Obama touts new efforts to combat human trafficking

President Obama speaks at the Clinton Global Initiative meeting on September 25, 2012 in New York City. Timed to coincide with the United Nations General Assembly, CGI brings together heads of state, CEOs, philanthropists and others to help find solutions to the world's major problems.
Mario Tama/Getty Images
Mario Tama/Getty Images

(CBS News) Calling human trafficking tantamount to modern slavery, President Obama on Tuesday touted the United States' efforts to combat the problem, including an executive order the president signed today to prevent human trafficking in federal contracting.

"It ought to concern every person because it is a debasement of our common humanity," Mr. Obama said at the annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative in New York. It is a problem that tears at the nation's social fabric, distorts markets, endangers public health and fuels violence, Mr. Obama said.

"I'm talking about the injustice, the outrage of human trafficking, which must be called by its true name: modern slavery," he said. "Now, I do not use that word 'slavery' lightly. It evokes, obviously, one of the most painful chapters in our nation's history. But around the world there's no denying the awful reality."

The United States has long rejected slavery, starting with the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 and sparking a global movement against slavery and human trafficking, the president said. "As president, I've made it clear the United States will continue to be a leader in this global movement," he said.

However, Mr. Obama added, "for all the progress that we've made, the bitter truth is that trafficking also goes on right here in the United States."

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The executive order Mr. Obama signed today strengthens protections against human trafficking in federal contracting through various new rules and standards. It expressly bars federal contractors and subcontractors from engaging in trafficking-related activities like misleading recruitment practices, charging employment recruitment fees or confiscating employees' identification documents. It also requires contractors to maintain compliance plans for work performed abroad that exceeds $500,000.

The executive order also establishes a process to identify industries with a history of human trafficking to enhance compliance on domestic contracts and calls for giving agencies more guidance on how to improve monitoring for trafficking.

The president today noted the steps the U.S. has already taken to combat human trafficking. For instance, under Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's direction, the U.S. annual trafficking report now includes the United States.

"We cannot ask other nations to do what we are not doing ourselves," Mr. Obama said.

The president also announced several other new initiatives, such as increased resources for human trafficking victims and the harnessing of technology to help victims.

Mr. Obama's remarks at the Clinton Global Initiative was his second speech before a global audience in New York on Tuesday. Earlier in the day, he addressed the United Nations General Assembly, where he struck a cautiously optimistic note about the future of the Middle East. Mr. Obama's Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, address the Clinton Global Initiative earlier Tuesday and emphasized the importance of employment in combating social unrest.