CIW’s Laura Germino Recognized as TIP Hero

U.S. State Department
2010 “Trafficking in Persons” (TIP) Report Ceremony
CIW’s Laura Germino Recognized as TIP Hero
photos by Fritz Myer

Washington, DC, is unique among U.S. cities. Its famous monuments and massive government buildings have a way of making things seem small. Take the Florida Modern-Day Slavery Museum, for example. The museum made headlines across Florida during its triumphant six-week tour earlier this year. Yet, after making the thousand-mile trip from Immokalee to the nation’s capital last week, it was dwarfed by its new surroundings, almost invisible in the bottom right corner of this picture taken from the eight floor of the State Department building.

But the museum was actually the heart of a pretty big ceremony on this day in Washington, a standing room only affair in the storied Benjamin Franklin room on the top floor of the U.S. State Department.

The event was hosted by none other than Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who began her remarks by commenting on the crowd, saying, “Thank you all. My goodness. This is, if not the largest, certainly one of the biggest crowds we’ve had here, which makes me very happy. Just don’t tell the fire marshals!”

Those in attendance were gathered for the State Department’s release of the 10th annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report. For the first time in its history, the report included the United States in its rankings, causing a surge in national and international press interest.

In her ten-minute address, Sec. Clinton touched on a number of important themes. Referring to the 2010 TIP report, she said:

“…Behind these statistics on the pages are the struggles of real human beings, the tears of families who may never see their children again, the despair and indignity of those suffering under the worst forms of exploitation. And through this report we bear witness to their experience and commit ourselves to abolishing this horrible crime.

Human trafficking crosses cultures and continents. I’ve met survivors of trafficking and their families, along with brave men and women in both the public and the private sector who have stood up against this terrible crime. All of us have a responsibility to bring this practice to an end. Survivors must be supported and their families aided and comforted, but we cannot turn our responsibility for doing that over to nongovernmental organizations or the faith community.

Traffickers must be brought to justice. And we can’t just blame international organized crime and rely on law enforcement to pursue them. It is everyone’s responsibility. Businesses that knowingly profit or exhibit reckless disregard about their supply chains, governments that turn a blind eye or do not devote serious resources to addressing the problem, all of us have to speak out and act forcefully.”

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Today’s ceremony also recognized several TIP “Heroes,” individuals from across the globe who have “devoted their lives to the fight against human trafficking.” The ceremony celebrated the Heroes for, in the words of Trafficking in Persons Ambassador Luis CdeBaca, “their tireless efforts, despite resistance, opposition, and threats to their lives as they protect victims, punish offenders, and raise awareness of the ongoing criminal practices in their countries.”

Among the heroes was the CIW’s own Laura Germino, shown here (second from right) soaking in the almost surreal setting, by all appearances, enjoying the moment.

Ambassador Luis CdeBaca did the honors of introducing the TIP heroes, putting their work into the context of the 10th anniversary of the TIP report:

“… Ten years ago, the law caught up with what so many people in this room knew – what you knew, what you cared about long before this was a hot issue. The injustice, though, was still as great. So we honor your leadership from within government and civil society. On shoestring budgets and with incomparable resolve, you had the courage to identify weaknesses and victims, to build shelters and best practices, and to trust and support survivors. We hope to use the same courage, the same strength, and the same tenacity as we celebrate 10 years of progress, but also 10 years of learning.”

Then it was time for the TIP heroes to receive their plaques from Sec. Clinton in recognition of their contributions to the global fight against slavery. Among the recipients were (quoting Ambassador CdeBaca’s words), “Brother Xavier Plassat (above), in recognition of his courageous leadership in denouncing cases of slave labor in Brazil, his dedication to rehabilitating victims of forced labor, and his intrepid advocacy for enforcement of laws”…

… and Linda al-Kalash, “in recognition of her pursuit of groundbreaking legal action against those who would enslave and abuse domestic workers in Jordan.”

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And then it was Laura’s turn. After receiving her plaque from Sec. Clinton, Laura was introduced by Ambassador CdeBaca, a long-time leader in the fight against modern-day slavery whose relationship with the CIW goes all the way back to the early 1990’s when he was working as a prosecutor in the Civil Rights division of the Department of Justice. We quote his introduction of Laura here in its entirety:

“… Laura, if you could join me here at the podium.

Laura is going to give a few remarks on behalf of the heroes today, but in the introduction of Laura, we talk about a multi-sectoral approach, tapping NGOs, law enforcement, labor inspectors and the survivors, themselves. And the pioneer of that approach here in the United States is Laura Germino. In the early 1990s, Laura began to not just give a voice to escaped slaves, but traveled to Washington on her own dime to hold the federal government accountable to – investigate and prosecute these cases. And when I say federal government, I mean me – (laughter) – and I think Leon Rodriguez, who is here with his children today.

That was the first of many. There have been many cases exposing servitude for both sex and labor in Florida. And the Coalition of the Immokalee Workers and Laura Germino have always been there. They’ve been important partners and, more importantly, an independent and pressing voice as they uncover slavery rings, tap the power of the workers, and hold companies and governments accountable.

Laura, the podium is yours.”

So, Laura took the podium, speaking on behalf of all the TIP heroes. We will quote a handful of excerpts from her remarks here below, but you can go here to see her short speech in full (scroll to the bottom):

“We thank Secretary Clinton for this tremendously humbling honor. And while this is a much appreciated recognition of our work, it is also an awesome responsibility with which you are entrusting us all today by calling us heroes. And I want to assure you that we understand that. Freedom is a fundamental human right, maybe the fundamental human right. And we will all continue to work, from Brazil to Burundi, Hungary to Jordan, Mauritania to Uzbekistan, and yes, here in the United States – it does happen here in the United States – until we can reach a day without modern slavery…

… Twenty years ago – we’re turning the clock back – there was no State Department TIP Report. There was no Justice Department Anti-Trafficking Unit. There was no Trafficking Victims Protection Act, no freedom network of NGOs. Farm workers like Julia Gabriel and thousands of others had not yet escaped to freedom. Farm bosses like Ron Evans or Sebastian Gomez and a dozen others had not been brought to justice. There was no admission yet by this great nation that the unbroken thread of slavery that has so tragically woven through our history, taking on different patterns, but always weaving the horrendous depravation of liberty – that it was a constant.

But here’s the good part: There was nowhere to go but up. (Laughter.) What we found is the mills of justice grind slowly, but they grind exceedingly fine. I have to say at times those mills ground really slowly. (Laughter.) But change can and does come. Twenty years later, we see those changes, and you don’t have to take my word for it. You can ask Ambassador CdeBaca…

… So when we struggle with our frustration at the pace of change, we remember those days and realize how far things have come in such a short time. Today, we have a renewed hope for change thanks to the growing number of transnational global corporations that have adopted new purchasing policies, thanks to the Campaign for Fair Food that includes zero-tolerance – enforceable zero-tolerance policies for slavery in their supply chain…

… How does that happen? It takes a village to raise a child; it takes a whole community to fight slavery. Together, we want you to know that with colleagues of mine like Lucas Benitez, Romeo Ramirez, Julia Perkins, organizations like Student/Farmworker Alliance, Interfaith Action, prosecutors like Susan French, agents like Mike Baron and Charlie Frost, all our overseas colleagues fighting in this same fight, we will continue – we commit ourselves, our continued efforts to our collective fight to wipe slavery off the face of this earth. We are fighting for tier zero.”

Laura’s speech earned a standing ovation from Sec. Clinton and many more throughout the packed room…

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… and a big hug from one very proud mama.

Then, with the ceremony wrapped up, it was back outside, where many of those in attendance followed Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs Maria Otero’s advice to visit the CIW’s Modern-Day Slavery Museum, which suddenly seemed a lot bigger than it had before the ceremony…
… Among those who toured the museum was Ambassador CdeBaca, giving Laura and the Ambassador a rare moment to reflect on their work together at the birth of today’s growing movement to end modern-day slavery.