by Amy Friedrich, Anna Meyer, and Deborah Perlman
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The Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP Report) is an annual report issued by the U.S. State Department as part of its efforts to combat human trafficking worldwide. The TIP Report documents and evaluates foreign governments’ anti-trafficking efforts and places countries in tiers depending on their level of compliance with a set of minimum standards and criteria laid out in U.S. law. Countries on the lowest tier may be subject to limited economic sanctions. The Report is intended to motivate other countries to act in the fight against human trafficking.
The TIP Report is influential, in part because it is the world’s first anti-trafficking oversight and enforcement mechanism, tying governments’ efforts to a specific tier placement and to potential economic outcomes. However, the Report is sometimes criticized for being biased, politicized, or presenting incomplete information. In particular, there are questions about how the minimum standards are applied to countries, how the information included in the Report is gathered and analyzed, and how tier determinations are made and justified. Those criticisms reduce the persuasive power of the Report and thus limit its full potential impact on the behavior of other governments.
This paper analyzes the TIP Report, focusing on the country assessment and tier determination processes, and offers recommendations for strengthening the Report. While changing the TIP Report will not eliminate human trafficking, it could make the Report a more credible diplomatic tool and thus increase its impact on foreign governments’ anti-trafficking efforts. In order to strengthen the TIP Report, the State Department should:
• Address all of the minimum standards and criteria clearly and
systematically in every country assessment.
• Explain the reason for tier movement clearly in country assessments when it applies.
• Disclose the nature and number of the sources at the end of each country assessment.
• Include trend arrows in the country assessments to indicate whether a government’s efforts have improved or declined since the previous year.
• Increase the emphasis on effectiveness of programs and laws in country assessments and tier determinations.
• Be clear about its intent when reporting on NGOs’ anti-trafficking efforts in the country assessments.
The State Department should also take the following steps to improve the information in the Report:
• Reach out to more NGOs for information.
• Take steps to help U.S. Embassy and other State Department staff improve their reporting of human trafficking issues.
• Minimize discrepancies between TIP Report and Country Human Rights Reports.
These changes constitute important first steps to improving the Report and enhancing its credibility, signaling to foreign governments and the international anti-trafficking community that the State Department is serious about combating human trafficking.