Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery – Samuel W. Seymour

Samuel W. Seymour

 President’s Column, February 2012

One of the darkest aspects of globalization has to be the proliferation of human trafficking. The U.S. State Department estimates that twenty-seven million people are victims of human trafficking worldwide, with one hundred thousand of them in the United States.

Trafficking, of course, is just prelude to what often awaits the trafficked at their destination: a form of modern slavery. “Modern slavery – be it bonded labor, involuntary servitude, or sexual slavery – is a crime and cannot be tolerated in any culture, community, or country,” writes Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in the U.S. State Department’s 2011 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report. To our government’s credit, the latest TIP report for the first time includes an analysis of the state of trafficking in the United States as well as in other countries around the world.

While there is much work to be done, there has been progress on the anti-trafficking front since 2000, when the Palermo Protocols were adopted by the UN and the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) was passed in the U.S. The TVPA provided new tools to law enforcement and victims’ advocates to fight trafficking.

One of the first organizations to make use of the TVPA was the City Bar Justice Center of the New York City Bar Association. The Justice Center’s Immigrant Women and Children (IWC) Project has represented immigrant crime victims since 1997 and has represented victims of human trafficking from all over the world since 2002.

While the Justice Center is able to help many individuals secure their freedom and start a new life, it also does much more to fight human trafficking on a macro level, by training attorneys, law enforcement agents, social workers, and medical providers in how to detect human trafficking and the legal remedies for addressing it. Suzanne Tomatore, the director of the IWC project, has participated in State Department dialogues and trainings with government officials and law enforcement agencies around the world, and she contributes to model state anti-trafficking legislation drafted by the Uniform Law Commission.

The Justice Center is able to accomplish even more by working with the City Bar’s committees. On March 29 th, the Committees on Sex and Law, Criminal Courts, Juvenile Justice, and the Council on Children are co-sponsoring a panel on “Vacating Prostitution-Related Convictions for Victims of Sex Trafficking.” The Committees have issued reports and letters to government officials on the topic as well.

All of these activities contribute to increasing public awareness, which is often the first step toward solving a complex legal and social problem. “The fact that a form of slavery still exists in the modern era and that it must be confronted is now spoken of by heads of state and CEOs, at shareholder meetings, in church groups, and around the blogosphere,” states the 2011 TIP report.

“When we first started the project, it was remarkable the number of otherwise well-informed people who didn’t even realize, or couldn’t believe, that human trafficking happens right under our noses,” says Tomatore. “Awareness of the issue really has seemed to reach a critical mass, which leaves no excuse for not dealing with it as a society.”

Indeed, in her introduction to the TIP report, Secretary Clinton marks 2011 as the end of the “decade of development” and the beginning of the “decade of delivery.” She writes, “As we assess ourselves and governments around the world, the true test of a country’s anti-trafficking efforts is not just whether a government has enacted strong laws consistent with that approach, but whether these laws are being implemented broadly and effectively. In short, it’s whether they deliver.”

I am proud that the City Bar Justice Center is at the forefront of the effort to stop trafficking and to bring victims out of the shadows by legalizing their immigration status. If you or your firm is interested in volunteering to help on a pro bono basis, please contact