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Corker Fears Politicization of State Department’s 2015 Human Trafficking Report Over Questionable Upgrades

Threatens Subpoena for Information Regarding Decisions to Improve Ratings for Cuba, Malaysia and India

WASHINGTON – During a hearing to examine the U.S. Department of State 2015 Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP), U.S. Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, threatened to subpoena information from the department regarding internal deliberations about questionable upgrades for countries with poor records for combating human trafficking. This year’s TIP report improved the status of Cuba, Malaysia and India despite minimal progress from those governments to address trafficking more aggressively. A Reuters report alleged many of the enhanced ratings in the TIP report occurred despite objections from staff with the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (J/TIP) who were overruled by diplomatic personnel.

“If that [information] is not forthcoming immediately, my sense is the committee would take the very unusual step of subpoenaing that information,” said Corker. “If it is true that the administration politicized this report, there are serious questions about why they chose to significantly diminish a tool that has been effective in fighting slavery around the world.”

Testifying before the committee today was Sarah Sewall, Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights at the U.S. Department of State, who overseas J/TIP.

In his questioning, Corker singled out Malaysia after Sewall justified the country’s improved rating based upon an increased number of prosecutions for trafficking-related offenses. He countered with data showing the government’s conviction record in 2014 was worse than the nine traffickers Malaysia convicted in 2013.

“So the government convicted three traffickers for forced labor and one for passport retention, and our State Department, for that record, which is less than what they [Malaysia] did the year before,…raised their status,” said Corker. “I don’t see how anybody could believe there was integrity in this process.”

Congress approved legislation authorizing the president to conclude the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement, which is being negotiated between the U.S., Malaysia and other Pacific Rim nations. A provision of the legislation prevents the U.S. from reaching a trade deal with countries in the Tier III category for human trafficking.

Senator Corker is the author of a bold, bipartisan initiative to end modern slavery that was approved unanimously by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in February. The End Modern Slavery Initiative will create a powerful effort in concert with the private sector and foreign governments to help eliminate modern slavery around the globe.

Archived footage and complete witness testimony from today’s hearing are available here.