NEW YORK — Barack Obama took to the stage smiling, but the moment he began his remarks, a grave look spread across his face.
The topic? Human trafficking. Whether migrant workers, married women without freedom, little boy soldiers or underage prostitutes, the victims of human trafficking need support — and it will take a joint effort by the international community’s strongest leaders to slow, and eventually stop, a trend that has created some 20 million victims worldwide.
“It ought to concern every person, because it’s a debasement of our common humanity. It ought to concern every community, because it tears at the social fabric. It ought to concern every business, because it distorts markets. It ought to concern every nation, because it endangers public health and fuels violence and organized crime,” he said. “I’m talking about the injustice, the outrage, of human trafficking, which must be called by its true name — modern slavery.”
Speaking to an international audience of dignitaries, business leaders and diplomats here at the Clinton Global Initiative’s annual meeting, Obama explained in great detail the perils of human trafficking, an ongoing problem that plagues national borders.
“Around the world, there’s no denying the awful reality,” he said. “When a man desperate for work finds himself in a factory, fishing boat or field” and taking beatings for a paycheck? That’s slavery.
When a woman’s locked at home without a way out? That’s slavery.
When a little boy must hold a gun as a soldier? That’s slavery, too.
And when a little girl runs away only to be imprisoned in a brothel and tortured until she resists, that’s slavery.
“It’s barbaric, it’s evil and it has no place in a civilized world,” he said.
To combat the problem, Obama made several policy announcements around the issue. Among them: training and guidance for prosecutors, judges and other officials to detect it; expanded resources for victims of trafficking; and a strategic action plan to further strengthen services for victims. Obama also promised to “harness technology” to keep young, digitally connected people safer, though he didn’t offer further detail.
The U.S. has also begun including its own troubles in the State Department’s annual ‘Trafficking In Persons’ report; previously, U.S. data was not included. ”We cannot ask other nations to do what we will not do ourselves,” Obama said.
But it was the President’s rhetoric that made the most impact.
“Our people and our children are not for sale,” he said. “This should not be happening in the United States in America.”
Modern trafficking laws must be passed and supported by all nations, Obama said — and global businesses must unify against the practice, too. Especially for those global companies that call the U.S. home.
“The United States government will lead by example,” he said. “American tax dollars must never, ever be used to support the trafficking of human beings.”
It’s a no-brainer, Obama said.
“Human trafficking is not a business model,” he said. “It is a crime, and we’re going to stop it.”
Photo: Paul Morse/CGI