By NICK SCHWELLENBACH
It appears that Fiscal Year 2011 saw more Defense Department criminal investigations of alleged human trafficking by its contractor supply chain than in any one of the last five years, according to a Pentagon inspector general report publicly released today (it is dated January 17).
All three investigations involved or allegedly involved U.S. government contractors or subcontractors in Southwest Asia: Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan.
Here’s how the inspector general describes the three cases in its report:
- The U.S. Army investigated an allegation that Philippine women were being sold into sexual and domestic servitude for DoD contractor personnel at Ali Al Salem Air Base, Kuwait, and that their passports had been withheld, preventing them from leaving the country. The U.S. Army investigated allegations against an individual with no DoD or DoD-contractor affiliation, as well as three DoD contractor personnel. The investigators found sufficient evidence to support an allegation of Transnational Slavery (under the Kuwait Criminal Code) against the non-DoD individual, whose case was referred to and accepted by the Kuwait Criminal Investigation Division in September 2010. U.S. Army investigators determined that allegations against the three DoD contractor personnel were unfounded.
- The U.S. Air Force initiated an investigation on April 28, 2011, based upon information alleging that a subcontractor in Iraq was delaying the payment of salaries from its contracted drivers for a period of three to four months, withholding their passports, and coercing employees to sign employment contracts under threat of abandonment. On July 15, 2011, the information pertaining to human trafficking was passed to the office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation at the U.S. Embassy, in Baghdad, Iraq for investigation.
- The Defense Criminal Investigative Service had an open investigation of possible labor-related human trafficking violations by a sub-contractor in Afghanistan. As of December 2011, the investigation was ongoing.
In my testimony before Congress in November last year on whether government enforcement is lacking in this area, I summarized the public reporting of the DoD’s investigative activity of allegations of human trafficking by its contract workforce. According to publicly available Department of Justice (DOJ) reports on human trafficking enforcement, which summarize investigative activity across the federal government, there were no Defense Department investigations into trafficking in persons in 2006 and 2007. The section detailing the military’s efforts is altogether missing in the 2008 annual report. The Justice Department declined to comment on the missing section in its 2008 report when I asked the DOJ about this in 2010. In the 2009 report, the most recent available online (the report is dated July 2010), this section is also missing.
In 2009, according to a 2010 Pentagon inspector report, there was “one report of preliminary investigative activity of a contractor in Iraq” for labor trafficking violations, and while briefed to the Justice Department, prosecutors “determined facts and circumstances did not warrant further action.” The contractor took “corrective action,” according to the DoD IG report.
A 2011 inspector general report described one case during the 2010 time period, which it described as “one TIP-related incident involving a DoD contractor or sub-contractor employee. In that case, the employee was barred from the installation by the commander and fired by the contractor.” TIP stands for Trafficking in Persons.
While the number of investigations is creeping up, given the alleged scale of worker abuse, there is still much more to be done. There have been no prosecutions for this activity, although a criminal standard can be a tough one to meet. Also, as I mentioned in my testimony:
While not criminal prosecutions, there have been some civil and administrative actions recently. Earlier this year, the Justice Department joined a whistleblower qui tam lawsuit that alleged that ArmorGroup North America had not reported trafficking-in-persons violations by its personnel as required by its contract. ArmorGroup North America, which had a contract to defend the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, settled the lawsuit for $7.5 million. ArmorGroup North America’s parent company said in a statement that the settlement was made “to avoid costly and disruptive litigation—and that there has been no finding or admission of liability.”
In addition, according to two State Department Office of Inspector General reports issued earlier this year that contain the findings of an audit and evaluation of U.S. Embassy locations in the Middle East, there are widespread indications of trafficking among the labor force working for embassy contractors and subcontractors. The State Department OIG stated in one report that two contractors were disqualified from winning future contracts. One contractor increased the risk of trafficking in persons “through exploitative conditions or work, including long work hours and payment issues.” Another was disqualified and had its contract terminated in Jordan because the “contracting officer stated that a female employee of the contractor alleged that her employer had solicited her to engage in prostitution” and had thus violated the Federal Acquisition Regulation’s prohibition on trafficking in persons.
Debarment of companies and terminations of contracts might be easier ways to protect U.S. interests and weed out bad actors from our supply chain.
Nick Schwellenbach is POGO’s Director of Investigations.