Report: Is the U.S. State Department Helping Vietnam Get Away with Human Trafficking?

In the year 2000, the U.S. Congress enacted the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) to combat trafficking in persons. The TVPA requires the Secretary of State to make an annual report to congress on efforts by every foreign government to address the problem.

Two decades after the TVPA was enacted, Vietnamese government officials were found to be involved in a human trafficking ring in Saudi Arabia. The ring’s activities resulted in the death of H Xuan Siu, a Vietnamese national who was illegally recruited by an export labor company at 16 years of age. Because of this, in 2022, Vietnam was downgraded to Tier 3—the lowest ranking—in the TIP report. When a country is downgraded to Tier 3, the U.S. president may withhold or withdraw foreign aid. In Vietnam’s case, however, President Joe Biden waived any possible sanctions, and, despite the country making no notable progress to address trafficking, the State Department upgraded Vietnam’s ranking the following year to the Tier 2 Watch List.

The next TIP report is due to be released on June 24. As the State Department was compiling information for the report, Project88 obtained a cache of internal Vietnamese government documents that contain shocking revelations. In one of the documents, a senior anti-trafficking officer states that Vietnam has covered up  criminal proceedings against government officials in the trafficking ring in Saudi Arabia. The same official advises the government to tell the State Department that Vietnam is making the legal reforms recommended by the U.S. while simultaneously revealing that no such reform efforts are taking place. Another document, issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, claims that Vietnam used its diplomatic leverage with America to obtain a ranking upgrade in the 2023 TIP report. Taken together, these documents dispel any notion that Vietnam is meeting the U.S. government’s Minimum Standards on eliminating trafficking in persons, the criteria used to decide if a country’s ranking should be upgraded.

From these internal documents, Project88 identified five issues that the State Department must urgently investigate:

  1. Vietnam failed to hold to account government officials involved in human trafficking.
  2. Vietnam politicized the TIP process by using its diplomatic leverage with the U.S. to upgrade the country’s TIP status.
  3. Vietnam has deliberately deceived the U.S. government about the country’s efforts to address human trafficking.
  4. Vietnam has failed to investigate or prosecute cases of people who were rescued from casinos, online gambling venues, and scam operations in the region.
  5. Vietnam has expressed its intention to not allow international organizations to operate support services for victims in Vietnam or participate in legal reform processes.

After obtaining and evaluating this information, Project88 wrote to Secretary of State Antony Blinken to inform him that there is good reason to believe that Vietnam is lying to the U.S. government. We also presented our findings to State Department officials, embassy officials, and members of the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (J/TIP office) in the State Department. In our communications, not a single official indicated what, if anything, was being done to investigate the allegations. Project88 attempted to engage these officials in a good faith manner over the past few months, but they have not been transparent. Instead, it appears that the integrity of the TIP report is being sacrificed as part of a geopolitical strategy to win Vietnam over to a US-led anti-China alliance.

Vietnam is deliberately misleading the State Department about the government’s efforts to eliminate human trafficking while intentionally politicizing the TIP process. Rather than taking steps to eliminate trafficking in persons, Vietnamese officials have revealed a plan to withhold information from the State Department in order to paint the country in a better light. Because of the perceived (yet questionable) strategic importance of Vietnam to the U.S., American officials appear willing to go along with this ruse. With President Vladimir Putin’s visit last week to Vietnam, American officials believe that, in order to maintain Vietnam as a strategic partner, it is necessary to ignore the country’s human rights abuses.

But there is nothing inevitable about this. The 2024 TIP report has not yet been released. It is not too late for the State Department to investigate and act on the evidence contained in the documents obtained by Project88.




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