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Exciting Update: TCN Story Spurs House Amendment on Human Trafficking

Here’s the press release from the office of Congresswoman Karen Bass, who gives some substantive remarks on the House floor referencing “The Invisible Army”:

U.S. Rep. Karen Bass Amendment Prohibiting Defense Department Funds for Human Trafficking, Labor Abuses on Military Bases Clears House of Representatives

Jul 7, 2011 Issues: National Security

Bass’ Bipartisan Amendment Follows Explosive Story in The New Yorker Detailing Gross Abuses by Private Contracting Defense Firms of Foreign Nationals on U.S. Military Bases

Washington, DC – A bipartisan amendment introduced by U.S. Rep. Karen Bass to the Defense Department Appropriations Bill prohibiting Department funds for human trafficking passed the House of Representatives today.

A video of the floor speech delivered by Rep. Bass and a copy of her prepared remarks appear below:

“Mr. Chair, thousands of private contracting defense firms, including some of the industry’s biggest names, such as DynCorp International and Halliburton subsidiary KBR, have been linked to trafficking-related incidents.  Thousands of nationals from impoverished countries are lured by the promise of good jobs, but sometimes end up victims of scams that leave them virtual slaves with no way to return home or seek legal recourse.  Despite this, allegations against federal contractors engaged in illegal labor practices ranging from contract worker smuggling to human trafficking in Iraq and Afghanistancontinue to surface in the media.

“Mr. Chair, a recent New Yorker article illustrates the urgent need for my amendment.  The article tells the story of two women from Fiji who thought they were going to lucrative salon jobs in Dubai but ended up “unwitting recruits for the Pentagon’s invisible army of more than seventy thousand cooks, cleaners, construction workers, fast-food clerks, electricians, and beauticians from the world’s poorest countries who service U.S. military logistics contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan,” as the New Yorker author wrote.

“Mr. Chair, these two women were asked to deliver resumes, hand over passports, submit to medical tests and pay $500 to a recruiting firm.  They were lured to Iraq under false pretenses and then they were told that they would only be making $700 a month. They were promised salaries as much as $3,800, ten times the normal salary in their home country. They were contracted to work 12 hours a day, 7 days a week. They were victims of harassment and sexual assault.

“After complaints, they were sent off the base for “making trouble.” They were sent to another U.S. base in Iraq and held for a month while their passports and identification badges were confiscated by the subcontracting company. When they eventually returned home they tried to seek justice, but their efforts were fruitless. Although the company that hired them was initially reprimanded, the company still operates in Fiji and still has a contract with the U.S. military. Meanwhile, allegations against federal contractors engaged in commercial sex and labor exploitation continue.

“Mr. Chair, U.S. Defense Department inspectors have listed “widespread” abuses among military subcontractors, including the illegal confiscation of passports, “deceptive hiring practices,” excessive recruiting fees and “substandard” living conditions.

“In January, the Department of Defense Office of Inspector General released a report urging DoD contracting officials to do more to combat human trafficking, such as ensuring that contracts contain the required anti-trafficking provisions. This report, the second DoD Inspector General report on trafficking required by law, examined a sample of DoD construction and service contracts valued at $5 million or more awarded in fiscal years 2009 and 2010 for work in Iraq and Afghanistan. The report found that only about half of the contracts contained the required federal regulation for combating trafficking in persons. The report warns that such widespread noncompliance with this requirement means many contractors may be unaware of the government’s “zero tolerance” policy with regard to human trafficking, and contracting officers are unable to apply remedies in the case of violations.   Just last week, the State Department released its latest annual report on combating human trafficking indicating that there have been no prosecutions or contract terminations. We must question why the companies known to have been accused of violating the law repeatedly still have contacts today.

“Mr. Chair, while the Inspectors General at the Departments of State and Defense and USAID continue audits of federal contracts to monitor vulnerability to human trafficking more can and must be done to explicitly prohibit this human rights violation and ensure compliance with the law.  Defense dollars should not be used to perpetuate exploitation and fraud of foreign nationals providing various services on U.S. military bases.

“My amendment will help ensure that these deceptive and illicit activities do not happen on our watch especially as we draw down troops and more foreign nationals are hired to keep military bases operational.  I urge my colleagues to support my amendment.

“I would like also like to thank Representative Chris Smith and Representative Carolyn Maloney and for their co-sponsorship of this amendment.

NYU’s Carter Journalism Institute, too, has issued a press release:

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