Human Trafficking Initiative
According to the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST), human trafficking is the process by which a person is lured under false pretences such, as gainful employment, and then held captive and controlled for the purpose of exploitation. Traffickers threaten to use force, fraud, or coercion to bring their victims under their control, in addition to abusing the vulnerable social or economic status of their victims. The result is essentially a modern-day form of slavery.
The CIA estimates that as many as 15,000 to 17,500 men, women and children are trafficked into The United States every year. The United States is one of the top three destination points for trafficked victims, along with Japan and Australia. Human trafficking is a nationwide issue and one that I have taken the initiative to eliminate here in California. Human trafficking victims are unable to escape their captors and seek help. Their only hope for freedom is to be discovered by someone who will intervene on their behalf. Because of this, any government agency that has contact with the business community, or elsewhere where human trafficking flourishes, has a moral obligation to become educated on the signs of human trafficking and how to report suspected cases.
In addition to ending human trafficking in California and the United States, we must ensure that our state resources are not being used to fund these criminal enterprises. Therefore, we must consider the possibility that slave labor may exist in company's supply chains that participate in city, county and state contracts, as well as companies doing business in the State of California and selling to California consumers.
There are some state laws in place to address this issue, however, those laws do not eliminate the problem. Last year, the state legislature passed the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act which requires retail sellers and manufacturers doing business in the state to disclose their efforts to eradicate slavery and human trafficking from their supply chains by January of 2012, and make this information publicly available to consumers.
In addition, the Public Contract Code provides that every contract entered into by any state agency for the procurement of apparel, equipment, materials, or supplies shall certify that no items furnished to the state have been produced by forced labor. Again however, enforcement is limited and the code relies primarily on signed agreements and self monitoring and reporting. As one may imagine, self-reports and voluntary efforts, may not be effective in stopping companies and suppliers who are determined to utilize sweatshop labor.
While these laws are an excellent first step, more needs to be done to stop human traffickers and those who use slave labor. It is especially important that companies participating in state contracts and those selling to California consumers are not engaged in the practice of illegally exploiting slave laborers.
The Board of Equalization will continue this work and continue encouraging other state agencies to provide training to their staff and to be vigilant in the fight to bring victims out of hiding and bring perpetrators to justice. Several non-profit organizations offer supply-chain verification through factoring monitoring, around the world.
Currently, the City of Los Angeles contracts with the Workers Rights Consortium for such a service. Though these services can be expensive, we need to explore cost-effective ways for state agencies, and all government bodies throughout the state, to consider options that will allow for more accurate detection of companies and suppliers that engage in forced labor.
In addition, many non-profit organizations offer data bases of factories and suppliers that have already been investigated by independent third parties for signs of human trafficking. Some of these data bases are available at no cost or for a minimal fee.
We must explore all of these options as we move forward and utilize all available resources in the effort to stop human trafficking and ensure that our state is doing everything possible to make sure that we are not supporting traffickers by allowing products produced by slave labor to enter California's economy.
Between now and the next Human Trafficking Awareness month in January of 2012, we must focus on finding ways to partner with organizations that offer the services mentioned above and reach-out to other state agencies and government bodies to join us in this vital endeavor to protect the integrity of the State of California.
The launch of this human trafficking initiative in California included having investigators from all three state tax agencies trained to recognize and report signs of human trafficking. The three tax agencies include California's State Board of Equalization (BOE), Franchise Tax Board (FTB), and Employment Development Department (EDD).
Partnerships like these enable us to identify employers who exploit workers and inevitably engage in illegal tax evasion by failing to pay employment and insurance taxes, income taxes, and their sales and use tax. This is a large, and growing, element of an underground economy that has undermined California's legitimate businesses and government services for too long. It is also a form of abuse that is de-humanizing and erodes an individual's most basic human rights.
To address this problem we have partnered with the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Human Trafficking (CAST), to assist the state in implementing a state-wide training program for California auditors and investigators. The program includes both live and video-taped training to ensure that every investigator in California's three tax agencies is trained to recognize and report suspected cases.
Inasmuch as victims often have little to no opportunity to come forward and seek help, it is important for potential first responders to know the signs of slavery in order to identify victims. Providing training for agencies that have direct contact with the business community, such as the BOE, FTB, and EDD, is critical step towards gaining the freedom of those who may be victims.
If you are aware-of or suspect any type of trafficking crimes, you may anonymously call the Department of Justice Trafficking in Persons and Worker Exploitation Task Force Complaint Line at 888-428-7581 (voice and TTY). New laws provide options for trafficking victims regardless of immigration status. Operators have access to interpreters and can talk with callers in their own language. The service is offered on weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. EST. After hours, recorded information is available in English, Spanish, Russian, and Mandarin.
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