Secretary Antony J. Blinken at the Release of the 2023 Trafficking in Persons Report

Secretary Antony J. Blinken at the Release of the 2023 Trafficking in Persons Report

AMBASSADOR DYER:  Good morning, everyone.  And welcome.  My name is Cindy Dyer.  I’m the Ambassador-At-Large for the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons here at the Department of State.  And I have the honor of kicking off today’s ceremony.  Thank you all so much for joining us.

I know it has been a few years since we could gather such a crowd in person for this ceremony, and it is such a pleasure to see so many friends and colleagues.  I’m especially excited that three of my predecessors are here, Ambassadors Luis CdeBaca, Susan Coppedge, and John Richmond.

Today’s program will consist of the following.  First, Secretary Blinken will offer remarks on this year’s report.  Then we will honor eight outstanding Trafficking In Persons Report Heroes for their extraordinary dedication to combatting human trafficking.  We will also hear briefly from one of the heroes who will speak on behalf of this year’s honorees.  Finally, I will offer my own closing remarks.  After the ceremony, we hope you will find some time to visit to access this year’s report online.

We are so grateful to you, Secretary Blinken, for joining us today to release the 2023 Trafficking in Persons Report.  Thank you for your continuous work elevating the issue of human trafficking in your meetings around the world and here at home, as well as chairing the President’s Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons.  We are proud to serve under your leadership as we all work together to advance efforts to combat human trafficking.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Secretary of State Antony Blinken.  (Applause.)

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.  Thank you.  Good morning, everyone.  And just to reiterate what Cindy said, it is so wonderful to see you all here at the State Department.

Today, the State Department is releasing the 2023 Trafficking in Persons Report.  This report provides a comprehensive, objective assessment of 188 countries and territories – including the United States.  Its purpose is to showcase successful efforts to prevent trafficking, to identify areas where countries are falling short and have more work to do, and ultimately – ultimately – to eliminate trafficking altogether.

The United States is committed to combatting human trafficking because it represents an attack on human rights and freedoms.  It violates the universal right of every person to have autonomy over their own life and actions.  Today, more than 27 million people around the world are denied that right.

Trafficking harms our societies: weakening the rule of law, corrupting supply chains, exploiting workers, fueling violence.  And it disproportionately impacts traditionally marginalized groups: women, LGBTQI+ individuals, persons with disabilities, ethnic and religious minorities.

In his first year in office, President Biden released an updated National Action Plan to ensure that our policy response is keeping pace with what is an evolving challenge.  Earlier this year, as the ambassador noted, I chaired a meeting of the President’s Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, where we reviewed steps that we’ve taken to implement the plan: prohibiting the importation of goods made with forced labor; imposing financial sanctions on those that knowingly profit from that labor; integrating racial equity into our antitrafficking work; strengthening our efforts to counter online sexual exploitation and abuse of children.

The TIP Report is a central part of the United States Government’s antitrafficking work, and it reflects the efforts of so many people in this room today – and countless others both in Washington and around the world.

And that starts with the leadership of Ambassador Dyer and her team at the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, as well as colleagues that we have in our embassies around the world, whose work to interview survivors, to gather information, to conduct factchecking is at the very foundation of the report.  Bipartisan efforts in Congress, where there is an ironclad commitment and strong partnership to end trafficking – including Representative Chris Smith, who’s been a longtime champion and who’s here with us today, and I thank you for your presence and thank you for your leadership over so many years.  And members of the U.S. Advisory Council on Human Trafficking and the Human Trafficking Expert Consultant Network – their insights, their ideas are indispensable to shaping and evaluating our policy and programs.

And maybe most significantly, most importantly, we’re grateful to the survivors whose courage, whose resilience, and whose perspectives inspire and inform all of our work.

Finally, a very warm welcome to our eight TIP Report Heroes who are with us today – you’ll hear a little bit more about them shortly – journalists, activists, prosecutors, lawmakers, each of whom shares a commitment to stopping trafficking in all of its forms.

This year’s report shows a picture of steady progress around the world, with dozens of countries making significant strides in preventing trafficking, in protecting survivors, in prosecuting those who carry out this crime.

In Seychelles, the national government offered enhanced training to airport staff and police officers to better spot trafficking.  The government also instituted new policies to screen vulnerable populations, like migrants at transit points, for trafficking indicators.  That’s helped them identify more victims than ever before and convict a record number of traffickers.

Hong Kong launched a new hotline to help trafficking victims report fraudulent overseas employment scams and to get help.  In its first month, that hotline received hundreds of calls, leading to several investigations.

In Denmark, authorities led a renewed focus on – and committed additional resources to – combatting human trafficking, identifying more victims, prosecuting and convicting more traffickers.

So that’s the good news, and these are just examples of it.  The report also highlights a number of concerning trends.

The first is the continued expansion of forced labor.  As the pandemic disrupted supply chains around the world and spiked demand in certain industries, like PPE production, exploitative employers used a host of tactics to take advantage of lower-paid and more vulnerable workers.

The second is the rise in labor trafficking using online scams, which have proliferated as more of the world gains access to the internet.  The pandemic supercharged this trend.  Traffickers capitalized on widespread unemployment to recruit victims with fake job listings and then forced them to run international scams.

Third, the report exposes the risks facing an often-overlooked segment of trafficking victims: boys and young men.  According to a recent report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, between 2004 and 2020 the percentage of boys identified as victims of human trafficking rose five-fold.

Now for years, there’s been a widely held – but incorrect – belief that trafficking affects exclusively female victims.  This false perception has had some, quite frankly, devastating and tangible consequences, with far few support services typically allocated to male victims of trafficking.

The reality is that any person, regardless of sex, regardless of gender identity, can be targeted by human traffickers.  And so governments, civil society, the private sector – all of us have to develop resources for all populations, including male victims.

When President Biden released his National Plan to Combat Human Trafficking, he said, and I quote, “We can accomplish far more working in partnership than we [can] working alone.”  That’s true for the work between governments, between the federal and local officials, and with and between civil society and the private sector.

We see that in North Macedonia, where the government partnered with social workers, with NGO staff, with psychologists, with law enforcement to launch mobile teams that identify the majority of trafficking victims in the country.  This program has been so effective that several other countries in the Balkans either plan to, or already have, implemented the very same model.

We see it in the work of the Issara Institute.  That’s an NGO that’s worked hand-in-hand with private sector to help hundreds of thousands of workers learn about their rights and seek remediation when labor abuses occur.

We see it in Argentina, where leaders from the federal government regularly meet with representatives from across the country’s 24 jurisdictions, to coordinate their efforts and raise one another’s ambition, including by committing to offer long-term housing to survivors of trafficking.

For an issue that’s as complex and as constantly evolving as this one, we simply need all hands on deck.  We need law enforcement working to prosecute traffickers.  We need social workers providing trauma-informed care to the victims.  We need advocates holding governments accountable.  We need communities coming together to support the survivors.  In many ways, this room reflects that need and reflects that community.

We are so grateful to you for the partnership that you’ve shown, sharing expertise, sharing ideas, building and strengthening networks with us.  And what I want to share with you today is simply this: the United States is committed to standing with you, and once and for all, ending human trafficking.

Thank you all very much.   Cindy, back to you.  (Applause.)

AMBASSADOR DYER:  Thank you so much, Mr. Secretary, for those inspiring words.  I am now delighted to turn our attention to celebrating the 2023 TIP Report Heroes.  Please join me as we recognize and honor this year’s eight TIP Report Heroes:

First, Pureza Lopes Loyola from Brazil – (applause) – in recognition of her unwavering advocacy on behalf of herself, her son, and others who have experienced forced labor, including through firsthand documentation of evidence and testimony to illustrate the severity and proliferation of exploitative conditions in rural Brazil, which spurred a national movement and prompted the Brazilian Government to establish mobile labor inspection units to increase identification of victims.  (Applause.)

And second, Mech Dara from Cambodia in recognition – (applause) – of his courageous reporting on human trafficking for the purpose of forced criminality in Cambodia, which led to greater public awareness of and improvement in the Cambodian Government’s anti-trafficking response.  (Applause.)

Mrs. Iman Al-Sailawi and Mr. Basim Abdulrazzaq Jebur from Iraq – (applause) – in recognition of their leadership and innovation in establishing FATE, Iraq’s first NGO dedicated to ending human trafficking, which has helped release and support hundreds of individuals, including children and foreign nationals, from dangerous work conditions, forced labor, and sexual exploitation.  (Applause.)

Evon Benson-Idahosa from Nigeria – (applause) – in recognition of her continued commitment to empower and elevate the voices of survivors of sex trafficking through her organization’s transformative programs that address root causes of human trafficking, and her advocacy work with various levels of the Nigerian Government to improve anti-trafficking policy and legislation. (Applause.)

Zaheer Ahmed from Pakistan – (applause) – in recognition of his pivotal leadership in the application and modernization of anti-trafficking and anti-smuggling laws in Pakistan, the formulation and implementation of a national action plan to combat these crimes, and the improvement of coordination and cooperation efforts between law enforcement and civil society organizations.  (Applause.)

Paola Hittscher from Peru – (applause) – in recognition of her powerful use of innovative partnerships with the Peruvian navy, national police, and civil society to advance the investigation and prosecution of human trafficking cases in the Loreto region of Peru despite a challenging environment of limited funding, security concerns, and limited state presence.  (Applause.)

Eumelis Moya Goitte from Venezuela – (applause) – in recognition of her courageous work to investigate and document human trafficking crimes affecting marginalized indigenous communities that are hard to reach and frequently living under the control of illegal armed groups, drawing international attention to human trafficking crimes in Venezuela’s mining sector, and providing support for international recommendations to prevent human trafficking of vulnerable populations.  (Applause.)

Thank you.  And now we will hear from one of the 2023 TIP Report Heroes.  Please join me in welcoming R. Evon Benson-Idahosa from Nigeria.  (Applause.)

MS BENSON-IDAHOSA:  Thank you.  Thank you, Secretary Blinken, Ambassador Dyer.  I’m honored to stand before you as a representative of so many who do this work of justice, of reconciliation, most without recognition but with the same tenacity and compassion that each of us being recognized today do.

Each of these heroes – Pureza, Mech, Iman and Basim, Zaheer, Paola, and Eumelis – exemplify courage in the moment in history where more than 27 million people are victimized by the evil that is human trafficking.  Thank you to each of you, and to all of you who fortify our arms, for leading the change.

I also stand before you on behalf of millions of African women whose bodies have been legislated upon, weaponized, but especially on behalf of Faith, a young Nigerian woman whose last words to me in September of 2016 were, “Auntie, I’m dying.”  Those three words still echo in my mind and serve as the impetus for why we at Pathfinders, the NGO I founded to protect survivors and prevent the sex trafficking of Nigerian women at home and abroad, continue to do this work.  You see, Faith was trafficked from our hometown in Benin City to Libya, and then to Europe, where she involuntarily serviced the underbelly of the European sex industry until her body was literally consumed to death.  No one should ever be utilized as a product for consumption.

Faith’s story represents the reality of thousands of victims annually who are waiting for those of us with access and power and privilege to muster the social and economic courage to do for others what we do for ourselves.  As visionaries who see the world as it should be, not as it is, the new face of our response requires a fundamental shift in consciousness that prioritizes reconciliation and promotes an integrated, intersectional, and interdependent methodology.

You see, I’m not naive to ignore the geopolitical factors – the self-interest, the economic realities – that have culminated in global divides that separate developing from the developed, that use the word “global” to demarcate North from South, and both in love and in war other them and hypocritically center us.  Nor do I profess to have all the answers to the hard, inconvenient truths that allow for the proliferation of trafficking, that destabilize governments in the pursuit of national interest, that strongarm countries into a legacy of imperialism.

But what I do know is that we can all bear witness to the import of human trafficking on our collective suffering and the erosion of our conscience, universal aspirations, and inherent rights and dignity.  And so today I offer considerations that are visible in plain sight, considerations that reframe these complex narratives and underscore the reality that one’s interests, rights, and dignities are best preserved when those of others are equally preserved.  Both postures are not diametrically opposed.

To world leaders who have the power to disrupt trafficking, systemic failures of national and international governments that prioritize profit over people, arbitrary rules over good conscience, can no longer be countenanced.  We cannot in good conscience foster a world where vulnerabilities are abused and – or systemically condoned and exploited.  World leaders must consistently reach across the borders and political divides, not to embrace those for whom seats at the table have been intentionally curated, but to invite and make room for those who have consistently been missing from it.

Those who are the most impacted by the problems that human trafficking and its related geopolitical underbelly have created – i.e. survivors and local communities – are whose voices must now be consistently centered.  The new face of this movement must democratize and shift power, reconcile, if you will, that power back to those who are seemingly powerless so that they too can take responsibility to birth innovative solutions.  World leaders must envisage partnerships that are laced with compassion and empathy, with the understanding that structural transformation demands a tenacious commitment to our collective long-term vision.

To survivors and stakeholders who work tirelessly to restore dignity to those from whom it has been violently obliterated, we must enlarge our work from speaking truth to power to also speaking truth to the seemingly powerless – our local communities.  We must unapologetically take up our space as global leaders who, because of our lived experience and expertise, not only deserve a seat at the table but understand that we can create additional, more inclusive tables that diversify and center our voices.

And finally, on a micro level – (applause) – and finally, on a micro level, we must each commit to doing the small daily actions that exemplify love – offering a cup of water to the thirsty, taking only that which you need, abandoning intellectual dishonesty that denies our own complicity in injustice, choosing kindness over indifference and the collective good over individual advancement.  That is how we reconcile the world.  It is how we choose a world that extols the values that we contend guard our collective conscience and, as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “embody an audacious faith in the future of mankind.”  E se.  Thank you for listening.  (Applause.)

AMBASSADOR DYER:  Now that’s a hard act to follow.  Next year, I’m going to speak first.  (Laughter.)  Thank you, Evon, for sharing that important message on behalf of all of this year’s heroes.  Let’s give this amazing group of leaders another round of applause.  (Applause.)

It is such an honor to celebrate your important work.  We are thrilled to be partnering again with our colleagues in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs to provide an International Visitors Leadership Program, an IVLP for short, for several of our TIP Report Heroes.  Through the IVLP, our TIP Report Heroes will have the opportunity to meaningfully engage with Americans here in Washington, D.C., Boston, and Miami, who are also working to eliminate human trafficking and support survivors.  So we are excited to not just honor you today, but to work together to share best practices and engage.

Today we are releasing the 2023 Trafficking in Persons Report.  The TIP Report is an essential tool in the world’s fight against human trafficking.  It not only serves as a central reference point for the status of anti-trafficking efforts in each country, including the United States, but it also highlights the best practices and helps disseminate them.

This year we chose to highlight the importance of partnerships in addressing human trafficking.  I know firsthand the power of partnerships.  Starting out as a local prosecutor in Dallas, Texas, I could see how our response to trafficking situations would be immensely improved if we all had relevant actors – all the relevant actors together in the same room, preferably with chips and hot sauce.  (Laughter.)  So I joined Dallas County’s very first interagency task force on human trafficking.  I have carried that lesson throughout my career, partnering with NGOs to provide guidance as grassroots activists around the world worked to implement or strengthen anti-trafficking legislation in their various communities.

Over the last 30 years, I have seen the immense benefits of elevating the voices and perspectives of survivors.  Survivors can play an important role in shaping policies and programs to ensure that they are survivor-centered and responsive to the needs and experience of survivors.  By partnering with survivors, we can promote anti-trafficking efforts grounded in the realities of those who have been most directly impacted by this issue.

The need for partnerships starts within our own governments.  We need all our various agencies to collaborate to make our work more effective and impactful.  This year’s report highlights the progress made in one country, the Comoros, when they established a national committee to enhance interministerial coordination on anti-trafficking efforts.  Through this interagency cooperation, they were able to identify more victims, investigate more trafficking crimes, and refer all victims to services.

Strong partnerships between countries can also address the vulnerability of migrants, refugees, and international job seekers to human traffickers.  We saw this in Europe when EU governments banded together to proactively protect Ukrainian refugees to prevent trafficking among them as they fled from Russia’s illegal, full-scale invasion.  And in Southeast Asia, Indonesia and the Philippines have worked together to assist trafficking victims lured by cybercrime syndicates into cyber-scam operations.

Partnerships are also critical because they allow us to harness the diverse expertise of different organizations to tackle trafficking in novel ways.  At its core, human trafficking is a financially motivated crime.  This report highlights how one partnership between PayPal and Polaris in the United States interrupts traffickers’ cash flows and enables parallel prosecutions for financial crimes.  Deeper partnerships between financial institutions and law enforcement can better identify the financial trail of human traffickers, allowing law enforcement to collect more evidence to aid prosecutions and lessen the burden on survivors having to testify.

Finance Against Slavery And Trafficking, or FAST, developed by UN University and financed by Australia, is another great partnership.  FAST is leveraging the use of technology to provide a free e-learning training tool for Southeast Asian government officials working on financial regulation, intelligence, and investigation to understand human trafficking, how it is connected to the financial sector, and what they can do to identify and interrupt it.

And we know traffickers are always looking to exploit new vulnerabilities, from conflicts to climate change to the digital world, so we need to continually be building partnerships with new stakeholders.  New partnerships between NGOs, governments, law enforcement, survivors, and technology companies can help counter some of these new vulnerabilities.  The OSCE and Thomson Reuters used social media and Uber for their Be Safe campaign, reaching hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian refugees about the warning signs of human trafficking.

Another great partnership, the Tech Against Trafficking initiative harnesses the expertise of companies and other stakeholders to accelerate technology solutions to combat human trafficking.  Through the Accelerator program, tech companies provide mentorship, education, and greater network access to assist anti-trafficking NGOs to pilot or scale up initiatives, such as generating synthetic data to better share and analyze case information responsibly while protecting victim privacy.

Survivors are some of our most important partners.  Their lived experience can inform our programs and policies, ensuring we maintain a trauma-informed and victim-centered approach.  More countries than ever are seeing the benefits of partnering with survivors to enhance their anti-trafficking work.  Israel last year established an advisory committee, including two survivors, to help address forced labor issues, while Australia and Canada committed to survivor engagement in their national action plans.

Here at home, the U.S. Government continues to pursue partnerships to advance our anti-trafficking work.  We are enhancing intergovernmental cooperation with the President’s Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, regularly bringing together 20 agencies to review and refine our federal anti-trafficking strategies.  We are incorporating recommendations of survivors into our policymaking and programs at the highest levels, and working further to integrate survivors into all that we do, including through the work of the U.S. Advisory Council on Human Trafficking.  We are partnering with neighboring countries to reduce the risk of migrants falling prey to human traffickers, and we are championing partnerships with technology companies and financial institutions to better prosecute traffickers, protect victims, and prevent trafficking in the first place.

As we close, I want to draw our attention back to the individuals.  Behind these pages of statistics and trends and tier rankings are millions of adults and children who are in trafficking situations and depend on our collective efforts.  We owe it to them to work together to hold perpetrators accountable, to partner with survivors, to make sure our responses are trauma-informed and victim-centered, and ultimately, to address the underlying factors that make people vulnerable to trafficking.  The report offers many recommendations and best practices that are critical steps our government and governments around the world can take to build a world free of human trafficking.

I’m going to take a page out of a Evon’s book, who quoted the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, who also once said, “The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people, but the silence over that by the good people.”  It is so humbling and inspiring to be in a room full to the brim with good people who refuse to be silent.

Thank you so much for your steadfast service to others and for joining us today.  Please remember to go to to check out this year’s full report online.  The cards and bookmarks you have received at today’s event have a QR code you can scan to reach the website.  Thank you for coming.  Thank you all.  (Applause.)

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