China and Russia continue to rank among the world's worst human trafficking offenders, with both countries routinely exploiting vulnerable populations and doing little to stem the problem, according to a landmark report published Thursday by the Trump administration.
In the 20th annual edition of its Trafficking in Persons Report, the U.S. State Department identified numerous countries that continue state-sanctioned trafficking of laborers and even sex workers. Russia and China again topped the list of offenders, along with multiple countries in Africa and the Middle East that also received a Tier 3 ranking, the most severe category of human trafficking.
The problem is also rampant in the United States, where sex workers, drug addicts, and immigrant laborers, among many others, are exploited by networks of human traffickers. The United States continues to rank on the list as a Tier 1 country, however, meaning the government is working to address the problem and has policies in place to combat trafficking.
The report comes on the heels of a January White House summit on human trafficking and a 2019 executive order by President Donald Trump restricting U.S. aid to 15 countries included on that year's Tier 3 list.
The human trafficking situation has been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, according to John Richmond, the State Department's ambassador-at-large to monitor and combat trafficking. The virus, Richmond said in a call with reporters, forced victims to remain in lockdown with their abusers and generated an increase in the number of people purchasing sex workers online.
This year's report includes new disclosures about the trafficking of global athletes, an emerging problem the State Department identifies as potentially plaguing millions of people across the globe. In Europe's soccer industry alone, the report identified 15,000 cases of human trafficking each year in which athletes are coerced into playing for little or no money.
In total, 23 countries were downgraded in their rank in 2020, and 4 countries, including Afghanistan and Nicaragua, were newly placed on the Tier 3 list, signaling that human trafficking has become more pervasive.
Nineteen countries in total are included on the Tier 3 list, including Russia, China, Iran, South Sudan, North Korea, and Cuba. All of the countries included on the list are guilty of sanctioning human trafficking at various levels.
Among the worst offenders is "China, where the Chinese Communist Party and its state-owned enterprises often force citizens to work in horrendous conditions on Belt and Road projects," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said during an event unveiling the report.
The Communist government failed to meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and made virtually no effort to do so, according to the report. This includes the forced labor and imprisonment of the ethnic minority Uyghur population and other minorities.
The report identified a "government policy or pattern" in China of engaging in forced labor and mandatory detention of the Uyghurs and Muslim minority populations in the Xinjiang region. China also expanded this program into other areas of the country, expanding the forced internment of religious and ethnic minorities.
Similarly, Russia ranked on the Tier 3 list due to state-sanctioned trafficking and a policy of permissiveness on the matter.
Russia did not implement any programs or provide funding to protective services for trafficked individuals in the past year, according to the report. Moscow also continues to import North Korean workers who are used for cheap labor projects. There is also evidence indicating that the North Korean government continues to operate work camps in Russia with the government's consent.
In a new section on the sports world, the State Department found that "neither governments nor international sports federations or national sports leagues have successfully addressed the growing incidence of human trafficking of athletes."
"Government and industry efforts to regulate an expanding web of migration and recruitment routes have proven insufficient," according to the report.
The global and migratory nature of sports has made it difficult for governments and leagues to implement standard practices combating human trafficking, which often impacts younger players eager to make a career in the lucrative arena.