(MintPress) – As Congress debates whether to cut or maintain the military budget, a government watchdog organization is encouraging punishments for military contractors caught taking part in human trafficking activity, citing a Congressional report’s discovery that the problem exists.
A report published by the Commission on Wartime Contracting addressed the issue of human trafficking, citing evidence that military contractors inadvertently employ workers through subcontracting companies that recruit through the crooked practice of human trafficking.
Military contractors are funded by the U.S. government’s military budget. That means contractors are, essentially, being paid by the American taxpayer.
The report found there was “tragic evidence of the recurrent problem of trafficking in persons by labor brokers or subcontractors of contingency contractors.”
“They have found many instances, untold instances, of human trafficking that is going on to provide workers, mostly at the subcontractor levels,” Joe Newman, Project on Government Oversight (POGO) director of communications said in an interview with MintPress.
Newman described the cycle of human trafficking like this: People are recruited and told they’ll be given high-paying jobs in modernized areas like Dubai. In order to gain the job, they pay large commissions to those who found them the job. Yet rather than being sent to Dubai, they end up in places like Afghanistan, often times working in poor conditions.
Sarah Stillman of the New Yorker released an in-depth report in June of 2011, chronicling the stories of international workers who found themselves in the midst of human trafficking scandals.
Two of those individuals were female salon workers from Fiji. After being approached by recruiters and promised a lavish lifestyle and job in Dubai, they were told they would make roughly 10 times the average per-capita income in Fiji. After bidding farewell to their families and paying the recruiters for their service, the two women boarded a flight to Dubai. What they didn’t realize is that they weren’t headed there to work. Instead, they were stopping there and catching a connection flight to Iraq, where their actual work would occur — not in salons, but in the ranks of cleaning U.S. military bases.
The two women had made agreements with Meridian Services Agency, a subcontractor hired by large U.S. military contract companies to carry out menial duties at U.S. military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to the New Yorker, the U.S. hires three top military contracting firms, which then in turn hire subcontractors — they typically aren’t U.S. companies and are not held to the same standards of U.S. employers. Those three top military contracting companies include KBR, formerly known as Halliburton, DynCorp and Fluor.
Subcontractors together employed an estimated 70,000 international workers in 2011.
While it may seem that such individuals are, in a sense, acting under their own free will by staying in their contract positions, many who find themselves in this predicament are indebted to their companies through costs associated with recruitment. With low wages, it often takes workers, who typically came from poverty, time to pay their debts off.
That, according to POGO, is the definition of human trafficking. That’s a stance also taken by former U.S. Rep. Christopher Shays, who was part of the Congressional committee that published a report on the matter.
“We consider that human trafficking,” Newman told MintPress. “That’s something that we want the U.S. government to address. The president has issued an executive order, which is good, but only goes so far. It’s up to Congress to increase penalties on contractors.”
POGO pressures government to acknowledge, act
The Project on Government Oversight (POGO) has addressed Congress on the matter and is now calling on the public to challenge legislators to tackle the issue.
An online petition created by POGO gives credit to President Barack Obama, who issued an executive order strengthening the government’s anti-human trafficking policy. It required government contractors take certain preventative measures to help ensure the practice stops. However, now POGO is calling on Congress to “give this policy some teeth.”
“We need you to urge your members of Congress to include these strong anti-trafficking enforcements in the final version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that is sent to the president’s desk for signature,” POGO states on its petition website.
Specifically, POGO is requiring legislation that actually holds contracting companies accountable — this would be in addition to preventative measures implemented by the president.
This shouldn’t be a new issue for legislators.
A 2011 Congressional report addresses a type of human trafficking in which subcontractors hire international workers under the premise that employees will be given a glorious quality of living.
The reality is far from this case and many wind up in a ring of slave labor. Much like sex traffickers use debt to enslave those involved in forced prostitution, international workers also find themselves in a cycle of debt, with seemingly no way out.
In 2011, POGO Director of Investigations Nick Schwellenbach addressed the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, highlighting the need for the government to take this issue seriously — and stop it.
“The U.S. has been a global leader in combating trafficking in persons, yet our tax dollars are inadvertently fueling this human rights tragedy through our labor supply chain in war zones and other contingency operations,” he said.
Schwellenbach turned to the report created by the Commission on Wartime Contracting as a weapon, citing the acknowledgement of the behavior on behalf of the U.S. government. Aside from it being immoral and illegal, Schwellenbach painted a picture of its destruction of U.S. public image abroad.
“Not only is trafficking and exploitation of laborers a moral wrong in and of itself, but it erodes our moral standing in the world, can spark a backlash from the laborers and their home countries, including riots, which have occurred in Iraq at labor camps, and could undermine the U.S. mission,” Schwellenbach said.
Members of Congress have at least acknowledged the issue, but now are tasked to take action. Allowing U.S. taxpayer funds to support human trafficking, in this economic climate, should be a hot topic issue. Aside from moral ground, the U.S. is split over how to spend taxpayer funds. This, it seems everyone could agree on, is not the way to do it.