3 things to know about the human trafficking report

July 7, 2017

On Tuesday, June 27, the U.S. State Department released its 17th annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report, which analyzes the extent to which 188 countries combat human trafficking and slavery. Each country is given a score of either Tier 1, Tier 2, Tier 2 Watch List, or Tier 3, based on the extent to which that country prevents human trafficking, protects the victims of human trafficking, and prosecutes perpetrators of human trafficking.

This year, 21 countries were downgraded on the list, while 27 countries were upgraded. Twenty-three nations were placed on the Tier 3 list, which indicates a lack of compliance with the bare minimum standards of prevention, protection, and prosecution. The 36 countries included on the Tier 1 list not only meet the minimum standards but are increasingly more effective in doing so.

The report was released with a significant press release featuring Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Ivanka Trump, First Daughter and Advisor to the President. Such high-profile releases are an encouraging signal and ensure that these reports receive the attention they deserve in the United States and the international community.

Here are three things to know following the release of the report:

1. China was downgraded to Tier 3 status.

In 2014 and 2015, China was listed on the Tier 2 Watch List. A country can only remain on the watch list for two years before either being upgraded or downgraded. In 2016, China received a waiver to remain on the Watch List after submitting a national action plan that, if fully implemented, would have significantly contributed to efforts to eliminate human trafficking. This year, China joined countries such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Russia, and North Korea on the Tier 3 list.

The report highlighted the fact that thousands of North Koreans are forced to work in Chinese labor camps, where their wages are sent to fund the Korean government. In drug rehabilitation centers, individuals are indefinitely detained without a proper trial. Law enforcement does not properly screen individuals arrested for prostitution to see if they are victims of human trafficking. Bribery and collusion continue amongst police and traffickers. Access to necessary rehabilitation services are limited based upon a victim's location and gender. Finally, Chinese law does not fully criminalize prostitution of minors, and promotes definitions of human trafficking that vary with international law. Fortunately, the Trump administration has condemned the misconduct within China.

The demotion of China to Tier 3 is the Trump administration's first major rebuke of Chinese human rights violations. Being labeled a Tier 3 country comes with real consequences that could affect China-U.S. relations for the next year. Non-humanitarian foreign aid may be limited. Chinese government officials may not receive funding for educational programs. And the U.S. may oppose China's requests for assistance from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. President Trump has the ability to waive these sanctions if he views they threaten United States' interests, but the consequences looming for China are very real. This could become an issue in negotiations over finding solutions for the crisis over North Korea’s nuclear program.

2. Myanmar and Iraq were upgraded from Tier 3 to Tier 2.

The TIP report indicates that neither Burma nor Iraq meet the minimal standards of protection, prevention, and prosecution, but that both nations are making significant efforts to do so, upgrading both nations from Tier 3 to Tier 2. A number of human rights groups are upset by this decision, considering the use of child soldiers, a form of human trafficking, within the past year by both countries.

Reports indicate that there is disagreement amongst State Department officials over the inclusion of Iraq and Myanmar on the Child Soldier Prevention Act List. A June report from the United Nations indicates that children are being released from combat in Myanmar, as nations feel international pressure to cease the practice. Still, eight different Burmese groups recruit and utilize child soldiers for combat. In the geo-politically complex nation of Iraq, the United Nations documented the government-use of child soldiers in 2016 in the fight against terrorism, forcing the State Department to make difficult decisions about engagement with Iraqi officials.

3. The Gulf States are taking steps to reduce human trafficking.

The Gulf States, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and United Arab Emirates, are historically notorious for violating human rights, including failing to take human trafficking within its borders. Within the last year, there have been some encouraging signs although much work remains to be done.

Saudi Arabia, the United States’ closest ally in the region, received a waiver to remain on the Tier 2 Watch List for a third year after drafting a national anti-trafficking action plan for 2017–2020. The plan allocates $9.6 million for its permanent committee on combating trafficking in persons. Qatar, which was on the Tier 2 Watch List in 2016, was upgraded to Tier 2. Within the past year, it increased the number of prosecutions and convictions for trafficking-related offenses, and establishing a coordinating body to facilitate anti-trafficking initiatives and enact legislation to significantly reduce vulnerability to forced labor. Kuwait was placed on the Tier 2 Watch list for the second year in a row, after spending six years on the Tier 3 list. The Kuwaiti government, along with Oman, are making “significant efforts” to combat the problem of labor and sex slavery according to the State Department report.

Despite these improvements, injustice is still reality for scores of trafficking victims across the Middle East. Kuwaiti law enforcement remains a corrupt institution that discourages victims of trafficking from reporting their abuses. The Omani judicial system attempts to mediate forced labor reports in labor court rather than prosecute the criminal activity of slavery. And Saudi officials identify only a fraction of the trafficking victims that live within the country. As we pray for our persecuted Christian brothers in the Persian Gulf, may we also remember the oppressed and enslaved.


With an estimated 45 million slaves around the world, there is significant work that must be done to bring an end to human trafficking. The TIP Report is one tool used to pressure governments around the world to implement policies that prevent forced labor and the underground sex trade. As governments take steps to fight injustice, individuals become more aware of the issue of human trafficking, and organizations gather information about the global trafficking problem, there is hope that this problem will one day come to an end.

ERLC Policy Intern Zack Jones contributed to this article.

Travis Wussow

Travis Wussow serves as the Vice President for Public Policy and General Counsel. Travis led the ERLC’s first international office located in the Middle East prior to joining the Washington DC office. He received a B.B.A. in Finance from The University of Texas at Austin and a J.D. from The … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

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We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24