The Trafficking in Persons Report, sometimes simply known as the TIP Report, is a fascinating document. At first glance it is merely a governmental report. In practise it is much more. It goes far beyond the limitations of most other such reports. The purpose of this report is not to catalogue the human trafficking in each of the world's states, a task its authors nonetheless achieve admirably, but rather to influence the world's countries to do something about their human trafficking situation. The U.S. Department of State acknowledges this is so when it declares it to be a tool. "The Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report is the U.S. Government’s principal diplomatic tool to engage foreign governments on human trafficking", it discloses. What then is this Trafficking in Persons Report?
What is the Trafficking in Persons Report?
The report has its origins in the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000. This law is sometimes more loosely referred to as the Trafficking Victims Protection Act or the TVPA. It requires the publication of a report outlining the "description of the nature and extent of severe forms of trafficking in persons ... in each foreign country." (Nowadays the United States is also scrutinised in the report). It also describes a framework for assessing the situation. The law compels the report's authors to consider whether, for example, "government authorities ... participate in, facilitate, or condone such trafficking" and to consider too the steps each government has taken to prohibit individuals "from participating in such trafficking, including the investigation, prosecution, and conviction of individuals involved." Among the measures of the law's framework are ones aimed at protecting victims of human trafficking. To this end the TVPA requires the report to consider the steps being taken by each country to assist victims and to prevent these victims from further exploitation. It also mandates that victimhood be recognised by governments and that victims be protected from the possibility of being wrongly prosecuted.
The report is authored by personnel of the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (J/TIP), an agency within the U.S. Department of State, and it is published annually, usually in June, by the department. Going through the report one gets a sense of the enormity of the undertaking needed to make its publication possible. Before any of this work can commence the department issues, using its global network of embassies, a series of invitations to partners around the world to make submissions on the contemporary situation in their area. These submissions are then collated and analysed. The results of this process play a role in informing the final narrative.
The publication is a significant milestone in the calendar of the department, one that is marked by a public launch. The presence of the Secretary of State at successive launches underlines the importance of the issue of human trafficking to recent U.S. administrations. It also serves to draw the attention of the world's media to the issue and to promote the matter abroad.
Credit: U.S. Department of State
The situation in each country is described in meticulous detail using country-specific narratives. There is a science behind how the report's authors construct these narratives. They begin by providing information on the profile of the human trafficking situation in the country over the past few years. They then provide a summary of government efforts to combat human trafficking, before making recommendations on how the country's government can improve upon those efforts. Thereafter the narratives address measures in terms of a 3P paradigm: prosecution, protection, and prevention. There is one other element, a very important one, to these narratives and it sits right at their beginning. The country-specific narrative discloses the score awarded to the country for the past year's performance.
Source: Trafficking in Persons Report 2016, p.64.
Section 108 of the TVPA establishes yet another framework, this time in the form of a set of minimum standards. These minimum standards are ones it asserts are needed for a country to be on the right path towards eliminating human trafficking. The Department of State uses these minimum standards to allocate the scoring, in the form of a tier ranking, to countries annually. While a country can achieve the top Tier 1 ranking one year it might achieve a lower ranking the next. This is potentially a source of embarrassment for governments, one which may highlight systematic failure to tackle the issue. It is also problematic for persistently poor performers as it carries with it the risk of international financial aid to the country being withdrawn.
The TVPA has been amended several times since it was first introduced in 2000. One important thing to note that the tiers do not describe the trafficking situation in a country, but rather the conformance of that country to the minimum standards. The Department of State says: "While Tier 1 is the highest ranking, it does not mean that a country has no human trafficking problem. On the contrary, a Tier 1 ranking indicates that a government has acknowledged the existence of human trafficking, made efforts to address the problem, and complies with the TVPA’s minimum standards." There is no room for complacency then. Even when a country has scored highly one year there is no guarantee it will be scored as highly the next year. In this way the system of ranking countries, and renewing those rankings annually, serves to encourage those who have not done well one year to improve the next, and to encourage those who have performed well not to slip down the rankings.
Where to find the Trafficking in Persons Report.
Credit: U.S. Department of State
The current edition of the Trafficking in Persons Report and earlier versions are available from the section addressing human trafficking on the U.S. Department of State's website. You can find that section here.