WASHINGTON, DC—U.S. Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and U.S. Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), the Committee’s Ranking Member, introduced the Trafficking Prevention in Foreign Affairs Contracting Act (H.R. 400), an anti-trafficking measure to ensure U.S. tax dollars do not support human trafficking among the thousands of foreign workers the U.S. government employs overseas.
On the legislation’s introduction, Chairman Royce said: “While we recognize January as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month it is important we also recognize that around the world, and even here in the U.S., there are more than 20 million human trafficking victims. An ambiguity in current law means that foreign workers hired by our foreign affairs agencies are still vulnerable to debt bondage and other forms of trafficking. That is why I am pleased to join Ranking Member Engel in introducing this important measure to require the clarity necessary to ensure that our tax dollars do not support modern day slavery.”
On the legislation’s introduction, Ranking Member Engel said: “Modern slavery is a horrific crime and an assault on freedom and justice. As leader in fighting this scourge, the U.S. government needs to make sure that our procurement and contracting practices don’t lead to abuse or exploitation of workers. The bill that Chairman Royce and I are offering will help ensure taxpayer dollars aren’t inadvertently making this problem worse.”
Although current law prohibits contractors from charging foreign workers unreasonable recruitment fees (and the State Department states that it prohibits any recruitment fees) neither the State Department nor the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) have defined what constitutes a “recruitment fee,” resulting in ambiguous and unenforceable guidance to contractors. A 2011 State Department Inspector General report found that a majority of foreign workers in certain Middle East countries had paid fees to recruiters, sometimes more than a year’s salary, resulting in “effective debt bondage.” This bill would require those agencies to define “recruitment fees,” including what fees contractors are allowed or prohibited to charge foreign workers, and to improve how they monitor their contracts to protect against human trafficking.
Note: Over the past two years, the House Foreign Affairs Committee convened a number of hearings on human trafficking, including a field hearing in Orange County, California to examine international human trafficking and to assess efforts to combat trafficking at the international, Federal, State and local levels. These hearings culminated in Committee action on multiple bipartisan anti-trafficking bills.
The bill text of H.R. 400 is available here