GOP, Dems come together to fight human trafficking by contractors in Iraq, Afghanistan
By Pete Kasperowicz - 03/27/12 09:33 AM ET
A bipartisan group of members from the House and Senate proposed legislation on Monday that seeks to crack down on human trafficking by contractors that the U.S. military hires for work in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The End Trafficking in Government Contracting Act is a reaction to reports from the Commission on Wartime Contracting and the inspectors general of the Defense and State departments that overseas contractors are known to engage in practices that are illegal under U.S. employee rights standards. These include seizing workers' passports to trap them at a work site, lying about compensation, engaging in sexual abuse and generally keeping workers in a state of indentured servitude.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), the lead Senate sponsor of the bill, said the legislation would help improve the treatment of third-country workers who are lured to work in Iraq and Afghanistan only to be defrauded or enslaved.
"Modern-day slavery by government contractors — unknowingly funded by American taxpayers — is unconscionable and intolerable," Blumenthal said. "Current law prohibiting human trafficking is insufficient and ineffective, failing to prevent or punish abuses.
"By increasing preventative scrutiny and investigation, this legislation will stop egregious human-rights abuses on U.S. military bases, increasing security for our troops and preventing waste of taxpayer dollars."
A co-sponsor, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), said it is unacceptable that these abuses are often supported by U.S. taxpayer dollars.
"This bill will help crack down on this dehumanizing practice, particularly in government contracting labor operations, and I am proud to support it as one more step we can do to punish human-rights abuses," Rubio said.
Under the bill, contractors with contracts worth $1 million or more would have to implement plans to prevent all abusive practices, and would have to notify the government if they have evidence that a subcontractor is involved in prohibited conduct.
The enforcement provisions of the bill would allow for criminal penalties, in part by expanding current rules related to the treatment of foreign workers inside the United States to foreign workers outside the country. The bill would also allow the government to remove certain employees or suspend contractors when violations are found.
Blumenthal's bill, S. 2234, is also co-sponsored by Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio).
The House companion bill, H.R. 4259, was sponsored by Rep. James Lankford (R-Okla.), and is co-sponsored by House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Reps. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and Chris Smith (R-N.J.).
Issa's committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on the bill Tuesday morning at 10 a.m., with Blumenthal and Portman expected to testify on the bill at that time.