All Talk, No Action: A Rebuke of the Feigned Response Against Human Trafficking by Tier 1 Trafficking in Persons Distinguished Countries

Avnika Dubey, Editor

For every 1,000 individuals, 5.4 are subjected to inhumane treatment under a modern-day institutional adaptation of slavery: human trafficking. With 40.3 million victims across an array of trades ranging from forced labor to sex cartels, human trafficking has grown to become the second largest international crime industry, accruing approximately $32 billion dollars annually due to its low risks and high profits. [1] Due to rampant poverty, violence, and oppression, the 21st century has faced an alarming increase in global trafficking, prompting political leaders to establish enforcement measures in an effort to curb the rise of transnational crime. Despite the creation of four novel task forces by the United Nations to define, prevent, and prosecute human trafficking, Lindsey King, a high-ranked essayist in the field of International Studies, warns that compliance with international law remains one of the largest issues derailing its elimination on the global stage. [2] This year, while celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report debuted in 2000, it is important to acknowledge the progressive anti-trafficking legislation enacted by 154 countries. Nevertheless, it is equally imperative to consider the roles these countries and international conventions play in still perpetuating and exacerbating exploitation worldwide. [3]

The TIP Report remains the principle diplomatic tool analyzing and condemning human trafficking across all foreign governments. Dividing nations into three tiers based on perceived efforts to acknowledge and combat trafficking, the report aims to encourage compliance with the minimum standards for elimination and punish unresponsive governmental entities. [4] The global communities’ response to these characterizations largely varies, as some countries actively introduce new anti-trafficking legislation while others continue policies of forced labor, sexual slavery, and child-soldier recruitment. [5] Among Tier 1 countries, however, calculated federally-supported actions increase the prevalence of trafficking, questioning the validity behind the highest TIP distinction.

Although Tier 3 countries such as Malaysia, Cuba, and China openly admit to political associations fraudulently influencing their upgraded tier status, the deceptive adherence to preventive human-trafficking measures of Tier 1 countries like Spain, Taiwan, and the United States proves most damaging in the perceptive validity of the combative international movement. [6] For instance, due to Spain’s 1995 mandate legalizing the purchase of sexual services, nearly 400,000 women in 2016 occupied jobs as sex workers with 90% trafficked and coerced into their jobs by organized crime circles. [7] Despite this governmental legality serving as a magnet for human trafficking, Spain has received a Tier 1 distinction for the past 18 years, affirming their ironic role as a leader in the fight against human trafficking. 

Similarly, Taiwan has sustained its position on the Tier 1 list in 2020 despite the government’s deliberate lack of action against one of the country’s largest trafficking sectors: the fishing industry. Despite a significant amount of incriminating evidence documenting the systemic industrial exploitation, the Seafood Working Group – an international coalition of non-governmental organizations addressing labor, human rights, and environmental concerns – reveal that “insufficient staffing and inspections […] impede efforts to combat forced labor on Taiwan-flagged and -owned fishing vessels” registered in the lucrative fishing industry. [8]

The United States, the titular pioneer of the global anti-trafficking action plan and creator of the TIP Report itself, most shockingly continues to merit a Tier 1 distinction despite its resounding failure in creating combative measures appropriate with national developments. With the country securing fewer prosecutions of criminal trials, issuing a decreased amount of visas to refuge-seeking victims, and forgoing preemptive trafficking safety nets for vulnerable groups, the United States vehemently overlooks two of the three key factors by which countries are assessed: prosecution numbers and victim protection plans. [9] These measures prompt Christine Murray, the senior correspondent on matters of trafficking and slavery at Reuters, to exclaim that “the United States has undermined its credibility in the global drive to end human trafficking by giving itself top marks in its annual report on the crime despite dwindling prosecutions and protection for foreign victims.” [10] Ultimately, the foundation Humanity United – renowned for their dedication to securing freedom and peace globally – best explains the compounded effects of lukewarm initiatives implemented by Tier 1 leaders, noting that “when [TIP] upgrades undeserving countries and fails to honestly assess [Tier 1 countries’] shortcomings, it loses credibility and the ability to persuade other countries to do better.” [11] If this lack of legitimacy intensifies, the future of combating human-trafficking remains at-risk.

As the global economy faces the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic, the efficacy of combative human trafficking policies must be assessed with fervent vigor due to a surge in trafficking activity, especially over online platforms despite physical closures of hotspots. Although Tier 1 countries have failed in the recent past to adequately protect the rights of vulnerable groups and acknowledge their own shortcomings, now more than ever, policymakers must truthfully challenge institutions feeding the marginalization, gender-based violence, and exploitation of trafficked persons to best ameliorate these longstanding injustices. In times of unprecedented emergency, the world cannot afford to be led blindly by hypocritical leaders who sacrifice the lives of innocent victims to maintain their geopolitical hegemonic standing. With this perspective, the world is left questioning which countries, if any, are truly fit to lead the global fight against human trafficking.

[1] STOP THE TRAFFIK. “The Scale of Human Trafficking,” June 21, 2017.

[2] King, Lindsey. “International Law and Human Trafficking.” HUMAN RIGHTS, n.d., 16.

[3] United States Department of State. “2020 TIP Report Celebrates 20 Years in the Fight to End Human Trafficking.” Accessed November 22, 2020. https://www.state.g


[4] The Muse. “What’s Being Done to Stop Human Trafficking?” Accessed December 6, 2020.

[5] United States Department of State. “2020 TIP Report Celebrates 20 Years in the Fight to End Human Trafficking,” OP. CIT.

[6] Human Rights Watch. “Sufficient Progress Not Made to Warrant Tier 2 Ranking for Thailand in TIP Report 2020,” July 30, 2020.

[7] Lagon, Mark P., and Laila Mickelwait. “The U.S. Government Turns a Blind Eye to Policies That Fuel Sex Trafficking.” Washington Post, February 1, 2016, sec. Opinions.

[8] Human Rights Watch. “Sufficient Progress Not Made to Warrant Tier 2 Ranking for Thailand in TIP Report 2020,” OP. CIT.

[9] Lagon, Mark P., and Laila Mickelwait. “The U.S. Government Turns a Blind Eye to Policies That Fuel Sex Trafficking,” OP. CIT.

[10] Murray, Christine. “U.S. Criticized over Top Anti-Trafficking Ranking despite Failings.” Reuters, June 29, 2020.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Council on Foreign Relations. “The Evolution of Human Trafficking During the COVID-19 Pandemic.” Accessed November 22, 2020.

[13] Global Initiative. “Aggravating Circumstances: How Coronavirus Impacts Human Trafficking.” Accessed November 22, 2020.

[14] In Public Safety. “Why Human Trafficking Has Increased during COVID-19,” September 25, 2020.