United States Vice President Kamala D. Harris spoke at the President’s Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons on Tuesday from the White House.
Thank you, Mr. Secretary, and good afternoon to everyone. And thank you to the senior administration officials who are gathered here for all of your tireless work. Thank you also to the members of the U.S. Advisory Council on Human Trafficking for your dedicated work. And congratulations to today’s award recipients. You all are an inspiration.
So, many of you know, when I was Attorney General of California, I visited a town on the northern side of the U.S. border named Calexico.
And I went to Calexico because I wanted to see for myself the tunnels through which I knew guns, drugs, and human beings were being trafficked.
And during that trip, I saw, in person and in photographs, tunnels with walls as smooth as the walls of your living room, complete with lighting and air conditioning.
And what became very clear to me is through those tunnels were being trafficked guns, drugs, and human beings, where some people were making a whole lot of money.
And in fact, the officials in Calexico, when I was there, described to me — these are folks who’ve been working there, you know, doing tough work — and described to me with tears in their eyes about children as young as five years old who were being trafficked through those tunnels.
And as Attorney General, I placed a particular emphasis
on combating transnational criminal organizations and on combating the money laundering that accompanies human trafficking.
So, to see those tunnels, an obvious point was and remains clear: Trafficking is an extremely heinous and profitable business. In fact, globally, human trafficking is a $150 billion business.
And let’s be clear: When we’re talking about human trafficking, we are talking about some human beings who are essentially buying and selling other human beings.
So, today, we are here to focus on the estimated 25 million people around the world — as many as one in three who are under the age of 18 — who are currently victims of human trafficking.
Now, to understand the severity of human trafficking, to take on the scourge of human trafficking, we must all understand that human trafficking is multifaceted. Human trafficking happens both abroad and right here in the United States.
When I was Attorney General, we found that 72 percent of trafficking victims in California were born right here in the United States.
In 2020 alone, there were 11,000 instances of human trafficking that were reported in the United States. And mind you, those were only the cases that were reported. Experts suggest that the number of people at risk has also grown during COVID-19.
So we must address, with a sense of urgency, what is happening in our own backyard.
In the United States and worldwide, there are many types of work for which people are trafficked. Some people are lured from their homes or their home country with promises of a better future, only to be forced into sexual exploitation. Others are coerced and forced into labor or indentured servitude.
Of the estimated 25 million people worldwide being trafficked, 65 percent are being forced to do domestic work, construction work, agricultural work, or manufacturing work.
Last year alone, we seized nearly 1,500 shipments of merchandise made using forced labor, including things like clothes and electronics. The value? Nearly $500 million.
To be sure, the economic impact of forced labor is significant. And it undermines our own supply chain, displacing American workers, driving down American wages, and creating an unlevel playing field for responsible American businesses.
As a nation, we must require serious consequence and accountability for those who commit these crimes. And we must work to stop these crimes before they happen.
In December, our administration issued our National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking.
Our plan centers on the key pillars of U.S. and global anti-trafficking efforts: prevention, protection, prosecution, and partnerships.
Today, several of our departments and agencies will make announcements regarding how we will advance this plan.
And there is a clear line that runs throughout our administration’s work: We are focused on the most vulnerable. And based on my experience, the most vulnerable are women and girls, racial and ethnic minorities, LGBTQI+ people, Indigenous people, people with disabilities, migrants, and children in the foster care system.
When we identify who is most vulnerable, we can tailor our tactics and improve our strategy, we can look at what is putting communities at risk in order to improve our prevention efforts, and we can look at ways to reach those communities to ensure that support is trauma-informed and survivor-centered.
In this work, our government — while we need business leaders and non-profit leaders, community leaders, we need all of you to partner with us.
I have seen in my career the power of public-private partnership to address human trafficking.
Whether it was the non-profit that I teamed up with to support survivors or the technology company I invited to help identify search terms that perpetrators were using, it is clear: When we pool our resources and our expertise, we can maximize our impact.
So, those many years ago, after I visited Calexico and I saw the tunnels, I reached out to Attorneys General from across our nation. And together we launched a unified effort to take on transnational crime.
What was true then is true now: It will take all of us to address human trafficking.
So I thank you all for being here today and for the work you do every day. Thank you.