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Oil, Corruption, International Policies, and Human Trafficking

by aden Wed Oct 26th, 2005 at 11:15:49 AM EST

back to diaries by whataboutbob... for another look at the oil industry

Several weeks ago I wrote to Jerome in hopes that he might consider writing about the connection between economies dependent on oil and the human cost in many of the countries that produce oil; particularly, the connection between oil, corruption, international policies, and human trafficking.

Over the last four years I have been researching the topic of human trafficking. I have interviewed a wide variety of trafficking experts from around the world and have spent time alongside of several social workers that assist victims of human trafficking.

Jerome recommended I post my email on the European Tribune. The following is the first of three posts on this subject.

I have created a site where I post text pieces and audio interviews on topics related to human trafficking, www.tradio21.org. This entry will be cross posted on the tradio21 site.

The goal of the tradio21 project is to conduct interviews with trafficking experts, in hopes of getting an in-depth perspective on the subject matter.

As I say on the site, after interviewing a variety of human trafficking experts from different parts of the world, and working alongside of some, I have found a much more complex, and at times contrary, story than what I have read on trafficking in the media or government releases.

I believe there is a large amount of information on the subject of human trafficking that is not making it into the media, particularly the politics of counter human trafficking efforts, and policies and practices that have an indirect affect on human trafficking.

Oil, Corruption, International Policies, and Human Trafficking -Part 1

One of the groups I spent time with is in Antwerp, Belgium. [ Chicago Public Radio piece on the group ] [ text piece on tradio21 ]

This group assists women from Nigeria working in prostitution. Nigeria is believed to be one of the largest source countries of victims of human trafficking. Most of the women this group assists carry debts of $40,000 and up for using smuggling networks to enter Europe.

As those familiar with the oil industry know, Nigeria is considered between the 6th -13th largest oil producer in the world, and the largest in Africa. Nigeria is also considered one of the most corrupt countries in the world.

As I was about to post this, Transparency International's 2005 Corruption Perception Index was released. Transparency International's 2005 index ranks Nigeria as the 6th most corrupt country in the world. In 1998 Nigeria was rated as the 5th most corrupt country. Every other rating except for '98 and '05 put Nigeria in the worst, 2nd to worst, or 3rd to worst position.

One of the things that struck me when interviewing some of the women during my time in Antwerp was their awareness of the politics of Nigerian oil.

NPR recently ran a week long series on the Nigerian oil industry. Included in this series was a piece that discussed Halliburton and Vice President Richard Cheney's potential involvement in one of the largest corruption cases in Nigeria. Vice President Cheney was the CEO of Halliburton at the time the alleged corruption took place.

Readers of the European Tribune may recall that previous to the G8 summit meeting in Scotland, one of the primary conditions President Bush made for giving additional aid to Africa was Africa's need to address corruption. In a US Embassy G8 Summit press release, President Bush is quoted as saying,

"I don't know how we can look our taxpayers in the eye and say, 'this is a good deal to give money to countries that are corrupt'".

I have posted a letter sent to NPR asking that they consider including human trafficking in their series on Nigeria. Similar to this post, the letter touches upon what I perceive to be possible connections between western company practices, western international policy, and some of the conditions that contribute to increased irregular migration, and, in many cases, human trafficking. The letter is specifically related to Nigeria.

Saudi Arabia
As readers of the European Tribune may know, President Bush recently waived sanctions against Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia failed to comply with the US' defined minimum requirements for combating human trafficking, and thus under US law was eligible for sanctions.

The primary reason given for waiving sanctions was:

"Over five billion dollars in foreign military sales to Saudi Arabia would have been restricted by sanctions under the Act. A full waiver has been granted in the national interest of providing these military sales in order to advance goals of the Global War on Terror."

Several bloggers, including Think Progress, picked up on this waiving of sanctions and commented on the seeming contradiction between rhetoric on human trafficking and action.

A staunch conservative, and one of the authors of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000, Representative Chris Smith from NJ, issued a press release stating,

"Congressman Chris Smith, today expressed disappointment with President Bush's decision to waive or reduce sanctions against some countries that are known to be among the worst offenders in human trafficking... Ally or not, America cannot condone human trafficking by any nation, and that is what we seem to be doing... friends don't let friends commit human rights violations... Actions like this send the wrong signal to nations, friend and foe alike, that turn a blind eye to this international horror".

The US tier system

In 2000 the United States passed legislation detailing the US' response to human trafficking; both in the US and internationally.

One of the requirements of this legislation is that an annual report be conducted on countries receiving US economic or security assistance. This report is to assess the nature and extent of trafficking in persons in each country and the efforts by the government of the particular country to combat such trafficking.

This requirement has brought about a separate annual report, known as the Trafficking in Persons Report . Along with a country narrative answering particular questions related to human trafficking, the report places countries into a rating system divided into three tiers.

Those in a tier 1 are in full compliance with the US defined minimum standards. Those in a tier 3 are not in compliance. Tier 2 represents somewhere in between.

The countries that remain in a tier 3 for 90 days after the rating is issued are eligible for losing non-humanitarian US foreign aid. The President has the authority to determine if sanctions against a particular country would not be in the interest of US national security.

A "tier 2 watch list" was added to the rating structure a couple years ago. This "watch list" category implies lesser compliance than a straight tier 2. The "watch list" category also allows the country and the President to avoid the issue of sanctions.

Some believe the current tier placement of countries more closely parallels US foreign policy than provide an accurate representation of the global story of human trafficking.

End part 1

Thanks for coming to post, though a difficult subject. I wasnt clear, do you work independently, for a NGO or the UN on this? I can see there is a certain amount of awareness about this problem, but what really is being done about it.

Also recently there was an article in "The Nation" about anti-trafficing that caused a lot of controversy (an argument between authors and organizations, if I recall it correctly)...have you read that, and what is your comments on that whole debate?

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia

by whataboutbob on Sun Oct 23rd, 2005 at 01:39:01 PM EST
I work independently. I began this project as a development effort for a documentary film. Under the auspices of the doc film, I met with various people in counter trafficking capacities; both in the US and internationally.

I have since redirected my energies to Internet distribution, in order to get what I feel are compelling subjects and stories out more quickly to an audience.

The Nation article I believe you are referring to is called Oversexed by Debbie Nathan. Yes I have read it. I had not heard about the controversy resulting from the article, though I could see why there would be one.

There is somewhat of a political minefield surrounding this topic; the perceived focus on trafficking in persons for sexual exploitation. I do share the belief that there is a weighted focus on trafficking for sexual exploitation. I will not say over weighted because I feel the focus on trafficking for other forms of labor, including domestic help, should increase.

I can say a consistent theme that I have found from many of those that were on the front lines of social work or counseling voiced a frustration with the media and the political focus on sexual trafficking. It was never framed as stop with the focus on forced prostitution, but almost consistently in the context of "What about these other people?" "Is the heinousness of their experience not equal, or not relevant?"

This focus serves an agenda. If I can plug an audio interview on the tradio21 site -it is about 15 minutes long. Belgian author Chris de Stoop was one of the first journalist to "break" the story about trafficking of women into forced prostitution and strip clubs in Belgium. My understanding is that his first book, and several newspaper articles, led to the implementation of the Belgium anti-trafficking laws and collection of shelters set up specifically to assist victims of trafficking. Ten years later he wrote a second book, out of his frustration that the counter human trafficking movement, something of which he contributed to bringing about, had become hijacked to serve ulterior political agendas.

So what do I think of that?  I think that is a very serious accusation that holds a significant amount of credibility and should be looked at closely by all of those concerned about this matter.

If we are only focusing on making it more difficult for people to irregularly migrate from these source countries, we are only increasing the level of danger people will take, and the cost people will incur to get here; Europe or the US. The smuggling, and in some cases trafficking networks, exist because legal migration does not.

I believe BBC recently reported the US has seen the highest level of deaths in the desert on the US/ Mexico border.  As Eurotrib readers know, the stories don't end about shaky overloaded boats going down in various seas.

Your comment opens up a big can of worms, because there is a raging debate about the legitimacy of working in prostitution. I am going to deliberately refrain from stepping too far into that debate in the comments section, because my hope was to draw attention to some of the practices and policies that contribute to the root causes of trafficking, often referred to as the "push factors" -specifically staying away from the prostitution discussion. The topic though is a great one for Eurotrib. I won't be surprised, if it were to come up, if it ends up in the Debates section.

I have met some very articulate people, who hold opposing stances on this matter, and who present very solid and valid arguments. It is a very important topic, as it affects many lives; women, children, and men; homosexual & transgender. All deserve a dedicated non-politicized focus on the issues of their situation.  -That was probably not a very satisfying response.

Concerning what is being done to address this issue -another big question. Attempted short response: A large amount of money is put into education programs in source countries warning people about the dangers of human trafficking. Some money goes into repatriation and shelters, or relocation for a victim into the destination country. Also, it seems that a good amount of money has been received by law enforcement and immigrations officials.

What has gone into efforts to create living environments that do not "push" people to take inordinate risks and incur significant financial costs in hopes of obtaining a better life elsewhere? ...don't know -not much in my opinion.

by aden on Sun Oct 23rd, 2005 at 04:08:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Do you have any thoughts regarding the miniseries premiering on Lifetime tonight, "Human Trafficking"?  Were you able to preview the program?  It appears to focus primarily on trafficking originating out of Russia and Eastern Europe, although this was likely done for purposes of the audience demographic for Lifetime.

The show appears to take the subject quite seriously (as opposed to merely being exploitation), and Amnesty International has organized its webpage around the program.  (Someone should have told AI that the phrases "Human Trafficking" and "House Party" should never appear near one another.)

Given your experience, it would be interesting to hear your reactions to the miniseries, especially whether you feel it will be helpful in raising awareness of the issue as a serious problem, or if it merely trivializes the issue.

by The Maven on Mon Oct 24th, 2005 at 12:18:44 PM EST
The show appears to take the subject quite seriously (as opposed to merely being exploitation)

exploitation isn't serious?

seems to me it is the heart of all abuse -- 'exploitation' being just another word for predation or objectification:  treating other human beings as commodity, consumable, disposable.

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Mon Oct 24th, 2005 at 04:15:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Given the subject matter, I should have been more attuned to the precise words I used here.  What I was trying to get at was that this program may well be more interested in raising consciousness of the underlying issue of trafficking as opposed to many other TV movies and miniseries, such as a disease-of-the-week show, which isn't really about the disease at all, but rather a vehicle for the featured star.

When I used the word "exploitation" here, I meant only that broadcasters often try to sensationalize their subject matter in order to juice their ratings, without any real regard for the subject itself.  I hope this clears it up instead of muddying the waters further.

An example of poor use of the subject would be the upcoming CBS miniseries, "Category 7: The End of the World", which I seriously doubt hopes to raise concerns about global warming.  ("As the disastrous storm gathers even more strength and begins to ravage the rest of the world, a television evangelist, preying on the fears of a storm battered nation, begins to broadcast alarming warnings of epic biblical plagues. As his predictions begin to come true, the deadly storm continues to wreak havoc worldwide, culminating over Washington, D.C.")

by The Maven on Mon Oct 24th, 2005 at 08:40:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Apologies for not responding sooner -I have been wrestling with a response and continue to find myself going too far down one path or another. I think I have come up with something that holds a through line.

I have not seen the series, I saw the trailer awhile back and watched it gain today before responding. -a friend is recording it for me tonight, so I will watch the whole thing.

Maven your choice of words, and sentiment, was similar to the negative review of the Lifetime movie in the Washington Post: Exploiting Misery -you may need to register for the Post.

I perceive this to be a piece that focuses on the spectacular, so yes I do have some problems with it. However, if it motivates or intrigues some people enough to dig deeper into the subject, then regardless of the hyped up approach or hollywoodization of the trafficking subject it is has done something worthwhile.

With that preface in mind, some questions come to me when watching the trailer. Some of this criticism may simply be inappropriate for what is ultimately four hours of television time that has to sell advertising space.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s there was an effort to address what was referred to as the "white slave trade". It was a concern that white women were being abducted and brought into the cities, and some cases to Arab lands, to be used as sex slaves.

Jo Doezma, I believe a professor in Gender Studies, wrote a paper entitled Loose women or Lost Women: The re-emergence of the myth of 'white slavery' in contemporary discourses of 'trafficking in women' The paper compares the current counter trafficking movement to the earlier movement.

Whether or not one agrees with the premise of the paper, the break down of the language and metaphors used to describe both human trafficking and the white slave trade, as well as the parallels between both movements, is very revealing.

Here is a quote from 1910 -taken from Doezma's paper:

"Deceit, force and/or drugging featured heavily in the accounts of 'white slavery.' Some accounts reported women and girls kidnapped outright, others focused on 'deceit', with violence entering in after the 'victim' became aware of what was expected of her, to ensure compliance and prevent escape. This process was referred to as being "broken in"

What Doezma proposes is that much of the counter white slave trade efforts of this time period was more an attempt to abolish prostitution. If you could rile up the public about these heinous acts, then you could get laws passed against prostitution and more law enforcement to address prostitution.

Doezma proposes that many of the people who were being made out to be victims were female migrants using sexual services as a means of achieving some type of financial autonomy.  Doezma proposes that this is occurring now in the contemporary human trafficking movement.

As I mentioned, this is one of the politicized debate points of this issue, the legitimacy of prostitution as a means of labor -again I am going to make an effort to not get into the debate too much right now.

Doezma presents a quote from Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women

"traffic in persons and forced prostitution are manifestations of violence against women and the rejection of these practices, which are a violation of the right to self-determination, must hold within itself the respect for the self-determination of adult persons who are voluntarily engaged in prostitution"

Some groups feel that all prostitution is forced prostitution. Other groups, like GAATW draw a distinction. Others focus on harm prevention.

The Bush administration will not provide funding for HIV/ AIDS efforts or counter human trafficking efforts if that group is perceived as regarding prostitution as a legitimate form of labor.

This is from an article in the American Prospect

"For years, the health-care educators and social workers had worked closely with the children, who are living "by hook or by crook, doing tricks," says Arnold(a social worker). They tried to teach the girls how to care for themselves. "They would tell the children, `You will get out of this (prostitution). There's a way out,'" says Arnold. "`In the meantime, here's how to use a condom.'"

But that was before University of Rhode Island professor Donna Hughes started accusing nongovernmental organizations of teaching children "how to be prostitutes." On April 3, 2003, she testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, saying, "It is unacceptable to provide medical services and condoms to enslaved people and ignore the slavery."

Her words had a chilling affect on health-care workers in Svay Pak. "We were standing on a muddy street, talking to a woman who works for one of these organizations," says Arnold. "We asked, `So you're not able to deal with children?' `No, not at all,' she said. `Unless we want to get shut down.' She looked very upset, and she was holding her face in her hands. The children there are very confused. NGO workers told us pedophiles now know they can go and have unprotected sex with children because the health-education programs have stopped." Arnold paused, then added, "And when children come to the NGO workers and ask for help, they are being turned away."

Back to the Lifetime movie.

If you go to the front page of the Lifetime web site you will see under the Human Trafficking trailer screen a button with the label that says "Take Action: Stop Human Trafficking". If you click on this link you will see a box that starts out:

"Join our Champions for Change team and sign up now to urge Congress to pass the bipartisan End Demand for Sex Trafficking Act -- sponsored by Reps. Pryce (R-OH) and Maloney (D-NY)"

This then asks you to enter your email as a signature to urge Congress -and probably get lots of spam as well.

The End Demand for Sex Trafficking Act of 2005 starts out with the following "Congressional Findings":

(1) Commercial sexual activities have a devastating impact on society. The sex trade has a dehumanizing effect on all involved.

 (2) According to a 2004 publication by the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons of the State Department, prostitution and related activities, including pimping and patronizing or maintaining brothels, fuel the growth of modern-day slavery by providing a facade behind which sex traffickers operate. Where prostitution is tolerated, there is a greater demand for trafficking victims and nearly always an increase in the number of women and children trafficked into commercial sexual activities.

Here is a write up -pdf, which includes the bill in its entirety -at a particular draft stage. Along side many of the clauses, several groups involved in counter human trafficking efforts or groups that work closely with people in prostitution wrote their analysis and criticism.

Here was this group's problem with the title of the bill:

"The focus of the bill is upon unlawful commercial sex and not on trafficking perse. Thus, it would be appropriate to revise the title of the bill to more clearly to reflect the content of the bill."

I think it is fair to say there is a political statement in this Lifetime movie, and a cultural one.

I have a concern that some political actions push the vulnerable deeper into vulnerability.

I mentioned in my original post about the Saudi government escaping sanctions so that around 5 billion in military sales could occur.

Was Rep. Smith the only abolitionist to speak out about this?

The UAE was moved into a tier 2 "watch list". From the people I have spoken with, of any country in the Middle East, the UAE currently is the worst in terms of being a destination country for victims of trafficking; particularly for sex trafficking.

The UAE does not recognize a victim of trafficking as a victim of a crime. Many after being trafficked into the UAE will spend years in jail. -I will write more on the UAE in my second post.

If there is such a concern about the demand side of the equation, which I think is a valid concern, what about these countries?

Good night. Thanks for the comments.

by aden on Tue Oct 25th, 2005 at 04:08:21 AM EST

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