Remarks at UN High Level Meeting of the General Assembly for the Appraisal of the UN Global Plan of Action to Combat Human Trafficking

Dr. Kari Johnstone
Acting Director of the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons
New York, New York
November 23, 2021


Excellencies and distinguished guests, it is a great privilege for U.S. Representative French Hill and me to be here to appraise our collective progress in implementing the Global Plan of Action, adopted here 11 years ago, and which complements the Trafficking in Persons Protocol. The COVID-19 pandemic affects every aspect of our lives, including the capacity of governments to address important issues such as poverty, social and economic inequalities, risks associated with migration, and climate change. This is also true in the context of preventing and combating human trafficking, and providing assistance and protection to victims and survivors. As with all governments, the United States faced challenges in our anti-trafficking responses over the last year; yet there are promising practices and new initiatives that I’m pleased to highlight today.

U.S. Anti-Trafficking Challenges

Let me first outline a couple of challenges at the federal level. Amid pandemic-related court closures and the suspension of grand jury proceedings, prosecutions and convictions of traffickers decreased. Trafficking victims and survivors also encountered increased obstacles accessing services and obtaining employment.

U.S. Anti-Trafficking Highlights/Promising Practices

Despite the impact of the pandemic, there is progress in the United States, including an overall increase in the number of human trafficking investigations and capability for law enforcement to conduct remote forensic interviews.

Last year, the U.S. Congress passed several laws addressing human trafficking and related crimes, including allowing for the first time compensation for members of the survivor-led U.S. Advisory Council on Human Trafficking. Let me note how thrilled I am to see survivors’ expertise included in this high level meeting so prominently. In line with the Biden-Harris Administration’s Executive Order on Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government, we are prioritizing addressing racial discrimination in our domestic and international anti-trafficking responses. The President’s Interagency Task Force, charged with coordinating U.S. interagency efforts, plays a key role in this important effort. We are also engaging survivor leaders and other experts on the relationship between human trafficking and racial inequity to inform this effort.

On the international front, the Program to End Modern Slavery, which the United States first announced here in 2017, is pioneering approaches to combat human trafficking by combining cutting-edge research with targeted programming to rigorously test prevalence research methods and the effectiveness of human trafficking interventions. Grantees have received $125 million in 17 countries globally to implement anti-trafficking programs, representing one of the largest U.S. government investments to combat human trafficking.

In closing, I want to announce two important new tools. First, my office recently launched a comprehensive resource guide, developed by experts including survivor leaders, for government officials and other key stakeholders to establish and improve trauma-informed anti-trafficking measures in a COVID-19 environment. Second, the United States will soon release our updated National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking, reflecting the Biden-Harris Administration’s approach to addressing trafficking. This action plan includes greater attention to advancing racial and gender equity, workers’ rights, fair trade, and support for underserved communities. We thank all stakeholders, including survivor leaders, who helped to shape this important national action plan.

Thank you.