Ivanka Trump spotlights global human trafficking

WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 17: Ivanka Trump leads a meeting on human trafficking in the Roosevelt Room of the White House May 17, 2017 in Washington, DC. Ivanka Trump has made human trafficking issues as well as educational issues central to her role at the White House. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON (CNN) — Ivanka Trump, who serves as a top adviser to President Donald Trump, used her platform Tuesday to shine a light on human trafficking, which she called an “ugly stain on civilization.”

“Combating this crime here in the United States as well as around the globe is in both our moral and our strategic interest,” she said at a State Department event unveiling the annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report.

Ending human trafficking “is a major foreign policy priority for the Trump administration,” she said.

While a far cry from human trafficking, Trump’s own apparel and accessories brand came under some scrutiny earlier this year in light of a report of bad conditions inside one of its Chinese manufacturers, according to The Washington Post. Trump took a formal leave of absence from the brand in January, but kept her ownership stake and moved the assets into a trust.

It also comes one day after she told Fox News that she “(tries) to stay out of politics.” But as a top adviser to the President, her work on several issues has signaled an unequivocal embrace of her powerful — and political — role in the White House.

In the last week, she’s attended meetings and events around Washington on a range of issues she’s named as top priorities, including human trafficking, global entrepreneurship, childcare tax credits, workforce and workplace development and technological innovation.

Getting to work

Tuesday’s event wasn’t the first daughter’s first foray into discussing human trafficking, a chronically under-reported problem that affects at least 20.9 million people globally in both forced labor and sex trafficking.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called Trump “somebody who is doing a great deal to raise the profile of this issue.”

In February, she held a meeting alongside the President and members representing several organizations fighting the problem. And in May, she hosted a roundtable discussion with bipartisan members of Congress and organizations on legislation ahead of Capitol Hill’s “Combating Trafficking and Child Protection Week.”

Later that month on a stop in Italy during the President’s first foreign trip, she met with officials and survivors at the Community of Sant’Egidio, a Vatican-affiliated NGO.

“While in Rome, I had an opportunity to talk first hand with human trafficking survivors. They told me their harrowing stories, how they were trapped in this ugly, dark web, how they survived, how they escaped and how they are very slowly reconstructing their lives,” she said Tuesday, noting that the White House also has its own council of survivors.

“We cannot meaningfully address this pervasive issue without the brave voice of survivors at the table. They can help us understand what they experienced and they will play a leading role in solving this pervasive crisis,” she said.

The Ivanka Trump brand

Trump’s eponymous apparel and accessories brand, Ivanka Trump HQ, manufactures clothes abroad, including in China, a country listed in this year’s TIP report as one of the worst offenders for human trafficking.

“The brand has and has always had a zero tolerance policy on human trafficking and takes the integrity of their supply chain very seriously,” a spokesperson for the brand told CNN.

But the brand faced other problems when an audit in October last year of one Chinese factory used by the brand and other brands found workers were working nearly 60 hours a week with wages around $62, the Post reported. It’s not clear whether Ivanka Trump-brand products were being manufactured at the time of the inspection, per the Post’s report. The audit did not disclose the factory’s name or location in China.

Brand president Abigail Klem said in a statement that the brand has set a vendor code of conduct.

“Ivanka Trump HQ is committed to only working with licensees who maintain internationally recognized labor standards across their supply chains. Our licensees and their manufacturers, subcontractors and suppliers must comply with all applicable local and international labor laws, and the legal and ethical practices set forth in our vendor code of conduct,” Klem said.

It’s complicated

Trump cited specific progress by the administration in her remarks, including “an executive order designed to strengthen the enforcement of federal law in regards to transnational criminal organizations, including traffickers,” and steps taken to ensure Department of Homeland Security personnel are trained to combat trafficking at points of entry into the United States.

As she presses forward with her work on the topic, further specific policy prescriptions become more complicated, with partisan divides on issues like immigration and criminalization of prostitution.

“Even if she were to propose something promising, the political situation is so dicey that there isn’t trust there,” said a source in the anti-trafficking community, who requested anonymity in order speak freely. The source noted that many activists are concerned by the administration’s broader immigration policies and rhetoric.

Undocumented workers could be taken advantage of if they are further pushed into the shadows, activists say. The threat of deportation is a key indicator of areas with labor trafficking problems, and many traffickers force their victims to let their visas expire as a tool of control to keep victims in the United States.

The administration’s executive order on sanctuary cities is another area of concern. Some organizations involved with survivor services are concerned that undocumented victims will not reach out for fear of deportation, which also impacts law enforcement’s ability to investigate and prosecute trafficking crimes.

Advocates also fear how the administration’s travel ban could impact trafficking. Refugees and people in conflict zones are vulnerable to trafficking, advocates say, and ISIS has been documented putting refugees into various forms of slavery.

Many in the community are also concerned about funding for human trafficking prevention and services for survivors, which relies on federal funding from the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Homeland Security, often through funds distributed through other organizations.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment about how their policies might affect human trafficking.

“It’s weirdly one of the few issues where we’re able to work with Democrats and Republicans. Both sides generally agree that funding is needed, but the administration is a question mark,” said another anti-trafficking advocate, who asked for permission to speak anonymously so as not to jeopardize federal funding.

Ivanka Trump’s involvement with the issue is still cause for some optimism.

“We want to be cautiously optimistic. There’s a lot of skepticism that anything could happen, but it’s reassuring that this is even being discussed,” the source said. “We want to see results, whether it’s more funding or laws that are changed or strengthened. That these conversations are happening, that they’re looking into this is a good sign.”

Trump, who has demurred from wading into partisan issues thus far, made it clear Tuesday that this is a topic she is willing to fight for.

“On a personal level, as a mother, this is much more than a policy priority. It is a clarion call to action in defense of the vulnerable, the abused, and the exploited,” she said.