The Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, and the president’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, calmly took
to the podium to discuss the report. The release of this year’s report, mandated by Congress
under the Trafficking Victim Protection Act (TVPA) of 2000, came shortly after the president
met with Kim Jong-un in Singapore. There is no way of knowing if the issue of human rights
was addressed, but the prevailing wisdom indicates it was not. The TIP ranks each nation
according to tiers – one being the best, three is the worst. This year’s TIP report placed North
Korea under Tier 3 for failing to meet the standards set forth by the TVPA.
The United Nations plays a vital role in halting human trafficking. To raise the visibility of this
issue, each year it dedicates July 30 th as World Day against Trafficking in Persons. Human
trafficking is a global problem that does not respect borders. Traffickers are cunning and
manipulative preying upon society’s most vulnerable. Oftentimes victims are led to believe they
are being brought to a country to find a better life; in most cases, the opposite is true. These
people lose their identity and are forced into slavery. This problem often remains invisible as
those who are affected are marginalized peoples of the world. However, loyal people of good
conscience at the U.N. are shedding light where darkness resides.
U.N. agencies such as the International Labour Organization (ILO), International Organization
for Migration (IOM) have partnered with the Walk Free Foundation to educate the global
community regarding the heinous nature of trafficking through the publication of the Global
Slavery Index. In 2016, the ILO estimated there were 40.3 million human trafficking victims
worldwide; 24.9 million people in forced labor and 15.4 million in forced marriage. For every
1,000 people, 5.4 are victims of modern slavery with 1 in 4 a child. It is estimated that human
trafficking is a $150 billion global industry. The data reflects the fact that the disproportionate
number of victims of trafficking (71%) are women and girls, according to the Walk Free
The 2018 Global Slavery Index indicates two factors driving the problem of modern-day slavery:
(1) “highly repressive regimes, in which populations are put to work to prop up the government;”
(2) “conflict situations” resulting in a breakdown of the rule of law, “social structures, and
existing systems of protection.” No where is human trafficking more prevalent than in North
Korea; it has the unenviable distinction of residing at number one in this year’s Index.
In 2014, the Commission of Inquiry (COI) – authorized by the U.N. Human Rights Council –
was charged with the task to investigate the serious human rights violations occurring inside
North Korea “with a view to ensuring full accountability, in particular for violations which may
amount to crimes against humanity.” The Global Slavery Index indicated that up to one million
North Koreans are performing slave labor for the Kim regime. For North Korea, the exporting of
slave labor has increased during the reign of Kim Jong-un. Workers from the Democratic
Republic of Korea (DPRK) are estimated to be working in 45 countries across Asia, Africa, the
Middle East, and Europe.
The workers toil long hours for menial wages with approximately 80 percent sent back to the
DPRK. North Korea generates about $2.3 billion through this practice. This revenue continues to
maintain its economy as well as its nuclear program. In addition, there are close to 500,000
DPRK workers who labor in Russia and China netting North Korea about $120 million. In
Russia, it is reported that many of the venues for the 2018 World Cup Soccer Tournament were
built by slave laborers. In China, workers process seafood which ultimately ends up in markets in
the U.S. despite being a violation of U.S. federal law.
In October 2017, a U.N. human rights panel convened to investigate Pyongyang’s practice of
using child labor in farming, mining, and construction. The panel cited reports of children being
returned from China and subjected to torture and violence.
The problem of modern-day slavery is a global issue requiring a united and concerted global
response. The release of reports such as TIP are important, but simply citing a country must
change its behavior is not enough. The financial incentive for countries - like North Korea - to
engage in this heinous practice must end if real change is to occur.
In December 2016, the human rights advocacy organization – Human Rights First – authored a
document titled, “How to Dismantle the Business of Human Trafficking,” with the purpose of
serving as a guide for policymakers and business people to follow to address this multi-billion-
One of the suggestions focuses on the economic benefits driving human trafficking. To
accomplish this requires both public and private partnership. The authors point out that the U.S.
government needs to protect “workers through better procurement policies and partnerships with
companies to replicate those policies where practical.” Moreover, access to U.S. markets must be
denied for the perpetrators of these crimes. As the largest purchaser globally of goods and
services, the U.S. must ensure that the contracts they engage in are “free of human trafficking.”
The U.S. and the international community owes as much to the victims of these human rights