By JARED DURA and ANDRE FRANCISCO
Last month, a key Senate panel passed a bill setting new requirements for overseas contractors in order to prevent human trafficking. A similar amendment was included in the House's version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).
The End Trafficking in Government Contracting Act (S. 2234) was passed by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on June 29. The Act requires that U.S. government contractors or subcontractors with contracts worth $1 million or more be monitored and are subject to investigation if they’re suspected to be trafficking persons. These provisions include preventing practices of soliciting a person by false or fraudulent pretenses, providing inhumane living conditions, or charging employees with exorbitant fees that violate the laws of the country from which an employee is recruited.
Human trafficking is a troubling problem among contractors and subcontractors working for the U.S. in Iraq and Afghanistan. In June 2011, POGO disclosed documents revealing labor trafficking by a KBR subcontractor. In its report, POGO revealed that Najlaa, KBR’s subcontractor, faced no repercussions after it deceived workers into believing they had an opportunity for a well-paying job in Iraq. Instead, the workers were placed in revolting living conditions with no work or wages for months.
These few stories of the victims of human trafficking are only the “tip of the iceberg” according to Commissioner Dov Zakheim of the Commission on Wartime Contracting, which produced a major report on the prevalence of human trafficking in Iraq and Afghanistan. Companies are profiting in the name of the American people by exploiting these laborers who are providing daily, necessary services to U.S. troops.
The House recently adopted the same reforms as an amendment (#132) to the NDAA. Like the Senate bill, it aims to halt U.S taxpayer-financed human trafficking by contractors. Specifically, the legislation would mandate that:
Whoever knowingly and with intent to defraud recruits, solicits, or hires a person outside the United States or causes another person to recruit, solicit, or hire a person…for purposes of work performed on a United States Government contract...by means of materially false or fraudulent pretenses, representations, or promises regarding that employment, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned.
The House amendment was cosponsored by Rep. James Lankford (R-Okla.) and Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), and the Senate bill was sponsored by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.).
We’re pleased to see that the House and Senate are taking action to prevent U.S taxpayer fueled human trafficking, and we hope that these reforms will be sent soon to President Obama for his signature.
Jared Dura is a POGO intern. Andre Francisco is POGO’s online producer.