Russia And China Dinged In U.S. Human Trafficking Report

The State Department issued its annual report on Human Trafficking on Wednesday and some key countries, including Russia and China, are getting downgraded. The report says that more countries were downgraded than upgraded this year and that's because of corruption and the lack of political will to confront entrenched forced labor interests, including shrimping in Thailand, palm oil in Malaysia and construction in Russia, which will be hosting the Olympics in 2014.

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Russia, China and Uzbekistan are among the countries that the U.S. says are not doing enough to combat modern-day slavery. That was one of the many findings in the State Department's annual human trafficking report released this afternoon.

NPR's Michele Kelemen tells us more.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Luis CdeBaca runs the State Department's Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons.

LUIS CDEBACA: Globally, we're seeing more victims being identified than ever before. We're seeing more prosecutions than before. But at the same time, we're seeing some countries that are getting ahead and some countries that are maybe a little bit adrift.

KELEMEN: He points to Russia, which is poised to host the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. CdeBaca is paying particular attention to sex trafficking and the status of Central Asian migrant workers building facilities for the games.

CDEBACA: We are encouraged by the fact that they recently arrested the sex trafficking ring in Sochi, but we want to make sure that it's not simply the focus on sex trafficking around the Olympic Games but also labor trafficking in the run-up to the construction.

KELEMEN: Anti-trafficking activists, including David Abramowitz, were pleased to see Russia named and shamed in this year's report.

DAVID ABRAMOWITZ: We could have U.S. athletes staying in buildings that were built with exploited or slave labor. That's really unacceptable.

KELEMEN: Abramowitz, who runs the Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking, calls the annual State Department report a useful diplomatic tool, even if it doesn't always lead to cuts in aid.

ABRAMOWITZ: While Russia is not a recipient of U.S. foreign assistance, the fact that the State Department is declaring that it is not making significant efforts to combat human trafficking and modern-day slavery will be a blow to its record and its prestige, and I think that countries care about that.

KELEMEN: He says countries long on the watch list, like Malaysia and Thailand, should take note. The State Department also wants the report to hit home with Americans, as Luis CdeBaca explains.

CDEBACA: This year's report looks at things like the fishing industry and actually raises a question that I think all of us should be asking, which is: How much of my life is impacting modern-day slavery? Do I know where the shrimp is being caught or processed that is on my plate? Do I know where the cotton is coming from that's on my clothes?

KELEMEN: Trafficking in persons touches Americans in other ways. Among the nine activists that the State Department is honoring this year is a Croatian police investigator Katrin Gluic, who has rescued women from forced prostitution and recalls one Friday afternoon last year when she heard an American needed help.

KATRIN GLUIC: I saw her. She was really scared. She met somebody through Facebook. So at that point, she thought that she was going to do some other business.

KELEMEN: When the woman, in her 30s, realized she was being lured into a prostitution ring, she fought back, according to Gluic.

GLUIC: She said no. At the right time, she escaped. She fight with this person, and we were able to get her help. And she was back home in a couple of days.

KELEMEN: This story and other issues outlined in the human trafficking report come at an awkward time for the State Department. It's been trying to fend off allegations that it covered up some investigations of its own employees engaging with prostitutes. CdeBaca says no institution is immune.

CDEBACA: There's a zero-tolerance policy for abuse, whether it's of a domestic servant or someone in commercial sex. If we're going to be talking to the rest of the world about what they need to do to to make sure that they're not contributing to the problem of modern slavery, that starts right here at home.

KELEMEN: Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department.

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