A human trafficking bill seen as an effective and tougher upgrade to current laws is set to be signed into law by President Bush. However, concerns are being raised about enforcement of 2003 trafficking laws applying to U.S. government overseas contractors.
In a letter that was expected to go to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on Friday, Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich said he was troubled by the Pentagon�s inaction on reports of human trafficking involving military subcontractors, calling the Secretary to move aggressively, according to the Chicago Tribune.
His letter was in response to a Tribune report last week stating that there were delays in passing the policy and another Tribune report in October, which said the U.S. military and one of its main contractors was leaving the task of hiring and deployment of foreign workers into the Iraq in the hands of some subcontractors who used fraud and coercion to move workers, two actions which are used to define human trafficking.
�The time to act is now,� wrote Blagojevich.
The bill sitting at the President�s desk awaiting his signature was passed overwhelmingly by both chambers of Congress. Bill H.R. 972 has been praised by anti-trafficking advocates such as Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.). Conservative Christian public policy group Concerned Women for America issued a statement on Thursday that said the legislation was crucial to helping men, women and children affected by the trafficking.
The bill is a reauthorization, with upgrades, of a landmark human trafficking bill that passed in 2000. The bill would toughen law enforcement abilities for foreign and domestic trafficking, including providing for additional help to U.S. victims, which are often women and children. The victims would be provided with assistance grants and measures that would help reduce demand in sex trafficking. The law allows for prosecution of human trafficking by federal employees and contractors.
Before the bill passed, however, a provision requiring that a trafficking watchdog be created at the Pentagon was deleted at the insistence of defense-friendly lawmakers, the Tribune reported.
In the process of implementing a 2003 law that passed following comments by President Bush that there should be "zero tolerance" for trafficking among U.S. federal employees and contractors, the Pentagon issued a proposed policy last summer that would have required the U.S. military and its contractors to police the activities of its subcontractors.
This was met with a strong response from a coalition of five defense contractor lobbying groups, according to the Tribune.
The groups said they favored the policy in principle but said that implementing portions of it overseas were unrealistic.
KBR, an engineering and construction subsidiary of Halliburton, which serves the oil and gas industries is one of the U.S. government�s largest contractors and uses the services of over 200 subcontractors.
A Tribune report in October stated that subcontractors working with KBR have hired workers from countries such as Nepal, which prohibits its citizens from being deployed in Iraq because of dangers there.
However, the U.S. military and KBR don't make themselves responsible for how the workers are recruited, leaving it up to the subcontractors.
The report found that some workers were offered safe work in places such as Amman, Jordan. Those workers may often pay high brokers� fees to obtain the jobs and travel to the middle-eastern capital.
Later, however, they learn that they must go to Iraq to work with U.S. subcontractors when they are told there is no work in Amman. The report says the workers feel trapped because they have to repay substantial fees. Fraud and coercion, and seizure of passports is sometimes used the report states.
KBR told the Tribune that questions "regarding the recruitment practices of subcontractors should be directed to the subcontractor."
The company said it did not tolerate abuse of workers by subcontractors but did not say what specific actions it was taking.
In a separate statement, the Army told the Tribune that "[A]lleged misconduct by subcontractors" are not "Army issues."
Rep. Christopher Smith (R-N.J.), authored a bill in 2003 that would require anti-trafficking provisions in all contracts with federal agencies. It covered forced prostitution and forced labor applied contractors and their subcontractors.
He said he was concerned about "lethargy" at the Pentagon in drafting the policy and that a proposed policy to implement those requirements issued by the overseas contractors would not be strong enough. An official told the Tribune that the final policy might not be ready until April.
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