Launch of the UN Day Against Human Trafficking

Honorable Minister,
Dear partners,
Members of the media,
Other distinguished guests,

Thank you for the opportunity to join you here this morning.

Today I want to speak with you about people — Millions of people around the world — More than 100,000 people in Ghana — Men, women and children — All living in slavery.

  • Ghanaian men who are lured by the promise of good construction jobs in the Middle East, only to arrive and find themselves exploited in domestic servitude and forced prostitution.
  • Young Ghanaian women who move from the northern regions down to Accra in search of work, but end up victims of sex trafficking.
  • Ghanaian children like Osei, whose story is featured in this year’s Trafficking in Persons Report: When he was only 6 years old, his parents gave him to a fishing master who promised to provide Osei with a fishing apprenticeship, an education and a job.  It was a lie.  Instead, Osei and other children worked long hours on a fishing boat, every day.  It was not an apprenticeship, it was forced labor.  There was no schooling.  There was no respite from the grueling labor and the dangerous conditions.  It was not “kids just helping out their families,” as some have claimed.

These Ghanaians, and millions of others like them around the world, are living in slavery.  They have names.  They have families.  They likely thought it was worth the risk for the promise of a better life.  But now they are trapped in a hell of forced labor, forced servitude, and forced sex.

Modern slavery exists all around the world, including in the United States.  Here in Ghana, we are proud to work with the International Organization for Migration (IOM), Free the Slaves and others to eliminate trafficking, particularly in the cocoa, fishing and gold mining industries.  These organizations are fiercely dedicated to protecting populations vulnerable to trafficking, and I personally applaud their unceasing efforts.

However, at the end of the day, NGOs are not the ones in positions of authority.  They cannot arrest, prosecute and convict traffickers.  They do not have ultimate responsibility for the welfare and safety of Ghanaian citizens.  That authority, that responsibility, rests solely with the Ghanaian government.

Every year, in accordance with U.S. law, we examine the efforts made by governments around the world to combat the evil of slavery and the crime of trafficking.

Secretary of State John Kerry released the 2016 Trafficking in Persons Report two weeks ago.  In the report, Ghana was ranked as a Tier 2 Watch List country for the second year in a row.  This means that the government of Ghana did not meet the minimum standards for preventing trafficking in persons and failed to provide evidence of increasing efforts to do so.

While the government did carry out investigations and some publicity campaigns, last year was irrevocably marred by the complete lack of prosecutions or convictions of a single trafficker.  The number of victims identified decreased.  Funding for law enforcement training was inadequate.  Funding for victim services and shelters was nonexistent.

This is tragic for the trafficking victims who desperately need their government’s help to escape slavery and to see their captors appropriately punished.  But government inaction could have even more far-reaching consequences:  Under U.S. law, any country designated as Tier 2 Watch List two years in a row must be automatically downgraded to Tier 3 the following year, unless the government shows sufficient progress to warrant a Tier 2 or Tier 1 ranking

This means Ghana could be subject to a Tier 3 ranking next year.  A Tier 3 ranking comes with restrictions on our bilateral assistance programs.  And once again, we are talking about real people.  I’ve met women farmers who have increased their production of nutritious soya and sweet potatoes and have parlayed that success into creating village savings and loan associations.  I’ve visited communities that now have indoor toilets and clean drinking water, reducing cholera.  I’ve seen children’s eyes light up as they read from brand new books, written in their native tongue.  The improvements to their lives were a direct result of our development assistance.

As the U.S. Ambassador to Ghana, I certainly do not want to see our assistance to millions of Ghanaians disrupted.  I do not want to see our military cooperation and elections support go away.  I do not want to see Ghana lose the second Millennium Challenge Compact, just as we are poised to help overcome the electricity shortage that is crippling economic growth.  Cutting assistance is not a threat.  It will be a fact if the Government of Ghana does not act to tackle trafficking in a far more deliberate manner.

I commend the Ministry of Gender for announcing last week that security officers in border towns will receive training to help them identify potential child traffickers and trafficking victims.  I commend the Ministry of Fisheries for seizing two vessels with children aboard working in dangerous conditions.  I commend the investigators of the Anti-Human Trafficking Unit (AHTU) in the Regional GPS Headquarters in Ho, Volta Region, but they need funds to get out of their offices and do their jobs.  There are many more steps to be taken in the coming months: funding investigations and prosecutions; cracking down on fraudulent recruiting agencies; convicting and punishing traffickers; supporting and protecting those who have been victimized.  It is a lot, but Ghana is not in an impossible position.

Five years ago, the Bahamas was a Tier 2 Watch List Country.  In 2013, it moved up to Tier 2.  Last year, and again this year, the Bahamas was recognized as a Tier 1 country, reflecting the government’s comprehensive efforts to prevent trafficking, prosecute offenders and protect victims.  Just two years ago, Cyprus was a Tier 2 Watch List Country.  Last year, it moved up to Tier 2.  This year, it achieved Tier 1 status.  It is certainly not a coincidence that an Under Secretary for National Security from the Bahamas and a police officer from Cyprus were recognized as anti-trafficking heroes by Secretary Kerry when he released this year’s report.

The Ghanaian government has an opportunity to demonstrate that it is capable of and committed to quick, decisive action, as well.  It is possible.

Inevitably, if you report on what I’ve said today, some will respond, “Who is America to talk about slavery?”

Yes, slavery was once legal in America.  That is a fact.  It’s also a fact that this was a shameful period in our history, and its repercussions are still being felt today.  And I do mean today.

But slavery was wrong 400 years ago, when the first indentured servants arrived in America.  Slavery was wrong 230 years ago, when our Constitution included provisions protecting the institution.  It was a wrong that Abraham Lincoln righted 153 years ago, when he issued the Emancipation Proclamation and freed more than 3 million people.

We all wish that Proclamation had ended slavery in America forever, but it didn’t.  We still have human trafficking in America.  We have modern-day slavery.  And it is as wrong today as it ever was.  We have a moral obligation to end it.  That is why we take a holistic approach to combatting trafficking, bringing together multiple government agencies, the private sector, civil society, faith communities, law enforcement, academics and, of course, survivors.  We publish the Trafficking in Persons Report because we believe we have a moral obligation to end slavery of any kind, anywhere, on this planet.

I want to implore those of you in the media:  There are stories to be told.  Stories that are far more powerful than anything I say up here today.

I don’t know if anyone from Starr FM is here this morning, but let me recognize them for a story they aired last week.  They interviewed a young man who had been rescued from trafficking in the fishing industry on Lake Volta.  He described children fishing in the middle of the night.  He described children being sent down into the lake to untangle the nets, and drowning, as they themselves became entangled.

There are stories to be told.  Powerful stories about real people.  There are questions to be asked.  It is an election year.  I will be asking those running for office what they intend to do—win or lose, together, across party lines—to eradicate trafficking and slavery in Ghana.  I hope you will, too.

Thank you for your attention today.  Thank you for everything you have done, and will do, to end the suffering of those trafficked into slavery.