The office of the ambassador was established in 2000 under the same federal law that also requires the State Department to produce an annual report documenting and assessing the response of every country (including its own, since 2010) to trafficking. Countries that receive a fail or near-fail grade are liable to a range of political and economic sanctions. While the report is subject to the approval of the Secretary of State, the ambassador is its author and public face.
Image: 2018 Trafficking in Persons Report, US Department of State
Not surprisingly, this unilateral appraisal has been a source of great irritation to many countries. But few doubt its contribution to the global transformation that has taken place in our understanding of, and response to, trafficking. Put simply, the leverage created by the report has led to drastic changes in laws, policies and practices in every region of the world.
It has also helped improve our information position. Today it is would be impossible for any country or corporation to deny the epic scale of human exploitation, from abused Asian construction workers in the Gulf to forced labourers on Thai fishing boats and Greek strawberry farms, forced marriage in the UK and forced prostitution in Italy. Estimates on modern slavery are notoriously unreliable. But there can be no doubt that millions of men, women and children are trapped in situations of exploitation from which they cannot escape.