WASHINGTON – In his effort, which has the support of President Trump and Ivanka Trump, to significantly curb modern slavery, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said Wednesday that he wants to replicate results seen in fighting the AIDS pandemic.
In 2015, Corker partnered with his “good friend” Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) in crafting legislation that would establish a central and global effort against modern slavery, which according to Corker impacts 27 million people across 165 countries.
The legislation – the End Modern Slavery Initiative – was signed into law by President Obama in December 2016 as part of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2017. At the urging of his daughter, President Trump also got behind the effort in March, telling advocates at the White House that “I want to make it clear today that my administration will focus on ending the absolutely horrific practice of human trafficking.”
The goal is to raise $1.5 billion and reduce slavery by 50 percent in seven years. It’s an ambitious goal, Corker noted while speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies on Wednesday, but he pointed to the progress of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) as a model.
Established by President George W. Bush in 2003, PEPFAR has been responsible for treating about 11.5 million people with HIV and AIDS in more than 60 countries. According to UNAIDS, AIDS-related deaths around the world declined 48 percent between 2005 and 2016, with a peak of 1.9 million in 2005 to 1 million in 2016.
“There are lots of efforts by lots of well-meaning people (around the world), but there’s not a central effort to say let’s end this scourge on mankind,” Corker said on Wednesday. “We can make sure that these disparate efforts that are taking place around the world are able to come together and we’re able to utilize the very best efforts that are taking place around the world.”
As dictated by the legislation, the U.S. government has pledged up to $250 million for the effort, while foreign countries are expected to contribute up to $500 million. The group is also seeking to secure $750 million in private sector funding. There is also an additional $25 million that the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons has pledged.
Corker said that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who he described as “an inspiring choice” to lead the department, has been extremely supportive of the effort.
“The State Department could not be a stronger supporter,” Corker said.
Corker, who serves as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has traveled to more than 75 countries. On Wednesday, he described a trip to Southeast Asia, where he met victims of slavery in countries like the Philippines. He described two sisters, who were born in a rural area. Corker said that a man offered to take the sisters, who were 13 years old and 15 years old at the time, on a trip to the capital. One of the girls ended up working in a brothel for nearly a decade. Corker said the story is representative of what’s happening all across the world, including in the United States.
“I’m glad to be the vessel through which this is happening, but it’s our country that is behind this,” Corker said.