Chad Salitan ’09 shares how an international report is tracking and affecting change in in the worldwide problem.
By Melissa Pheterson
At any time, an estimated 24.9 million people are victims of human trafficking globally, forced physically or psychologically into working for little or no money for the benefit of someone else — in industries from fishing to hospitality, traveling sales crews and prostitution.
The International Labour Organization estimates most of these victims are exploited within their own countries. Traffickers may confiscate passports, limit freedom of movement, withhold wages or demand forced overtime, forbidding workers to resign or holding their official documents hostage.
Chad Salitan ’09 is a leader in the U.S. government’s efforts to combat trafficking on a global level.
As deputy senior coordinator for reports and political affairs at the U.S. Department of State Trafficking in Persons Office, he oversees the Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report and staff members who gather data in the field, with the help of members of the diplomatic corps at U.S. embassies.
The report ranks more than 180 countries on what each government is doing to acknowledge and combat human trafficking. The rankings — from Tier 1 to Tier 3 — publicly show which countries meet the minimum standards for combating human trafficking as established by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (a Tier 1 ranking), versus those that do not. His team also offers expertise to countries in effective methods of fighting trafficking.
“We try to get other governments to prioritize the issue and help them combat the crime better,” says Salitan. “My section’s role is to analyze foreign governments’ efforts to fight trafficking and make recommendations that would help them improve their programs to fight human trafficking.”
Ranking can be a powerful tool to define a problem and incentivize improvement, says Salitan. Besides grabbing the countries’ attention, the rankings attract coverage by journalists who subsequently raise public understanding of the crime and can even help consumers understand how they may be supporting the problem by purchasing goods made with forced or child labor, which can range from fruit, chocolate and shrimp to leather, timber and gold.
“Seeing a ranking is more powerful thanjust reading text,” Salitan says. “I’ve had ambassadors and heads of state reach out about their numbers.”
Working in government relations opened Salitan’s eyes to human trafficking, but his path to D.C. began at Geneseo, where he studied economics and international relations and was involved with the American Red Cross.
“Managing people, presenting concepts and analyzing policy all set me up well for my career,” he says.
In 2011, Salitan first explored opportunities in the Department of State as a Presidential Management Fellow. During his rotation through the Consular Fraud Protection Program, he delivered training on human smuggling and trafficking to department staff. He joined the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons in 2012 as a foreign affairs officer and was promoted to his current role in 2016.
“I continue to feel passionate about our work and am certain we are making a difference,” he says. “The TIP Report has had an outsized impact on promoting progress and helping our foreign government partners identify the areas in their anti-trafficking programs most in need of attention. We witness this each year as we review the changes made in each country over the previous 12 months.”
CHAD SALITAN ’09 ON THE ROLE OF THE U.S. TRAFFICKING IN PERSONS REPORT ON GATHERING DATA:
“Government ministries are our main sources of info, whether it’s a health and human services agency or specialized police units. But we also meet with operators of gender-based violence shelters and children’s shelters, NGOs offering pro-bono legal service, researchers and journalists. Such information helps highlight high-risk environments, such as orphanages, where children may lack the guidance to spot red flags such as fraudulent job offers or someone who poses as a boyfriend before becoming their trafficker.”
On the tough conversations:
“The United States spends tens of millions of dollars a year fighting trafficking. In a way, we are uniquely positioned. It’s a heavy lift to issue an annual report with fresh information every year, but we have the diplomatic reach, with embassies in every country. We’re using that bandwidth to draw attention to this issue, even though it forces us to have tough conversations with our host countries. We want to point them in the right direction and leverage the expertise we’ve built up to find efficient ways for them to fight trafficking.”
On how data can inform change:
“There are myriad ways to fight trafficking, but the key is what will make the most difference in that country’s context, and how to allocate resources best. Should they invest in awareness programs, or would it be more helpful to proactively identify victims in areas we know are high risk, such as orphanages? Should we train police on new surveillance technology? Yes, but it might be more important to sponsor a program on a victim-centered proactive approach to police investigations that emphasizes compassion and empathy.”
On the rising number of Tier 1 countries:
“Tier 1 countries fully comply with the minimum standards found in the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (2000). Tier 3 don’t. More countries are on Tier 1 than in the past, but that is largely because the report now includes so many more countries than it did in the first half of its existence. As a proportion, that number is generally the same, as the tier system requires appreciable progress to be made each year just to maintain a tier. Thus, stagnant efforts can and do lead to tier downgrades. The work of all countries, including those on Tier 1, is never finished.”
On increased awareness:
“In the last 10 years, our eyes have opened up to trafficking. Journalists’ interest is a big contributor to consumers’ understanding of human trafficking. For example, the CNN Freedom Project has produced a lot of excellent reporting on this topic. There are also many stellar non-governmental agencies working on this issue and raising awareness. The U.S. government also tries to raise the profile: supporting the Responsible Sourcing Tool, publishing the Department of Labor’s list of goods produced with child or forced labor, hosting public discussions and launching the Sweat and Toil app for consumers.”
On hope for the future:
“As information and awareness spread, I predict there will be an exponentially growing discontent among consumers about the plight of exploited workers in global supply chains, whether it’s in manufactured goods or the fishing industry. Consumers will demand that exploited laborers not work against their will, and demands will be too loud to ignore.”