbitant recruiting fees.

Accountability: The legislation would improve accountability by requiring the following:
1.) A contractor notify the Inspector General if he or she receives “credible evidence” that a subcontractor has engaged in prohibited conduct; requiring the Inspector General to investigate such instances; and 2.) The Inspector General to investigate such instances and consider swift remedial action against the contractor.

Enforcement: The bill improves enforcement of anti-trafficking requirements by: 1.) Expanding the criminal prohibitions that prevent fraudulent labor practices typically associated with human trafficking of third country nationals to include employees on overseas contracts; and 2.) Codifying the range of remedial actions available for violations of anti-trafficking requirements, including the removal of an employee or the suspension or debarment of the contractor.

The legislation was cosponsored by Senators Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), John Boozman (R-AR), Susan Collins (R-ME), Al Franken (D-MN), Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Joe Lieberman (I-CT), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Marco Rubio (R-FL), and Jon Tester (D-MT).