Pentagon has yet to ban contractors from using forced labor
WASHINGTON -- Three years ago, President Bush declared that he had
"zero tolerance" for trafficking in humans by the government's overseas
contractors, and two years ago Congress mandated a similar policy.
But notwithstanding the president's statement and the congressional
edict, the Defense Department has yet to adopt a policy to bar human trafficking.
A proposal prohibiting defense contractor involvement in human trafficking
for forced prostitution and labor was drafted by the Pentagon last summer, but
five defense lobbying groups oppose key provisions and a final policy still
appears to be months away, according to those involved and Defense Department
The lobbying groups opposing the plan say they're in favor of the idea in principle,
but said they believe that implementing key portions of it overseas is unrealistic.
They represent thousands of firms, including some of the industry's biggest
names, such as DynCorp International and Halliburton subsidiary KBR, both of
which have been linked to trafficking-related concerns.
Lining up on the opposite side of the defense industry are some human-trafficking
experts who say significant aspects of the Pentagon's proposed policy might
actually do more harm than good unless they're changed. These experts have told
the Pentagon that the policy would merely formalize practices that have allowed
contractors working overseas to escape punishment for involvement in trafficking,
the records show.
The long-awaited debate inside the Pentagon on how to implement presidential
and congressional directives on human trafficking is unfolding just as countertrafficking
advocates in Congress are running into resistance. A bill reauthorizing the
nation's efforts against trafficking for the next two years was overwhelmingly
passed by the House this month, but only after a provision creating a trafficking
watchdog at the Pentagon was stripped from the measure at the insistence of
defense-friendly lawmakers, according to congressional records and officials.
The Senate passed the bill last week.
Delay seen as weakness
The Pentagon's delay in tackling the issue, the perceived weakness of its proposed
policy and the recent setbacks in Congress have some criticizing the Pentagon
for not taking the issue seriously enough.
"Ultimately, what we really hope to see is resources and leadership on
this issue from the Pentagon," said Sarah Mendelson, a senior fellow at
the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a national security think
tank in Washington. She also had called for creation of an internal Pentagon
watchdog after investigating the military's links to sex trafficking in the
Rep. Christopher Smith (R-N.J.), author of the original legislation targeting
human trafficking, said there seems to be an institutional lethargy on the issue
at the Pentagon below the most senior levels. He said he was concerned that
the Pentagon's overseas-contractor proposal might not be tough enough and that
the delays in developing it could mean more people "were being exploited
while they were sharpening their pencils."
But he pledged to maintain aggressive oversight of the plan.
`We're addressing the issue'
Glenn Flood, a Pentagon spokesman, said he did not know why it has taken so
long to develop a proposal but said, "From our point of view, we're addressing
An official more directly involved with the effort to draft a formal policy
barring contractors from involvement in trafficking said it might not be ready
until April, at least in part because of concerns raised by the defense contractors.
Bush declared zero tolerance for involvement in human trafficking by federal
employees and contractors in a National Security Presidential Directive he signed
in December 2002 after media reports detailing the alleged involvement of DynCorp
employees in buying women and girls as sex slaves in Bosnia during the U.S.
military's deployment there in the late 1990s.
Ultimately, the company fired eight employees for their alleged involvement
in sex trafficking and illegal arms deals.
In 2003, Smith followed Bush's decree with legislation ordering federal agencies
to include anti-trafficking provisions in all contracts. The bill covered trafficking
for forced prostitution and forced labor and applied to overseas contractors
and their subcontractors.
But it wasn't until last summer that the Pentagon issued a proposed policy
to enforce the 2003 law and Bush's December 2002 directive.
The proposal drew a strong response from five defense-contractor-lobbying groups
within the umbrella Council of Defense and Space Industries Associations: the
Contract Services Association, the Professional Services Council, the National
Defense Industrial Association, the American Shipbuilding Association and the
Electronic Industries Alliance.
The response's first target was a provision requiring contractors to police
their overseas subcontractors for human trafficking.
In a two-part series published in October, the Tribune detailed how Middle
Eastern firms working under American subcontracts in Iraq, and a chain of human
brokers beneath them, engaged in the kind of abuses condemned elsewhere by the
U.S. government as human trafficking. KBR, the Halliburton subsidiary, relies
on more than 200 subcontractors to carry out a multibillion-dollar U.S. Army
contract for privatization of military support operations in the war zone.
Case of 12 Nepali men
The Tribune retraced the journey of 12 Nepali men recruited from poor villages
in one of the most remote and impoverished corners of the world and documented
a trail of deceit, fraud and negligence stretching into Iraq. The men were kidnapped
from an unprotected caravan and executed en route to jobs at an American military
base in 2004.
At the time, Halliburton said it was not responsible for the recruitment or
hiring practices of its subcontractors, and the U.S. Army, which oversees the
privatization contract, said questions about alleged misconduct "by subcontractor
firms should be addressed to those firms, as these are not Army issues."
Once implemented, the new policy could dramatically change responsibilities
for KBR and the Army.
Alan Chvotkin, senior vice president and counsel for the Professional Services
Council who drafted the contractors' eight-page critique of the Pentagon proposal,
said it was not realistic to expect foreign companies operating overseas to
accept or act on U.S. foreign policy objectives.
"This is a clash between mission execution [of the contract] and policy
execution," Chvotkin said. "So we're looking for a little flexibility."
He said that rather than a "requirement that says you have to flow this
through to everybody," the group wants the policy to simply require firms
to notify the Pentagon when their subcontractors refuse to accept contract clauses
barring support for human trafficking.
Still, Chvotkin said, "We don't want to do anything that conveys the idea
that we are sanctioning or tolerating trafficking."
In a joint memo of their own, Mendelson and another Washington-based expert,
Martina Vandenberg, a lawyer who investigated sex trafficking for Human Rights
Watch, told the Pentagon its draft policy "institutionalizes ineffective
procedures currently used by the Department of Defense contractor community
in handling allegations of human trafficking."
Without tough provisions requiring referrals to prosecutors, they said, contractors
could still get their employees on planes back to the U.S. before investigations
commenced, as they allege happened in several documented cases in the Balkans.
They said some local contract managers even had "special arrangements"
with police in the Balkans that allowed them to quickly get employees returned
to the U.S. if they were found to be engaged in illegal activities.