Q&A: Pact’s commitment to ending human trafficking, modern slavery and forced labor

July 28, 2020
This year, World Day Against Trafficking in Persons focuses on the important role of first responders in helping to end human trafficking. This includes NGO staff, such as Pact's Cambodia team. (Photo: Brian Clark/Pact)

July 30 marks World Day Against Trafficking in Persons – a day when the global community focuses its attention on one of the gravest violations of human rights. Every year, thousands of people become victims of human trafficking, both in their own countries and across borders. Men, women and children are trafficked for many reasons, including for sexual exploitation, forced labor and forced marriage, and to provide children for sale or to become child soldiers.

Pact is committed to ending human trafficking. In 2017, we adopted our initial Combating Trafficking in Persons policy, which will be replaced by a more comprehensive policy and compliance plan in August 2020. In December, Pact hired its first general counsel and chief ethics and compliance officer, Maria Barton. In this role, Barton oversees Pact’s compliance with its Combating Trafficking in Persons (CTIP) policy and works with the organization’s global programs and 25-plus country offices to implement compliance plans to reinforce the policy.

Barton holds a bachelor’s degree from Boston University and a JD from Yale, and she spent more than 11 years as an Assistant United States Attorney in the Southern District of New York. Following a personal passion for global development, she took on the role of legal counsel for the Independent Inquiry Committee for the United Nations Oil for Food Program. She also served on the Independent Committee for the World Bank Anti-Corruption Program. Maria was highlighted in 2015 as one of the world’s 100 Remarkable Women in Investigations by the Global Investigations Review. 

Here, Barton discusses the importance of ending human trafficking and how Pact is working toward that future.


What is the magnitude of the human trafficking problem? 

Barton: Along with illegal arms and drug trafficking, human trafficking is one of the largest international crime industries in the world. A report from the International Labour Organization notes that forced labor generates $150 billion in illegal profits per year. Two-thirds of that comes from commercial sexual exploitation, while the rest is from forced economic exploitation, including domestic work, agriculture, child labor and related activities.  

When we talk about human trafficking, what types of activities does that include?  

Human trafficking is the same as modern slavery. It includes any forced labor or bonded labor. Examples of forced labor include when a person is compelled to work because the perpetrator threatens to harm the person’s family back home, or when a person is transported to another location and forced to provide sex for money. Examples of bonded labor include when a person is forced to work because they owe money and cannot pay it back, or when a parent owes money and their child is abducted to pay off the debt by working at a location away from the family. Human trafficking also includes instances of workers who are forced to work because their identification and transport documents are withheld from them, or they do not have the means to return to their home country.

What are some common misconceptions about human trafficking and modern slavery?  

It is a myth that human trafficking only refers to sexual exploitation. In reality, forced labor is the most common form of trafficking. It is also a myth that all victims are women and children. In reality, nearly half of victims are male.

Why is it important for international nonprofits such as Pact, as well as other organizations, to focus on the prevention of human trafficking?

Because we often come in contact with vulnerable populations, it is important that Pact not ignore red flags and inadvertently contribute to the problem. It is also important that Pact staff be prepared to help victims when we come across them. 

How does Pact do this? What is included in Pact’s Anti-Trafficking in Persons Compliance Plan?

There are three major components to our compliance program. First, we ensure that we do not use third parties that are involved in human trafficking in any way. Second, we train our staff to become familiar with human trafficking and our prevention program. Third, we ensure that we have identified resources in-country that can assist victims of human trafficking.

How do we ensure that our suppliers, from sub-grantees to vendors, share our commitment to combating human trafficking?  

Making sure that we don’t work with problematic third parties means that we integrate our CTIP prevention program into our regular procedures. For example, when we hire employees, we conduct due diligence to make sure that outside recruiting agencies are not collecting fees from their candidates. We conduct risk-based due diligence on suppliers and sub-recipients to make sure that they have their own CTIP prevention programs or assist them with implementing policies, when appropriate. The risk-based approach to prevention is key. Not every third party with whom we interact is a human trafficking risk. But as more staff become more familiar with our CTIP program, we will increase our effectiveness in spotting this risk in certain third parties.