By Jon Micheal Connor, Army Public AffairsApril 16, 2019
BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan -- Human trafficking is everyone's business.
In some cases, it's unfortunately a business making money exploiting human beings; in other cases, it should be the business of most people to report it when suspected. At Bagram Airfield, there is a resource that can help both victims and those in charge of and who oversee contracts that employ people where the U.S. is carrying out its national defense policies.
The reality is beyond troop strength, the U.S. relies on thousands of contractors to carry out missions in order to successfully carry outs its operations in Southwest Asia. Overseeing that human trafficking is kept to a minimum is Charmane Johnson, program manager for Combat Trafficking in Persons, U.S. Forces - Afghanistan, U.S. Central Command/Office of the Under Secretary of Defense (Personnel and Readiness).
"This is not an eight to eight job. Under the advocacy element of the CTIP prevention and response framework, we're kind of first responders for contractors who may experience human trafficking issues," Johnson said. "We have contractors that work around the clock. So issues can surface at any time … we're here as a force multiplier to serve."
Johnson brings three decades of federal government experience to this deployment job -- 17 years in policy and 15 years working as a contracting officer's representative, and experience in hazing, bullying, equal employment opportunity and civil rights.
It's estimated there are 35,000 people supporting the Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan, which involves training, advising and assisting the Afghan military, and special counterinsurgency operations to fight the Taliban, ISIS, and Al Qaeda.
By virtue of its numbers, contractors provide significant base-life operations throughout Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait, and Qatar -- the four countries that the CTIP program Johnson is responsible for.
While there are nearly 11,000 contractors in Afghanistan alone according to a recent U.S. Special Inspector for Afghanistan Reconstruction report, many come from other countries and are known as "third country nationals" or "other country nationals" and from the host nation known as "local nationals" who also provide needed support such as security, food service, and maintenance of living areas, etc.
The "other country nationals" come from such countries as India, Uganda, Ukraine, Macedonia, The Philippines, Kyrgyzstan, Nepal, and South Africa.
The issues they could encounter are being charged recruitment fees, employment contracts not in their native language or a language they understand, not being paid on time, having their immigration documents such as passports held for extended periods of time by their employer, working more hours than agreed, not being able to take "leave" or earned vacation time, living in squalid conditions, not getting meal-time breaks, and sex trafficking, including prostitution, to name some, Johnson said.
"My No. 1 priority is make sure our leadership is postured favorably with a comprehensive prevention and response framework when it comes to this program should we ever have to respond to Congress, or to any seniors at the Pentagon on how we are complying with laws, mandates and legislation," she said.
Johnson, who is the sole CTIP employee, said she does this by ensuring strategic priorities are integrated and implemented proactively, being a first responder, shaping the program, and making sure there are systems and processes in place to combat human trafficking.
"Human trafficking has crept into our culture, particularly in the deployed zones because we have a lot of people that travel from their home countries and they come here to work for the Department of Defense. We have to make sure they are safe, that they are not being trafficked," Johnson said. "And that they're getting medical treatment [when needed]; that they're eating, and things of that nature."
Some companies that provide the contractors are doing their best to cuts costs because in the end, they are a company for profit.
"So they're not providing the medical treatment that's required in the contracts," Johnson said, as one way to reduce costs.
While cutting costs is understandable of any organization trying to make a profit, "we have to make sure that it's not violating any of the laws and policies" for DOD, she said. Overall, there are 13 major U.S. laws, acts, regulations, polices, etc., that govern such practices.
"We want them (contractors, contract officials, and employers) to understand this is a zero tolerance climate. And we're aiming for fair and equal treatment for everybody that works for the department (DOD)," she said.
One way Johnson gets the word out is by teaching a class weekly for those people -- U.S. civilians and Soldiers -- that will be serving in part as a contracting officer's representative and contracting officer in the CENTCOM theater. Part of their duties include upholding the CTIP policies and to alert Johnson of any possible nefarious activities.
It is here where Johnson gives a lot of information on human trafficking, ways to detect it, and what to do if it is suspected.
One thing taught is that while drug dealing is the No. 1 illegal business in the world, right behind that is human trafficking. In fact, she said, the biggest human trafficking day in the U.S. is during the Super Bowl.
Likewise, $150 billion annually is made from forced labor globally, a human trafficking class slide states.
Another shows that Afghanistan and Iraq are considered by the Department of State to be Tier 2 levels of human trafficking, meaning that those countries' governments do not fully meet the Trafficking Victims Protection Act's minimum standards, but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance.
Kuwait is rated at a Tier 3 level, meaning its government does not fully meet the minimum standards and is making significant efforts to do so.
Qatar is labeled at a Tier 2 Watch List level, meaning its governments does not fully meet the TVPA's minimum standards, but is making significant efforts to bring itself into compliance within standards and:
o The absolute number of victims of severe forms of trafficking is very significant or is significantly increasing
o There is a failure to provide evidence of increasing efforts to combat severe forms of trafficking in persons from the previous year
o The determination that a country is making significant efforts to bring itself into compliance with minimum standards was based on commitments by the country to take additional future steps over the next year.
It is here where they learn of the CTIP mantra -- "Human Trafficking violations? Not on our watch".
She tells them that prevention is a team effort, that everyone plays a part, and that their participation could save a life.
Besides telling them to be aware, Johnson too, as the CTIP program manager, goes out into the working areas, meets third country national personnel and their supervisors and checks on things. This is known as a "compliance visit." She brings with her multiple copies of a business card titled "U.S. Government Policy Prohibits Trafficking in Person".
This card provides on one side the DOD hotline number to get help or report a tip at 1-800-424-9098 and 24/7 assistance number to the U.S. at 1-888-373-7888 and a DOD website at dodig.mil/hotline. It also states it is illegal for contracted companies to hold passports, withhold pay, restrict movement of employees, and have recruitment fees.
The other side states the zero tolerance policy against human trafficking and that companies ensure contracted employees supporting U.S. Armed Forces are aware of their rights to:
O Hold their own identity or immigration documents
O Receive agreed upon wages on time
O Take lunch and work breaks
O Elect to terminate employment at any time
O Identify grievances without fear of reprisal
O Have a copy of their employment contract in language they understand
O Receive wages that are not below the legal host country minimum wage
O Be notified of their rights, wages and prohibited activities prior to signing their employment contract
O And, if housing is provided, live in housing that meets host country housing and safety standards
She also hands out her duty business card with her email and local numbers: Charmane.email@example.com and DSN 318-481-318, SVOIP 308-431-8313. On the flipside of her card there are questions such as:
"Are you being coerced to perform illegal or immoral acts?" and "Are you working to pay an employment debt?"
The cards are printed in numerous languages.
Across the theater, Johnson's face is also on a flyer that outlines CTIP and is put on walls throughout the workplace.
If a violation is suspected, Johnson refers the alleged concern for CTIP violations to the Army Contracting Command and Regional Contracting Command leaders for any corrective actions, including audits, as needed.
If the matter involves other organizations such as the Provost Marshal's office or Inspector General, she will forward those concerns to them. Regarding CTIP matters, Johnson said a "good faith effort" is made when talking to representatives of contracted companies.
The question of "How can we help you better serve us?" is how a discussion begins. Depending on that discussion, Johnson may have to elevate the issue and contact the military leadership and apprise of a situation.
The Army Contracting Command, locally known as the Regional Contracting Command, is responsible for administering the contracts in theater.
"So I go to the leaders (commanders) and they are on it; they are not messing around," Johnson said. "Leaders are very diligent in make sure folks are operating in accordance to regulations."
The process includes meetings between the contracted companies' representatives, military leadership, and the RCC contracting staff to discuss the issues and ultimately have the company comply with the contract. If not, a "non-conformance report" is written, giving the company 30 days to fix the issues. If not, the contracting officer has the option to terminate the contract for convenience or for cause, Johnson said.
Whether it's the U.S. or in her area of responsibility, Johnson said human trafficking is everywhere.
"I think it's something that we have been blind to and we just don't recognize that it's taking place sometimes in our backyard."