Top U.S. Official Cites Progress in Human Trafficking Battle

By Jane Morse
USINFO Staff Writer

Washington - The world needs a 21st century movement to fight the scourge of human slavery, says Ambassador John Miller, the State Department’s top anti-human trafficking official.

Miller has been tackling the problem for the last four years as the director of the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons and senior adviser to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on human trafficking.  The Bush administration, recognizing the seriousness of the trafficking problem, made the United States the first country to designate an ambassador-at-large to deal with the issue, appointing Miller to that position.

According to State Department statistics, some 800,000 women, children and men are trafficked across national boundaries each year.  Most are enslaved in the sex industry, but others are in factories, on farms, or in domestic servitude.

“In the 19th century there was an abolitionist movement to end state-sanctioned slavery based on race,” Miller said in a recent interview with USINFO. He said the great abolitionists in history - William Wilberforce of England, Frederick Douglass and Harriet Beecher Stowe of the United States – were dedicated to the cause, but it took them decades of work to see results.

Ending modern-day slavery, he said, will be a long struggle, too. “There is no magic fix,” Miller said.  “But we’re starting to gain momentum.”


In finding best practices in dealing with modern-day slavery, Miller says, “we’re at the end of the beginning.”

“In general, there are certain basic principles,” he said.  “Most of the programs are going to relate to prosecution or law enforcement or victim protection, or prevention, which to a large extent is education.  But as to specific kinds of programs, we’re still learning.”

“We’re learning how best to train police and judges.  We’re further ahead there than we are in some other areas - for example, reintegration of survivors and victims.  The assumption was you should take survivor[s] back to their village.  Well sometimes the villages don’t want the survivor back for cultural reasons. So where does the survivor go?  We need to learn how to deal with this.”

Many countries, however, are searching for the best way to reintegrate slavery victims into their home societies, Miller said.  A nongovernmental organization in Cambodia, for example, is setting up specific businesses for survivors.  Indonesia, with the help of the International Organization for Migration, is giving cows and tools to slavery victims; India has a dairy franchise program.  South Korea has started a program that encourages women-owned businesses to employ slavery survivors, a program that might be replicated in the United States, Miller said.

People need to be educated, Miller said, so they are not tricked into slavery in the first place.  “We’re measuring the effectiveness of educational outreach efforts,” Miller said.  He cited a study involving two impoverished villages just kilometers apart in Indonesia.  One village had many trafficking victims while the other had practically none.  Why?  “These are things we need to figure out,” Miller said.

The U.S. government, Miller said, is spending millions of dollars on prosecution, prevention and protection programs around the world. Nonetheless, he said, “we still have much to learn about best practices.”


The United States, Miller said has created a broad coalition against trafficking that includes faith-based groups, feminist groups and people from across the political spectrum.

An important tool in spotlighting the issue and tracking progress is the State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report.  Miller said that when he took his current position, the report was about 70 pages long and documented a few hundred convictions of traffickers worldwide.  The 2006 report runs almost 300 pages, reviews the performance of 149 countries and reports some 4,700 convictions of traffickers worldwide.  (The United States evaluates its own performance in combating human trafficking in an annual report called Assessment of U.S. Government Activities to Combat Trafficking in Persons.)

A few years ago, Miller said, there were just a handful of countries that had anti-trafficking legislation.  In the last two years, 80 countries have passed anti-trafficking legislation, he said.

“Today a majority of the countries in the world have anti-trafficking in persons legislation,” he said.  “That’s a positive sign.”

An increase in media coverage also is helping in the fight, Miller said.  Modern day slavery is now the topic of movies, television shows and books, Miller said.  “With public awareness, the coalition grows,” Miller said.  “Citizens talk to their government, churches, civic groups, police chiefs and sensitize them.”

Miller will be leaving the State Department December 15, but his commitment to ending human slavery will not end, he says.  The first course he will teach in his new position as a professor at George Washington University will be on modern day slavery and foreign policy.

The full text of the 2006 Trafficking in Persons report is available on the State Department Web site.

For more information on U.S. policy, see Human Trafficking.