Rep. James Lankford, R-Okla. introduced the legislation Tuesday.

Rep. James Lankford, R-Okla. introduced the legislation Tuesday. Sue Ogrocki/AP

Bill would crack down on contractor role in human trafficking

Rep. Lankford follows up on wage abuse, illegal debt and sexual exploitation.

Human rights abuses committed or tolerated by U.S.-hired contractors in Afghanistan and Iraq would be subject to new oversight and preventive measures under legislation introduced Tuesday by a group of House members led by Rep. James Lankford, R-Okla.

Based on recommendations by Congress’ Commission on Wartime Contracting and hearings held in November 2011 and March 2012, the End Trafficking in Government Contracting Act (H.R. 4259) would require contractors “to implement trafficking prevention programs to prevent activities that support or advance labor trafficking.”

It would also seek to “strengthen oversight and investigation of trafficking reports to eliminate trafficking on federal grants and contracts,” said Lankford, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Technology, Information Policy, Intergovernmental Relations and Procurement Reform.

An estimated 70,000 workers from countries such as Bangladesh, Fiji and the Philippines travel to work for war-zone contractors and subcontractors of the U.S. military, the State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development and others, according to the Defense Department.

“My subcommittee heard stories of impoverished individuals from underdeveloped countries lured by the promise of lucrative jobs only to have their passports confiscated, their wages slashed and illegal labor broker debt mounting faster than they could possibly repay,” Lankford said. “Some third-country nationals have suffered harassment and sexual abuse.”

Human rights and government watchdog groups have long protested the continuing abuses. Some contractor groups, while also concerned, have disagreed with proposals to use the suspension and debarment process as a tool to confront the problem.

A companion bill, S. 2234, has been introduced by Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.; Rob Portman, R-Ohio; Al Franken, D-Minn.; and Marco Rubio, R-Fla.