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New US envoy urges cos to combat human trafficking

Our Bureau

Mr David C. Mulford, US Ambassador to India

Kolkata , March 19

THE US Ambassador to India, Mr David C. Mulford, has urged NGOs and corporations to work together to make India, and this world, a better and safer place for the vulnerable sections of society.

He said, "Let us commit ourselves, as individuals and in the names of governments and corporates and NGOs together, to taking action to combat this terrible problem of trafficking in persons, mostly helpless women and children."

At a national conference, jointly organised by the US Consulate General, CII, Eastern India, and Apne Aap, an international NGO, here on Friday on `Corporate social responsibility: Addressing trafficking in persons,' Mr Mulford said the bottom line was that trafficking in persons was intimately linked to the HIV/AIDS epidemic and the economic disaster that will follow if left unchecked. The markets and purchasing power of people will shrink, employment pools will dry up, and even the now-thriving companies may struggle if HIV/AIDS gains a foothold in India as it has in the African Continent, he cautioned.

Stressing on the very real link between trafficking and AIDS, the Ambassador, in his first address to captains of industry in Eastern India, said it was not true that corporate entities are only motivated by issues that affect their bottom line. "I have just come out of the private sector myself. As a banker, you can be quite sure that my eye was kept quite firmly on the bottom line and on shareholders' equity, but that does not mean that I did not have a heart; that does not mean that I could not tell right from wrong and could not act on that conviction." Indian companies, he pointed out, have some of the best records of corporate social responsibility, and are committed to community welfare activities.

Visualising an equally important role for the NGOs, especially when it came to helping victims of trafficking get rehabilitated, Mr Mulford said, "Unfortunately, many NGOs are better at communicating their hope to the victims of trafficking than they are at communicating their case for support to corporate sponsors that can help them."

Quoting the UN, he said, "An estimated one million people each year around the world, most of them women and children, representing some of our most vulnerable populations, are bought, sold, transported or held against their will for sexual abuse and exploitation or forced labour in slave-like conditions; that is the essence of the problem."

Highlighting the urgent need to fight this scourge at the global level, he said in the US, a new law has been enacted, `Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act,' which gave prosecutors new tools to grant legal immigration status for victims of trafficking and larger crimSinal prison terms for traffickers, from 10 years to 20 years.

Drawing a global picture, he said countries might be characterised as source countries, transit countries or destination countries for trafficking victims. Frequently, the same country serves as both source and destination, he added.

"India is as an example of this, where young girls from Assam may be taken against their will to brothels in Mumbai. Or girls from Nepal and Bangladesh may turn up right there in Kolkata, in the red light districts."

The US, he said, during the last two fiscal years has provided over $54 million in assistance to more than 70 countries to strengthen anti-trafficking law enforcement, victim support, legislation and regional cooperation. We plan to do more, said the Ambassador.

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