On July 7, 2011, the U.S. Department of Justice reported that the ArmorGroup North America has paid $7.5 million to “settle accusations that they filed false claims on a contract to guard the United States Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan.”  The Associated Press article published by The New York Times on Friday, July 8, noted that “The State Department said that the company’s guards visited brothels in Kabul, that ArmorGroup North America’s management knew about the guards’ conduct and that the company misrepresented the work experience of 38 guards at the embassy. The brothel visits violated the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act, according to the government.”

Unfortunately for those who work combating trafficking in persons (TIP), a story like this sounds all too familiar.  Over the years, many reports from human rights activists and scholars, including some of my own research, have documented the link between contractors and TIP.  In November 2007, while working at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, I published an Op-Ed in the San Francisco Chronicle about contractors in Kabul doing just this—visiting “Chinese restaurants” that were fronts for trafficked females.

The U.S. Government takes these reports very seriously.

This summer, USAID is working on a new strategy to combat trafficking in humans, and with colleagues throughout the U.S. Government, on a National Action Plan (NAP) to implement UN Security Resolution 1325—focused on women, peace and security. We are also committed to making sure that all implementing partners and their subcontractors, particularly those serving alongside military deployments, peacekeeping missions or anywhere with a heightened threat of human trafficking—whether for forced labor, forced prostitution, debt bondage or other forms of TIP—are in compliance with the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, and the new USAID Code of Conduct on Combating Trafficking in Persons (PDF, 40KB).

Data is notoriously hard to come by that reflects what people working in country witness. We are considering fielding focus groups and a benchmark survey in some countries with military and peacekeeping deployments. Our aim is to gain a more precise understanding of the knowledge, awareness, and experience of those who have had or know those who have had contact with trafficking victims and/or experience with brothels while on assignment.  The data would be used to create a social marketing campaign to be used as a tool to measure changes in attitudes and behaviors.

This focus on implementing partners is just one part of the planned new strategy for combating TIP and our NAP for 1325.  We are working hard to develop other measurable, additive, time-bound commitments so we can be held accountable. Follow us on this blog to keep track of our progress and to stay abreast of this important issue. Our goal is to engage and work with those who share our commitment to tackling TIP issues.