WASHINGTON – The State Department on Tuesday listed China as one of the countries with the worst records on sex trafficking and forced labor, a downgraded designation that could nettle Beijing as Washington is seeking its help choking off North Korea over nuclear weapons.
China was dropped one notch from a watch list to Tier 3, the lowest ranking, in the State Department’s annual human trafficking report. The report said China had made no meaningful efforts to curb forced labor and human trafficking and suggested it had backslid by decreasing law enforcement efforts. Theoretically, the rating could result in sanctions, though presidents often waive that step.
In an introductory letter to the report, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said governments bear responsibility to criminalize human trafficking and hold offenders accountable.
“The United States is a leader in the fight against human trafficking,” he wrote. “We seek justice for victims and accountability for offenders.”
Tillerson’s personal appearance for the report’s unveiling was striking because he skipped the public rollout of the human rights report in March, a move that invited some criticism.
The ceremony was also attended by Ivanka Trump, who has hosted a White House roundtable on fighting human trafficking and met in Rome with African women who were trafficked into prostitution. The president’s daughter has a fashion line with many items that are made in China. Earlier this month, the State Department called for China to release three labor activists who were arrested while investigating conditions at factories that manufacture Ivanka Trump-branded shoes.
Like the annual human rights report, the human trafficking report is the result of a year’s work by State Department employees in embassies around the world.
Even before its official release, the report was being criticized for upgrading Myanmar to the Tier 2 Watch List. The report said Burma had made progress in ending the recruitment and use of child soldiers and prosecuted some government officials for human trafficking.
Human Rights Watch said Myanmar, also known as Burma, did not deserve to be upgraded because the use of child soldiers continues.
“Secretary of State Tillerson apparently believes the list is subject to backroom political calculations, rather than facts on the ground and U.S. law,” said a statement by Jo Becker, children’s rights advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “Unless Tillerson reverses this action, he will gravely damage US credibility in ending the use of children in warfare.”
The report also kept Thailand on the watch list for the second year in a row, saying it had was investigating and prosecuting people complicit in forced labor in the fishing industry.
David Abramowitz, the managing director of Humanity United, a group that tackles global problems, said new laws passed in China have had little impact and that there has been little change observed in the field.
“There are new laws, but nothing’s been implemented,” he said. “There are no inspections for forced labor on fishing vessels. There are still excessive fees by labor recruiters. We have not seen any real change on the ground.”
Iraq, meanwhile, was downgraded to the watch list. The report said authorities in Baghdad had paid compensation to women abducted and held by Islamic State militants and contributed to freeing them. But it noted continued reports of children being recruited as soldiers in various militias as well as by the Islamic State.
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