Keynote Speech at Regional Conference on Information Communication Technology (ICT) to Combat Human Trafficking Gala Dinner

U.S. Ambassador to ASEAN, Nina Hachigian, delivers keynote address at the Regional Conference on Information Communication Technology to Combat Human Trafficking in Bangkok.
U.S. Ambassador to ASEAN, Nina Hachigian, delivers keynote address at the Regional Conference on Information Communication Technology to Combat Human Trafficking in Bangkok.

Bangkok, Thailand

Thank you for that kind introduction.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great honor for me to be in a room full of people committed to combating trafficking in persons.  The United States Government and I, personally, care deeply about this issue.

Let me first thank Microsoft and Ms. Tony Town-Whitley for hosting this conference and the United Nations agencies for their contributions.  The United States is proud to join Microsoft and the UN in their commitment to combat human trafficking.

True partnerships between governments and non-government actors are essential to addressing a problem as complex as trafficking. President Obama has said that “no government, no nation, can meet this challenge alone,” and asks everyone and every nation to take action to end it.

If we all do our part — governments, multilateral organizations, private sector companies and NGOs – and work hand in hand, I am confident that we can have an impact on this great challenge.

Now I realize that I am,  as we say in the United States, preaching to the choir – you wouldn’t be here this evening if you didn’t share my concerns.

I think every organization that provides the data I am going to mention is here tonight, so you can be assured that your work is helping to raise awareness among policy-makers, businesses, and citizens.

The United Nations estimates that human trafficking has victimized 21 million men, women, and children around the world.  Between 600,000 and 800,000 victims are trafficked across borders globally each year.

According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, 79% of human trafficking falls in the category of sexual exploitation, followed by forced labor at 18%. Both of these forms of abuse are prevalent in Asia and unfortunately, lucrative.  Perpetrators make more than $20,000 a year for each victim of commercial sexual exploitation, and about $4,000 from forced labor exploitation. An International Labor Organization report estimates that the Asia-Pacific region leads the world in annual profits of forced labor at $51.8 billion dollars because of the high number of victims.

But now let me share some good news.  As the U.S. Ambassador to ASEAN, I was so pleased to learn that the ASEAN Member States are in the process of endorsing an ASEAN Convention against Trafficking in Persons this year.

Creating a framework  for collaboration within ASEAN to fight this transnational crime is a major milestone. The Convention will address investigation and prosecution of cases, ensure assistance to victims, protecting their rights, and providing for their return, rehabilitation, and reintegration into their respective societies.

I am sure that drafting the Convention was not easy, and it took some time, but we are very hopeful that it will set a new standard in the region, and we commend ASEAN for acting collectively to make this a priority.

We in the United States government are committed to partnering with ASEAN to help implement this Convention in any way that we can.   It is only going to be useful if it is well implemented, and implementation will only be successful if the private sector and NGOs join this effort.

So I encourage all of you to read the Convention when it is finalized and consider ways to contribute to its success.

President Obama has called human trafficking “modern slavery.”

And there is one critical element of the trafficking phenomenon today that earns the term “modern” – the use of information and communication technology. Traffickers have become more sophisticated in their use of ICT as a tool for recruiting and exploiting victims.

Young people are particularly vulnerable as eager consumers of all the latest technology that lets them connect and communicate with their friends.

This is especially true here in Southeast Asia, where 65% of ASEAN’s population is under the age of 35. ASEAN has 195 million internet users and 162 million active social network users.  Indonesia is the Twitter capital of the world. Thailand is crazy for Facebook.

In all, ASEAN has 689 million mobile subscriptions, exceeding its population of around 660 million. The biggest internet users here are people aged 15 to 24, followed by the 25 to 34 age group.

So while ICT opens up amazing opportunities for youth in this region and all over the world, it also enables traffickers to more easily target those youth who are active online. I believe you discussed online child protections earlier today.

UNODC identifies children under 18 using social media as prime targets of trafficking networks who seek children for sexual exploitation, drug trafficking, and child labor.

We know that children may accept friend notifications in social media from strangers.  And we know that “friends” are not always friends.  As a mother of young children, I am personally aware of these risks.

President Obama has called for turning the tables on the traffickers.  I know you already heard this quote from him today, but I really like it so I’m going to say it again. He said “Just as they are now using technology and the Internet to exploit their victims, we’re going to harness technology to stop them.”

And that is, of course, why we all are gathered here.

Given the prevalence of social media use in Asia, communications technology is an amazing tool to empower individuals and communities to practice positive behaviors that protect them from human trafficking.  The U.S. government has worked with organizations like MTV and now with the International Organization for Migration to train young people on how to best use communications technology to inspire social action and to improve counter-trafficking communication.

Some of these technology solutions are pretty basic and not that new.

For example, electronic databases of traffickers and victims that can be easily shared can enable law enforcement to prevent trafficking, prosecute traffickers, and protect their targets. Traffickers often use falsified documents, so technology that promotes travel and identity document security is valuable in this fight.

Technology can help in prosecutions by allowing video communications for victim testimony to better protect them and their families. So the answer does not lie only in creating new technologies but using the existing ones well. What is really important is that we work together. If we all work together, we can each contribute a strand to form a safety net for trafficking victims and a web in which to catch perpetrators.

Every government must make sure law enforcement can work effectively to combat human trafficking by developing a robust human trafficking law and policy. The business community has the responsibility to check that their supply chains are free from forced labor. NGOs should promote awareness of human trafficking issues and provide assistance in protecting victims.

Every citizen can take action by campaigning against and reporting cases of trafficking. And technology can help all of us accomplish our goals.

On the diplomatic front, the United States works with foreign governments regarding human trafficking issues all over the world. We meet regularly with foreign government officials to advance the “3P” approach of prosecuting traffickers, protecting victims, and preventing trafficking.

We encourage measurable progress through national action plans consistent with anti-trafficking standards set out in the United Nations “Palermo Protocol.”

As trafficking is so often a cross-border issue, we also support regional efforts, including working with ASEAN directly.  We are helping to prepare for the implementation of the ASEAN Convention on TIP, in conjunction with ASEAN’s law enforcement and human rights bodies.

The United States has significant resources dedicated to rule of law training and coordination at the national level in a number of countries in the region. In 2014, we provided 18 million dollars in grants globally to local and international organizations to help combat trafficking and provide services to victims.

The US Government also helps international organizations like the UN and IOM.  In September 2014, the IOM launched IOM-X with a $1.3 million grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development. IOM-X is an innovative campaign to encourage safe migration and public action to stop human trafficking and exploitation.

The campaign leverages the power of media and technology to inspire young people and their communities to act against human trafficking. The project engages teenagers and 20 somethings

through a series of small group discussions related to trafficking and youth-led activities, such as outreach programs in primary and secondary schools, arts events and online campaigns.  IOM-X is also promoting counter-trafficking awareness in the fishing industry and among domestic workers through mass-media campaigns.

We also provide funding  to international organizations  to resettle and support victims, at the regional and national level.  Recently we provided $225,000 to IOM to support repatriation of trafficking victims from around the ASEAN region who were dumped and stranded on Indonesian islands by their unscrupulous boat captains when the Indonesian government began cracking down on illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.

As you all know, the fishing industry has been highlighted in the last 18 months as a major violator of illegal labor practices including human slavery. I saw this made front page news in the Bangkok Post today.

This brings me to some connections that we should consider.

The issue of trafficking is intertwined with so many others that if we think of it in isolation, we won’t be as effective as we could be.

As I was considering the few key priorities I have set out for the U.S. Mission to ASEAN – the things we are working on every day – I realized that many of them are directly related to trafficking in persons.

For example, we are working to expand maritime cooperation, which includes greater engagement with ASEAN on illegal fishing.  In the Indonesian example I just mentioned,

the steps that country was taking to address illegal fishing exposed major labor trafficking.

We are also focused on cultivating emerging leaders in the region.  We are empowering young people with information and tools to lead in their communities on critical issues, including the fight against trafficking. President Obama’s Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative has addressed trafficking specifically through dedicated workshops and outreach programs.

We are also promoting women’s economic opportunity. A fundamental part of improving the situation for women and girls in Southeast Asia is addressing trafficking and other forms of gender based violence. That is why we will continue to work with ASEAN to harmonize domestic trafficking laws and, alongside UN Women, we will support a regional action plan to combat violence against women and girls in line with the upcoming Convention.

My hope is that with partners like so many of you at this conference, we can do more to promote the use of ICT to fight this great challenge of our time. I am optimistic that the same genius that has created, and is still creating, the amazing technology of our modern era will find ways to use that technology to end the crime of human trafficking of our fellow human beings.

Our Deputy Secretary of State, Tony Blinken, an old friend and colleague, recently came over to my house in Jakarta to have dinner with some representatives from ASEAN. One asked him this: What is the basis for regional cooperation in combatting trafficking in persons and irregular migration in Asia? Tony’s answer was simple and direct:  our common humanity is the basis, and it is all the basis that we need.

I am humbled to be in the company of so many of you who have dedicated your careers, money, time, and lives to protecting other humans from trafficking.

And I look forward to working with you in a partnership to fight against this modern form of slavery.