U.S. Contractors Cited in Human Trafficking Report

In its annual report on human trafficking, the U.S. State Department revealed that U.S. contractors are being investigated for working with criminal groups that exploit workers and force people into the international sex trade.

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Each year, the U.S. State Department issues a report on human trafficking -essentially, modern day slavery. A new report is out this week. It focuses on low paid immigrant workers who wind up in places like Iraq. Twelve countries are on a list of worst offenders. The State Department wants them to crack down on networks that dupe people into signing up for what turns out to be the sex trade, or forced labor. NPR's Michele Kelemen has this report.

MICHELE KELEMEN reporting:

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice describes human trafficking as modern day slavery, and says the U.S. believes 800,000 people are victimized each year.

Secretary of State CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Defeating human trafficking is a great moral calling of our time, and under President Bush's leadership, the United States is leading a new abolitionist movement to end the sordid trade in human beings.

KELEMEN: But for the first time, the report acknowledges that U.S. taxpayer money may have added to the problem. It says that the Pentagon is investigating trafficking in Iraq by U.S. contractors, or subcontractors. The State Department's point man on the issue, John Miller, says the investigation started after the Chicago Tribune reported on men from Nepal being duped into jobs in Iraq.

Ambassador JOHN MILLER (U.S. State Department): There have been no prosecutions yet. This was a complicated trail, involving recruiting firms in Nepal that had deceptive advertisements - other recruiting firms in Jordan that engaged in deception. The case of these particular victims, they never even reached a contract in Iraq. They were killed on the way in.

KELEMEN: Killed by Iraqi insurgents, according to The Chicago Tribune report. Miller says the Pentagon is implementing new regulations to make sure that foreign workers are not deceived, and their passports not stolen. The Iraqi section was just a small part of the State Department's report. It lists 12 countries that could face sanctions for not doing enough to fight human trafficking, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Syria among them. This year's report was dedicated to an Indonesian woman, who Miller says was exploited as a domestic servant in Saudi Arabia.

Ambassador MILLER: I met with Nur Miadi(Ph) in Riyadh. Nur Miadi, as you will see from the picture in the back, has missing fingers, missing toes - a victim of abuse, servitude, and torture.

KELEMEN: Ambassador Miller also raised what he says has become a big issue in Europe - the potential for increased trafficking for the sex trade in Germany, where prostitution is legal.

Ambassador MILLER: The reason it's become a big issue is that there are reports of thousands of women being transported to Germany for sex during The World Cup.

KELEMEN: The soccer tournament begins later this week. German officials say they have been working for months with central and eastern European countries to try to break up illegal trafficking rings. The State Department's report says that trafficking awareness videos will be shown on giant TV screens during the games. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, The State Department.

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